Eyal Aranya, who co-owns the Burger.org chain, plans to open in the space formerly occupied by Max & David's, which closed in April after five years.
The transition will be made easier by the former restaurant's kosher certification. Aranya said he plans to use much of the same equipment in the kitchen, and subsequently he expects the mashgiach to approve the restaurant more quickly than if he were moving into a non-kosher establishment.
Rabbi Dov Brisman of Community Kashrus of Greater Philadelphia, as well as the religious leader of Young Israel of Ekins Park, inspected Max & David's and will also handle Burger.org.
"When you come to a restaurant that already has the same certification, you don't really have to change much in the kitchen," Aranya said.
The Burger.org owners have opened four restaurants since May 2011 — two in southern New Jersey, in addition to their South Street and Chestnut Street locations in Center City — and say they do not expect the Elkins Park opening to be their last. They are also considering venues in the Main Line area and Washington, D.C.
The investment in non-cheeseburger joints comes at a time when eating kosher food — whether motivated by Jewish law or not — is increasingly popular, perhaps just shy of trendy.
In a 2009 survey of Jewish and non-Jewish adults, food quality, "general healthfulness" and food safety ranked above Jewish law as reasons for purchasing kosher food, according to the market research firm Mintel.
Aranya's theory: "When it comes to cheese, it's more of a habit than a need. For the health, it's not something you want to do. It's not good for the stomach to have the cheese on top of the meat."
Aranya would like to see the secular segment of his customer base expand. He estimated that between 10 percent and 30 percent of his customers do not normally keep kosher, with the Chestnut Street location receiving the largest amount of such clientele. The slogan of the chain is "kosher for everyone," and the restaurant compensates for not having dairy on the menu by offering patties made from beef, lamb and turkey, plus 11 sauces to choose from.
When the first Burger.org restaurant opened in May 2011, it was not kosher. Aranya said that when they opened their second location a few months later, they got the idea to make it kosher and then decided that they had to commit. Either all their restaurants needed to be certified, or none would be.
The new location, which is expected to open in early September, can seat more than 100 people and will be one of the chain's larger spaces. Aranya said they will use one of the rooms for catering events and meetings. The menu will also include a few new items, with steak, fish and additional salads under consideration.
After Max & David's closed in April, owner Steve Katz said the higher costs of kosher food, in addition to closing on Shabbat and Jewish holidays, made turning a profit difficult.
"We tried everything," Katz told the Jewish Exponent. "I don't care how good the food is, it's almost an impossible business model. Being closed 120 days of the year — it's too much."