Last month, Ma’adan celebrated its 40th anniversary. Longevity is unusual in the food business. Former owners Stuart Kahan and Yossie Markovic, and current owner Jonny Shore, took a walk down memory lane with me to reminisce about how Ma’adan grew into a mainstay of kosher food in Teaneck and why it is still thriving today.
I was on the phone with Jonny when he put me on hold to take an important call. The kitchen staff was busy preparing for a party, and needed the recipe for a dip requested by the host. Jonny gave it to him off the top of his head, with exact measurements, and then resumed our call. That’s a good glimpse into the Ma’adan culture Stu and Yossie developed and Jonny is perpetuating. Jonny has a firm grip on all the recipes the store uses. Some were developed by Stu, some Jonny tweaked and some are his own. The tomato dip recipe the party host wanted is one Jonny added since he took over Ma’adan, and prepares periodically in the store. Every recipe made in the store includes Jonny’s precise measurements, and they are non-negotiable. “If a customer wants me to make a recipe of theirs, I say no,” said Jonny. Consistency is the hallmark of the Ma’adan brand.
Jonny has a team behind him, but he is the leader, in charge of the food and the finances. In the old days, those functions were split between Stu and Yossie. Yossie, who had an accounting background, handled the business and Stu was the master chef. As Stu recalled, “We were a good match. Yossie couldn’t boil water and I hated paperwork.”
Stu loved to cook. He learned from his parents and the cooks he met at hotels and catering halls where he worked since he was 14. He briefly joined his brother-in-law in the jewelry business, still working in food on the weekends, but he chose food over jewelry. For Stu, true gems were created in the kitchen.
Yossie and Stu became friends in second grade. They remained friends until going their separate ways after college. They bumped into each other at a friend’s business and rekindled their friendship. Yossie was working for the IRS and wanted a change. Stu was looking to get into a catering business. They decided to start a business together.
A cousin of Stu who lived in Teaneck recommended looking there for a place. The community was small but poised for growth. At that time, B’nai Yeshurun had just moved into its own building; Rinat and Beth Aaron were in the embryonic house minyan stage. There was only one kosher food option: Jerusalem Pizza. They found a small space on Cedar Lane, where Sababa Grill is now, and set up shop shortly after Thanksgiving in 1982. Prepared foods were all fleishig. One refrigerator held sliced cheese. Outside of one employee at the counter and one in the kitchen, Stu and Yossie did everything themselves, even going to the Hunts Point Market at midnight to pick up supplies to save on delivery. Rabbi Gordon, an early booster of the Teaneck Orthodox community, did the supervision. They moved into their current location after three years.
“The first five years were strenuous,” Yossie said. “I had a monthly budget and we had to bring in money to pay food costs and salaries. If we didn’t have money for employees, we didn’t take salaries.” When a few years later they were doing well enough to pay off the building, the they and their wives went out to celebrate.
Stu’s approach to food was to make classic kosher staples like egg barley, kasha, sweet noodle kugel, and chicken—roast, barbecue, fried—deli meats, salads and pasta. He added some modern items like vegetable kugels and chicken Francaise. It was important to always make them the same way. “I felt consistency was super important,” said Stu. “The ingredients were specific, down to the quarter ounce. I felt if you go to a place once and come back, you want it to taste the same. I always introduce a few different items to freshen it up.” Asked if he used any focus groups or even friends to test recipes, Stu said he relied on himself. “I had faith in my own taste buds.” Yossie recalled that Stu once spent six months developing a recipe for wasabi herring until it was to his liking.
Yossie and Stu became an integral part of the community. Yossie was one of the original founders of the Young Israel of Teaneck. “We started our first minyan in the garage,” he said. “Now we have 300 families, and a $5 million expansion.”
After several successful decades, Yossie and Stu started to think about retiring. It’s physically demanding work. And there are workplace hazards. Like the time Stu went to unload a van after a catering job. Little did he know the dishes were all piled against the door he was opening and they all tumbled out. He was happy that only one plate was broken. He was less happy about his two broken ribs. They talked about perhaps alternating periods of work and vacation, leaving each other in charge, but realized they were “joined at the hip” and it wouldn’t work. When they both were ready to retire, they decided to sell but wanted someone with the same values and passion for Ma’adan’s success that they had. In 2018, they found the right match in Jonny Shore.
Jonny was in the food business and ready for a place of his own. A mutual friend introduced him to Stu and Yossie. Although he was not familiar with Ma’adan, the families knew each other; Jonny’s wife was Yossie’s first babysitter.
“I had gone to them for advice in the past and they were very gracious,” Jonny said. “I saw that Ma’adan was totally the type of place I would love. It’s a community store where you get to know the customers and you can be there for people at the most joyous times—family reunions, brissim, simchas—and the worst times like a shiva house, bringing comfort. When I spoke to Stu and Yossie, we had the same values. As time went on, it was clear that they picked the right guy and I picked the right business.”
Jonny rose to the challenge of staying true to Ma’adan’s loyal clientele while drawing in new customers. Stu and Yossie stayed for a while to help him make a smooth transition. He kept Ely Shyker, “a lifelong deli counter guy,” to be his meat manager and Itzick Machlof as dairy manager. Jonny slowly put his stamp on the menu, taking out some items that were no longer as popular and adding new ones. He had a smoker made in West Virginia and once or twice a week he makes a run of smoked meats, which he loves. He brought in Yitz Alloul, who he says “has a knack for creating and developing recipes.” But some items stayed just the way Stu made them, as requested by fans. “A lot of women come in for the matza balls. I tell them, ‘I give you permission to say you made it yourself.’”
Getting through the COVID pandemic was challenging. Lockdowns halted catering events or made them much smaller. And as the world opened up again, supply-chain shortages and rising prices created additional headaches. But Jonny said business is returning to normal. Regular customers have stayed loyal and he “look[s] forward to surprising people who haven’t tried Ma’adan yet.”
What Jonny wanted most was a community store and every Shabbos he learns how much Ma’adan is a part of life in Teaneck. “I walked with my wife to the other side of Teaneck for a meal, and we were stopped by four or five people,” Jonny said. “They said ‘Your chopped liver is the best’ or ‘We love your herring.’ My wife said ‘It’s amazing how many people you know.’ That’s the best part of being a community store.”
Jonny is planning surprises to celebrate Ma’adan’s 40th anniversary throughout the year. Stay up to date by following Ma’adan at www.maadan.com, https://www.facebook.com/MaadanCatering and on Instagram @maadannj.
By Bracha Schwartz