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Thursday, May 19, 2022
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Mark & Julie’s Homemade Ice Cream has been a staple on Pleasant Valley Way in West Orange since it was established by Mark and Julie Orenstein in 1994. In September 2021, after Mark was diagnosed with cancer, Julie posted in a statement on Facebook: “I’ve made the difficult decision to close the store temporarily to concentrate on taking care of Mark.”

In March 2022, a new Facebook statement read: “It is with a heavy heart that due to our ongoing health issues, we had to make the difficult decision to sell our store. As you know, Mark has been battling cancer and undergoing aggressive treatment since last year, and I have been facing my own health issues. We have decided that it is best for us to focus on our health, spend time together, and let someone who can dedicate the time necessary to running this business and ‘carry the torch.’”

Mike and Bre Guerriero, who now own four local ice cream and gelato shops, jumped at the opportunity to take over. “We were drawn to them as a husband and wife team,” Mike told The Jewish Link. We always admired their work. Mark & Julie’s has always been number one or number two in Essex County.”

“We were really impressed with Mike,” Julie shared. “We were impressed with how enthusiastic and ambitious he is.”

“Within minutes of announcing on Facebook that we would be taking over the store, people hounded us about kosher certification,” Mike said. Between emails and phone calls and texts and Facebook messages, he estimates that he received at least 100 such requests within 24 hours.

“What really struck me,” Mike said, “is that we talk about inclusivity, but there are so many people in this community who couldn’t come here.”

Rabbi Zwickler, rabbi at Ahavas Achim B’nai Jacob and David in West Orange, and vice president of the Vaad HaRabonim of MetroWest, said that he was thrilled to receive the call from Mike. Both men said the process was very smooth.

Because the ice cream is currently being made in the gelato shop that the Guerrieros own in Caldwell, Rabbi Zwickler said that both locations had to be kashered. The most difficult part about that requirement, the rabbi said, is that Mike is such a wonderful person and this was an additional project for him to take on. During COVID, he explained, Mike used his kitchen to help make and deliver over 60,000 meals and bags of groceries, through the nonprofit Toni’s Kitchen. As such, the entire kitchen needed to be kashered.

“The only ingredients used for the ice cream that had to be switched out were the gummy bears and the marshmallows,” Mike said.

There’s no compromise needed when getting a kosher certification for an ice cream shop, Zwickler and Guerriero agreed. When you want to certify a Dunkin’ Donuts, for example, you need to get rid of ingredients like bacon and could end up losing customers who expect those ingredients. But with ice cream, most of the best ingredients are already kosher. And trading out marshmallows and gummy bears for kosher ones doesn’t sacrifice the quality of the product or risk losing customers.

Mike says they have even more kashrut plans for the future. Right now, their vegan ice cream is made on dairy equipment, Rabbi Zwickler explained. Within six months, they hope that the vegan ice cream will be 100% pareve.

The Guerrieros announced the kosher certification on Facebook on Saturday evening, and they say that Saturday night was filled with the “best group of customers.”

Julie is thrilled for the Guerrieros and for the community. “We wish we could have had kosher certification,” Julie said, explaining that because she and Mark are Jewish, they would have had to close the store on Shabbat in order to receive the certification, risking too much of their business. But she is happy that the shop she and her husband built and ran for 27 years will live on and grow.

The new owners plan to keep the shop’s name and the popular homemade flavors “so that the legacy of the shop lives on for generations to come.” Additionally, Mike said, they are always concocting new flavors. They currently offer 54 flavors of ice cream, plus cakes and novelties, and part of their business model is to have a new menu every three months.

“This is the epicenter of Orthodox Jewish life in West Orange—in Essex County. Our kids can come and get ice cream without even getting in the car,” said Rabbi Zwickler.

 

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