Budapest’s only kosher fast food outlet awaits the return of the Israelis

The two main kosher restaurants in this city have had an excellent reputation for years.

Carmelo and Hanna both offer upscale local items like goulash with nokedli, a paprika-rich beef stew with handmade noodle dumplings; Hungarian schnitzels; and flodni, a Hungarian Jewish layer cake with walnuts and rich in poppies. That’s along with Israeli dishes, like shish kebab and hummus.

But neither restaurant is particularly cheap and both require a longer food experience. And that felt like a business opportunity for László Györfi.

So Györfi, 51, recently opened a significantly cheaper, no-frills burger shop that he says is the only kosher fast food place in the Hungarian capital. It is just around the corner from its competitors, in the 7th district, the center of Budapest’s nightlife.
“Hannah and Carmel are good restaurants, great service, lots of space,” he said. “But often, Israeli families just want a place where they can get a hamburger and fries or a hot dog for their four children for a fraction of the cost and time. That is what Kosher meat is there for “.

A burger made with black beans and canola protein powder at Burcon’s Alternative Meats Protein Lab in Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada, August 23, 2019 REUTERS / SHANNON VANRAES

In 2019, at least 144,000 Israeli tourists visited Hungary, the fourth highest number of visitors from non-European countries. That was also a 10% increase over the 2018 count, demonstrating Hungary’s growing appeal to Israeli travelers.

(These statistics provided by the Hungarian government are also probably significantly lower than reality, as they are based only on Israelis who entered Hungary specifically with an Israeli passport.)

At Kosher MeatUp, customers are spoiled for choice. For the main course, options are a hamburger, shawarma, or breaded chicken breast. Side dishes are soup, chips or salad.

But even if the Kosher MeatUp business model is optimal, its timing has been unfortunate. The COVID-19 pandemic delayed the restaurant’s brief launch attempt last year and eliminated its projected source of income overnight as both Hungary and Israel closed tourist air travel.

Tourism to Hungary has recovered in recent months, but traffic is a trickle compared to its 2019 levels. So MeatUp’s reopening has been slow.

“We close at 8pm because staying open beyond that time is just losing money,” Györfi said in frustration, noting that fast food outlets like hers typically enjoy a late-night rush in District 7. “Business it goes slow ”during the day, too, for the restaurant’s three employees and their full-time mashgiach, or the hired rabbi whose job it is to make sure the restaurant follows kosher rules.

But Györfi, a father of three who also owns a successful kosher bakery outside the center called Semesters, says he has “faith in the business model” and is determined to “give it a try.” For now, he’s willing to lose some of his margin from Semes, which he sells to Jewish locals and institutions, including schools and kindergartens, to keep the lights on at MeatUp.

On a recent slow weekday, MeatUp staff, young members of the Jewish community who speak Hebrew well, mostly chatted with each other and checked their phones. The mashgiach sat at a separate table hunched over the scriptures. All ten tables in the restaurant were clean and empty. Sometimes Györfi, a tall man with a deep voice, sits in one to review some papers while wearing his Ascot cap.

For him, kosher food in Budapest “is a business, but also a mission.”

“When I was younger, there was hardly a kosher food industry, let alone fancy restaurants. So we are building, ”he said.

Many Jewish locals feel the same way about most aspects of Hungarian Jewish community life, which the Nazis came close to erasing entirely, and which the Soviet Union’s communists then mostly forced underground for decades. MeatUp’s reopening coincided with a series of Jewish community holiday events in August and September, including the opening of three new synagogues, a Jewish community center on the banks of the Danube River, and a new building at the local Jewish hospital.

It is part of a larger push for renewal that has been going on for about a decade, amid growing tensions and rivalries between Jewish groups, sometimes for resources, and other times for the policies of the right-wing government of Hungary, led by Prime. Minister Viktor Orbán.

Györfi has unlikely cheerleaders in Carmel, its main competitor, which sells high-end burgers and Israeli-style steaks alongside its typical Hungarian dishes in a 100-seat basement near the famous Dohnay Street Synagogue.

“We don’t know what kind of impact MeatUp could have on Carmel, but I’m still happy that there is a new kosher restaurant,” said Dániel Preiszler, a 34-year-old businessman who with a partner owns the company that Carmel runs and his Kosher dairy restaurant across the street, Tel Aviv Cafe.

Like Györfi, Preiszler also believes that MeatUp caters to a different demographic than Carmel. There is also a business logic to welcoming competitors, he said, because the more options observant travelers have, the more likely their numbers are to grow overall.

“But I don’t know, we may lose hundreds of dollars a day,” he added. “The availability of kosher food is a basic condition that we do not take for granted here. So it means something every time it gets reinforced. “

Györfi has plans for a follow-up project: a cafe with its own pastry shop that would offer kosher variants of the world-famous pastry traditions of the former Austro-Hungarian Empire, such as the Sachertorte Chocolate Cream Cake and the Chestnut Gesztenye Torta. pie.

For now, MeatUp still relies on Israeli tourists.

“The food is fine,” one of them, 22-year-old Tomer Ashri, told the Jewish Telegraphic Agency. I was there with a fellow traveler.

“It is not surprising, but it is a bit cheaper than it would cost in Tel Aviv,” he said. “It really is better than buying vegetables from the supermarket, which is something we were hoping to do with the food here before we knew about this place.”

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