Friday, February 26, 2021

When Elie Katz was 21 years old, he spent a lot of money satisfying his love of Chinese food. Then he found a better way: He opened Chopstix. On January 22, Chopstix celebrated 25 years in Teaneck—a significant accomplishment considering most new restaurants fail within the first year or two.

Today, Chopstix has a national reputation thanks to word of mouth and social media. Chopstix ships food all over the country and does a thriving catering business as well as serving individuals and families. Katz supports many community activities, and donates to schools and houses of worship of all kinds. “I’m very proud and appreciative of support from the community,” he said.

West Englewood Avenue was not the kosher food mecca it is today when Chopstix opened. Katz said that when he found the location, the only other kosher food establishments in that part of Teaneck were Glatt Express and the Royal Bakery.

Although a devotee of Chinese food, when Katz began Chopstix, he learned about creating the dishes he wanted to make by visiting over 30 different kosher and non-kosher Chinese restaurants with his partners Uri Herzog and Chef Peter. The chef was able to sample the cuisine at the non-kosher places to learn how to recreate the best recipes for kosher cooking. Katz instituted business practices that were novel at the time, including a point-of-sale register for customers. He developed relationships with customers by sending birthday greetings and discount coupons.

From the beginning, Chopstix has adapted its recipes to the tastes, allergies and diet restrictions of its customers. “Our menu is like a clean canvas where you can build your food,” said Katz. “Some of our customers bring their own bottles of sauces, or tell us to please use a certain kind of gluten-free soy sauce. We customize specifically for them.”

Chopstix will adjust recipes according to the degree of spiciness customers like. Katz recalled that when they started, Chef Peter brought in a bag of hot chili peppers that the mashgiach said couldn’t be used as it didn’t have kosher certification. They made their own spice, which turned out to be a good thing—the chef learned how to adjust the level of spice for the average customer and the ones who request more or less heat.

The classics that have stood the test of time are still popular, like General Tso’s chicken, beef or chicken with mixed vegetables and lo mein. Chopstix periodically livens up its menu with new additions. Asian fusion items like Mango chicken, Chicken with black bean sauce and pad thai appeal to those wanting to stretch their taste buds. And Chopstix puts an Asian spin on American cuisine with franks in a blanket made with egg roll skins, and unique battered chicken wings with hot sauce. Instead of menu selections just for kids, their “Young but Wise” options have no age limit.

Chopstix for Shabbos is a big hit: food in hot plate-ready tins with wontons on the side to stay fresh. Katz said one of their hidden gems—scallion pancakes—is awesome mixed with cholent. He’s currently testing a meat-filled scallion pancake recipe.

Chopstix only serves food to take out. Orders can be picked up indoors or curbside, or can be delivered (no Sunday delivery). Visit https://www.chopstixusa.com.

Like all food establishments, Chopstix has adapted to the cleaning and safety requirements needed to prevent COVID-19. Everyone who enters is masked, condiments are all individually packed and the lobby is cordoned off so no one is waiting. “We go to strict lengths internally, you don’t even see,” Katz said about their cleaning and safety protocols.

With 25 years in Teaneck, Katz is now proudly serving the next generation of customers. “I have customers coming in who worked here as kids and now run Fortune 500 companies,” he said. “Chopstix was their first job and they say they learned all about business from me and their time here.”

By Bracha Schwartz