June 18, 2024
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Linking Northern and Central NJ, Bronx, Manhattan, Westchester and CT

Noam Sokolow and Elie Katz Trade Places on ‘Boss Swap’ to Support Local Restaurants

There’s a proverb that warns not to judge another until you have walked a mile in their shoes. Noam Sokolow, owner of Noah’s Ark and Shelly’s, and Elie Katz, owner of Chopstix, didn’t switch shoes but did switch places. And they probably walked several miles as they took orders, served customers and kept all systems running smoothly. They aren’t judging each other though; they want to show friends and customers the challenges facing local food establishments during the pandemic in an informative but entertaining way.

For one night, Sokolow served customers at Chopstix while Katz held down the fort at Noah’s Ark. Frank Melli, a friend and video producer, captured their “Trading Places” moment for a potential video series, “Boss Swap,” to encourage viewers to enjoy good food while supporting the local restaurant scene. (The trailer can be found on YouTube). They are producing one complete pilot episode to gauge interest from TV networks; plan B is to produce and distribute the series themselves.

According to Melli, there are a few ways the series could go. “It could be Elie and Noam taking on different aspects of running a restaurant, or we could bring in other bosses,” said Melli, who has been in the television business for 38 years. “One way or another, we’re fortunate to have strong content. Possibly a network like Bravo might be interested, or we can self-syndicate with sponsors on our own server.”

Sokolow and Katz have been friendly competitors for years, running promotions to benefit the community like the chametz collection challenge at Pesach and the pastrami versus egg roll challenge. “Now we need to talk about the struggle all restaurants are having,” said Sokolow. “We need to bring awareness to this.”

There is a whole food ecosystem behind the scenes at local restaurants that is in danger due to the pandemic. “When you buy from local businesses the money stays in the community,” said Katz. “We can hire local workers, contribute to the community with our tax dollars and help local shuls and schools when they ask for contributions for projects, like journal dinners,” he said.

Both restaurant owners hope viewers will have as much fun watching the first episode as they had making it. They were able to video incredulous passersby who watched Sokolow wrapping orders in tin foil or washing windows who then stopped to ask him what he was doing. “It was very spontaneous and very real,” said Melli. “We were happy to get permission to include these interactions.”

Both Sokolow and Katz learned a lot about how each business is run. “I thought Chopstix was a small takeout store so how hard could it be?” mused Sokolow, grinning in retrospect. “Then I saw all these people working together and what a huge combination effort it was. It was mind boggling in every aspect—the food preparation down to how the egg rolls are cut, how the food is packed, how the orders are taken, the way food is stored in the fridge. You see the reason why things are done in a certain way.” He was pleasantly surprised by the busy but positive atmosphere at Chopstix. “There was a nice synergy to the way everyone interacted with lots of mutual respect for what each person does. The customers and the staff were very friendly. And the place was spotless.”

Katz has been in the restaurant business for almost 30 years and thought taking the reins at Noah’s Ark would be “a walk in the park.” Like Sokolow, he quickly learned otherwise. “I thought I knew his menu—I’m a good customer—but he runs a tight ship and there are new menu items he added during the pandemic,” said Katz. “His systems are the reason his food is consistent all the time.” Katz was surprised to be told he couldn’t use a pad to take orders. “Noam told me, ‘I want employees to have a connection with the customer and you don’t have a connection if you’re writing on a pad.’ It was challenging for me.”

Mellli, Sokolow and Katz are enjoying the process of creating the show and hope their enthusiasm will be inspiring. View the trailer for “Boss Swap” at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VoYXOnwNbHA. And get ready for the premiere with a good meal from Noah’s Ark, Shelley’s or Chopstix.

By Bracha Schwartz

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