The battle over dough: Brooklyn Rabbis take sides in the brewing battle of neighboring kosher pizzerias in Crown Heights.
By COLlive reporter
There’s lots of dough at stake…
Neighboring Jewish-owned dairy eateries in Brooklyn’s Crown Heights section are each securing support from rabbis to back their claims in a dispute over pizza that’s heating up like their ovens.
Owners of the established Basil Pizza & Wine Bar have been rattled in recent weeks since food entrepreneurs opened Calabria Pizza a stone’s throw away, both sharing the corner of Kingston Avenue and Lincoln Place.
“Opening a specialty pizza shop serving beer and wine, literally next door, is major nerve,” Danny Branover, one of Basil’s owners, told COLlive.com.
Since opening in 2010, Basil bills itself as an Italian bistro that serves a trendy rotating menu of appetizers, salads, fish, entrees, homemade desserts and “wood burning oven creations” that attract kosher, vegetarian and non-kosher diners.
Calabria’s owners Shmariahu Harel and Hallel Harel describe it as a fast food eatery with little wait time. The brothers pride themselves on their menu’s simplicity, serving only 12” and 16” square pies using mozzarella cheese and the occasional parmesan, with optional toppings.
“Crown Heights is growing, and there is room for everyone,” Hallel Harel said. “In Boro Park and other places you have pizza shops open right near each other and they serve the same items. We’re not serving the same thing.”
Branover isn’t convinced. “Instead of being grateful for the groundwork we did in the neighborhood, and opening a complementary business, they are clearly targeting Basil’s clients and attempting to harm its wellbeing,” he said on Sunday.
Both parties agreed to a binding arbitration at Beis Din Beis Yoseph in Boro Park. Its chairman Rabbi Reuven Alt ruled that Calabria can only serve “regular pizza or other foods.” It was based on the rule of Hasagat Gevul, prohibiting unfair economic competition to an existing business.
Disregarding the ruling, Calabria has opened and has begun serving square pizza. Beis Yoseph’s Rabbis then added a “clarification” stating that “Roman-style pizza” was forbidden for them as well.
Harel says that after Beis Yoseph ignored his request for a hearing, he turned to Agudas Harabonim – the Union of Orthodox Rabbis of the U.S. and Canada. They in turn attested that Calabria’s pies are “regular pizza with regular kind of dough and regular sauce as all regular pizzerias do here in New York.”
Agudas Harabonim’s Rabbis Aryeh Ralbag, Chaim Krauss and Elimelech Lebowitz concluded that Calabria doesn’t qualify as competition to Basil. Beis Yoseph’s rabbis didn’t agree and banned any kosher agency from certifying Calabria.
Agudas Harabonim’s Rabbi Lebowitz of Flatbush nevertheless went forward and granted Calabria his own kosher certification as a “kosher and cholov yisroel l’mehadrin” eatery.
In response, Beis Yoseph released a letter dated 17 Adar, 5777, that Calabria is “selling pizza that is forbidden for them to sell.” It is therefore “forbidden to shop from their store… and all who assist them are assisting in a matter of transgression,” they wrote.
“Since the Harels also own Chocolatte on the corner of Kingston Avenue and Eastern Parkway, this could also be in question due to the letter,” Branover says.
Ideally, both Branover and the Harels should turn to the local Beis Din of Crown Heights (Badatz) to resolve the issue, but rabbis there aren’t on speaking terms and run rival kosher certifications.
With rabbis offering differing views, it is left to the public to show which ruling they choose to follow as they go out to dine.