The Jew And The Carrot

Wall Street's Kosher Cafe May Be Forced To Close

By Nathan Burstein

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The owner of a kosher restaurant in Manhattan’s Financial District is blaming Occupy Wall Street for his decision to fire almost a quarter of his staff.

“This movement is not serious,” Milk Street Cafe owner Marc Epstein tells DNAinfo.com. “If it was, they would not want small businesses going out of business.”

The restaurateur made the comments after dismissing 21 workers, and told the website the entire business could go under if the protests don’t end within three weeks. Police barricades have diverted a large amount of foot traffic away from Wall Street since the demonstrations began six weeks ago, and the restaurant has also faced diminished business — a 30% drop, reportedly — due to marches, closed subway entrances and checkpoints.

The restaurant, which is set up as a food court with both milk and meat stations, is one of the largest kosher restaurants in Lower Manhattan and was a welcome option for both kosher and non-kosher keeping diners in the Financial District. Epstein launched the restaurant in June as a second branch of the original Milk Street Cafe, which he’s successfully run in Boston for 30 years.

The restaurant required a $4 million investment to get off the ground, and had seen its customer base grow before the start of the protests. “Now, Wall Street is deserted,” Epstein said. “The only people who walk down Wall Street are people who have to walk down Wall Street. It’s transformed from a beautiful pedestrian mall to a police siege.”

As with everything else connected to the protests, the cafe’s financial plight is the source of dispute. One reader suggested “deliberate NYPD overreaction” was to blame, rather than the demonstrators themselves.

For his part, Epstein says he doesn’t have anything against political activism, recalling his participation in a 1987 Washington, D.C., rally to free Soviet Jewry.

Sadly for his business, the current protestors haven’t needed his kosher offerings — for its first few weeks, at least, Occupy Wall Street demonstrators received sufficient food supplies from elsewhere, including sandwiches from Katz’s Deli. The New York Times described the spread as “not unlike the Occupy Wall Street movement itself: free-form, eclectic, improvisatory and contradictory.”

Wall Street banks have formed the inspiration for the protests, but food fights have snuck into the proceedings in other ways. The banks’ accumulation of an ever-higher share of the nation’s money was likened by Mother Jones to changes in the food industry, which it described, in a eating-minded analogy, as a “big fat monopoly.”


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