Idea person: Jason Goldstein.
Idea: Houston needs an upscale kosher steakhouse.
Where the idea came from: Goldstein’s mother, Susan, has run a catering business since the ’80s. As a consequence, he was exposed to the food service business as a child, but he set out to be a dentist. After being admitted to dental school, he experienced a change of heart: “I didn’t want to look into people’s mouths.”
After earning an M.B.A. from the University of Houston, Goldstein worked at JP Morgan Chase and other consulting firms. The experience taught him that he didn’t want to work for others. “You go home every day and then get up and do it all over again,” he says. “It did not turn me on.”
Goldstein decided to pursue a dream: to open a Houston restaurant that happened to be kosher, that conforms to the regulations of Jewish dietary law. “God said we don’t mix meat and dairy,” Goldstein says. So a kosher steakhouse — which, to state the obvious, is all about meat — wouldn’t serve butter or sour cream with its baked potatoes. Instead of cow’s milk, baked goods would be made with soy or coconut milk.
There are lots of kosher restaurants in the northeast, Goldstein notes — but not many in Texas.
How it grew: Goldstein operated his first kosher restaurant, Suzie’s Grill, in a building that he shared with a gas station on Hillcroft, near Beechnut. A white-tablecloth place, Suzie’s served mostly Mediterranean food, but also offered a Chinese menu, a Mexican menu, and burgers. It was the only meat kosher restaurant in the Houston area. “It’s good,” customers would tell their friends, “but it’s in a gas station.”
Goldstein spent about four years planning and securing backers for the steakhouse. After checking out many locations in Bellaire, he settled on 5427 Bissonnet, a building that had been a Mexican bar.
With the help of friends, he built out the entire restaurant. He designed and installed the bar himself: “It’s one of a kind in the whole world. It’s made out of styrofoam and alderwood, as well as hand-sculpted with concrete.” He drove all over Texas to find chandeliers. To create the front door, he blowtorched a wall, then destroyed the last bit of it with a sledgehammer. He designed the menu and picked out the silverware pattern and the style of glasses.
For months family and friends helped him think up a name. They settled on Genesis. Then he and his brother Ryan built an artificial tree, The Tree of Life, in the middle of the restaurant.
Genesis Prime Steakhouse & Wine Bar December 14. “We are the only upscale kosher restaurant in the entire south, central, midwest, and southwest part of the continental U.S.,” he says.
How it works: Goldstein purchases all the cattle he serves, and his team butchers the animals to the restaurant’s standards and liking. The cattle that provide his beef are hormone-free, and are slaughtered as humanely possible. “There’s a long list of things we do to make sure that the animal doesn’t suffer and is butchered at the healthiest part of its life,” he says.
Before an animal can be certified as kosher, rabbis check the lungs, the intestines, and the entire body to check to make sure it doesn’t have any nicks or bruises. If a cow is not in perfect health, “its beef gets sent to a regular steakhouse.”
“There’s nothing of better quality than kosher meat,” he says proudly. “All my steaks are prime. The highest quality beef of any place in the world.”
Why it’s important: Goldstein estimates that there are around 2,500 Orthodox Jews in Houston and around 70,000 non-Orthodox Jews, of whom around 50,000 would like to keep kosher outside their home. But most are unable to do so.
An upscale kosher restaurant gives the Jewish community a way to comply with dietary laws when eating out. Backers who loaned Goldstein the money to start the restaurant did it in part as an investment in the Jewish community. They felt that Jewish businessmen needed a place to bring Jewish and non-Jewish clients without having to apologize.
Next steps: Goldstein has already been approached about starting a Genesis restaurant in Miami and Dallas. Hoteliers have also asked him to him help them develop a kosher option for their clients.
A lot of people think that serving kosher is more difficult than it is. If you serve crustaceans, crab or pork, you can forget about being kosher. But otherwise it’s doable.
by Andre White – source: www.houstonchronicle.com