May 25, 2024
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Linking Northern and Central NJ, Bronx, Manhattan, Westchester and CT

New Best Glatt Owners Cook Up a Dream

For Aleksandr and Michelle Berger of Edison, Rosh Hashanah was not only the start of a new year, it was the beginning of their new lives as owners of Best Glatt in Teaneck. “We are both living our dream,” said Michelle. “I have wanted to do catering since I was 9 years old.” Alex, who has worked as a butcher since coming to this country from the Ukraine 22 years ago, jumped at the chance to have his own business. “We saw an ad online for a combination kosher butcher/prepared foods market and looked into it,” Michelle said. “We knew we could combine forces and work well together.”

The Bergers had to pass muster with Meir and Anat Best for their standards as well as their finances. And they meshed perfectly. “They wanted to make sure their legacy was in good hands. We walked out of this deal with new friends.” The Bergers took over about two weeks before Rosh Hashanah. To her delight, Michelle found a compatible kitchen staff. “From day one, we knew how to twirl around each other. If you don’t have a kitchen that works, and understand each other’s movements, it’s a recipe for serious accidents.” The couple can fill in for each other if necessary. “If I had to, I can make a standing rib roast, and in a pinch, he’s an amazing cook,” Michelle laughed.

Over their years in Teaneck, Best Glatt has gained a loyal following of customers who appreciate high-quality meat and take-out selections. The Bergers plan to keep and extend that focus, maintaining many of Anat Best’s “delicious, amazing recipes.” Michelle Berger said she is a dedicated “locavore,” trying to get seasonal produce from New Jersey and upstate New York farms for optimal nutritional value, and changing menus according to what’s available. She uses as little sugar as possible with no substitutes, and no preservatives.

There’s a place for the taste and comfort of traditional foods like p’tcha and chopped liver, Michelle acknowledged, but she wants to bring a new sensibility about flavorful, lower fat, healthier options to the kosher consumer. Quinoa and brown rice are staples in her dishes; dressings are made from scratch. Fresh is non-negotiable for Michelle; she has a three-day-and-out rule for prepared food, although if it is still good it goes to tzedakah. She makes coleslaw every day or every other day in small batches, never resizing from “huge, 10 pound sand buckets” and repacking. She’s happy to give a taste of anything to customers who want to try before they buy.

Michelle learned cooking on the job starting as a waitress and dishwasher at age 14. By age 16 she had begun working with caterers. At 18, she became close with a chef who had been trained in Italy and France, and she gladly worked without pay to learn. “I got a better education from her than if I had gone to Johnson and Wales (culinary school),” she said. Parallel to her pursuit of a career in catering, she got a cosmetologist license and later a degree in psychology from Rutgers University: her well-educated Carpathian parents didn’t think cooking was an ideal profession.

While pursuing her goals, she met Alex Berger. He came to this country from Ukraine with a degree in plumbing architecture but found a job as a butcher and loved it. He learned English and she learned Russian.

After Michelle’s college graduation, the couple married and moved to Brooklyn. Michelle didn’t find the right food business and began working in an office. One night, tired and hungry, she went to ShopRite and walked through the meat sections on her way to get cottage cheese. She saw the wide variety of ready-to-cook foods and immediately thought how great that would be for kosher homemakers. She brought her idea to Sholom Minkowitz, son-in-law of Aaron Rubashkin, who brought her in to develop marinated foods for the company that were distributed to their concessions.

With the arrival of children, Michelle took a break from food, working at a low-stress office job to be more available to her growing family. But the dream was still there, lying dormant. And then she found Best Glatt. Now her oldest is 26 and will be helping develop Best Glatt’s social media profile. Michelle’s parents live nearby and help care for the younger kids.

Alex brings to the table his expertise as a butcher—Michelle said he cuts meat like a surgeon—and connections to good sources in the industry in addition to the ones Meir Best developed. “When Alex orders prime rib, he knows he’s getting it,” said Michelle. “One day an order came in with a choice sticker instead of prime on the box. He refused it and sent it back. There’s a big difference between choice and prime. Prime melts in your mouth, Choice, you have to marinate awhile.” Michelle said it’s the difference in quality that makes restaurant steaks taste better. She said Best Glatt is the only meat purveyor in the area carrying prime rib.

Best Glatt only sells all-natural, American beef. Michelle doesn’t use the term organic as it has specific requirements that are USDA regulated. She says meat can be organic but bad quality.

Customer service continues to be a benefit of shopping at Best Glatt. Get to know the Bergers and they’ll call you when really outstanding meat comes in—like the butcher who used to call Michelle’s mother back in the day, and the two of them ran in at 6:45 in the morning. Best Glatt delivers—as far as the Hamptons, eastern Pennsylvania and Deal in the summer.

The Best Glatt sign will remain at 543 Cedar Lane, Michelle said. “Why change the name? Best Glatt says it all.”

By Bracha Schwartz

 

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