Joe Godin was back in his element, serving samples of his special cornbread and onion jam at the new and expanded kosher food section of ShopRite in Englewood on Sunday, June 11. Since his restaurant Smokey Joe’s in Teaneck closed in 2016, Godin has focused on his catering business. Now he’s branching out with a line of packaged fresh products exclusively for ShopRite. All the favorites are now here: barbecue pulled brisket and pulled chicken, sausage, beef bacon, beef chili, barbecue meatloaf, cornbread and onion jam, “bacon” fried rice, orecchiette pasta with sausage, and GazpaJoe (gazpacho soup).
Andrew Kent, executive vice president of Glass Gardens ShopRite, is one of the owners of 11 ShopRite Supermarkets in New Jersey and New York. “His food is really tremendous and there has been an unbelievable response. I’ve been working a year to make this happen,” he said, noting that Smokey Joe’s items are only available in the Paramus and Englewood stores.
On Sunday, curious shoppers stopped by to check out his offerings. Former patrons of Smokey Joe’s greeted him enthusiastically. Godin said he is preparing everything fresh, just as he did at the restaurant, and delivers twice a week. The only preservatives he uses are the ones necessary for his smoked products.
Kent first introduced fresh, ready-to-eat prepared kosher food at the ShopRite in Paramus about seven years ago, when the competitive landscape heated up with the arrival of Whole Foods, Trader Joe’s and Fairway in Paramus. Aware of the growing population of observant Jews in the area, ShopRite opened its own kosher kitchen and began butchering their own fish and meat.
Two years ago, ShopRite got the go-ahead to embark on an extensive expansion plan in Englewood, adding 22,000 square feet to the store. Making ShopRite a destination for kosher customers, where they can get everything they need in one place at good value, was part of the plan. Existing kosher sections have been enlarged, including fresh kosher fish and meat, fresh packaged hummus and dips, refrigerated dairy items, frozen foods and baked goods. Kosher staples, with an increasing selection of Israeli products, take up most of a long aisle. Kent, who lives in Tenafly, said many Israelis live in the area and tell him they appreciate finding the names and brands they grew up with.
To attract kosher customers, Kent said they made a decision to create a bigger kitchen and get top-tier talent. Enter Craig Solomon, a Culinary Institute-trained chef and resident of Englewood who has worked at many top-name restaurants, and had his own, Ariel’s in Englewood, a restaurant with a strong following that, like Smokey Joe’s, is sorely missed. “Craig is a great asset and we are excited about his capabilities,” said Kent. “His food is really tremendous. He’s elevating the protein assortment with foods like short ribs and lamb chops for customers looking to entertain.”
Kent said Solomon came on board with a mandate to create a total program, building on what works in Paramus. In addition to traditional, popular items like rotisserie and fried chicken, chicken nuggets and meatloaf, he has added a selection of soups and salmon fillets with different sauces. He also has free rein to innovate. “Craig has artistic license to learn by trial and error,” said Kent. “He is running the kitchen like a little restaurant,” he added.
The showcase across from the display cases is where Solomon shines. With his freedom to experiment, he makes what he likes and what he thinks his customers will like. He turns out a variety of chicken cutlets, like the Asian-spiced General Tso’s, grilled, pesto and BBQ. The new fresh salmon selections sit in their own section, separated from the meat, along with smoked salmon, sliced to order. Brisket, steak and roast beef are always available but with changing sauces and seasonings. Sides like quinoa salad and ratatouille round out the menu. Recently, he added deli roll squares after seeing how much his kids loved them at home. He showed me a beef-stuffed onion he created, combining two of his favorite ingredients. “I’m constantly trying things out and seeing what people like,” he said. The entire kosher space is under OU supervision.
The average shopper will note that much of the food is geared towards Shabbos. But business and vacation travelers also love the ease with which they can get real, good kosher food from ShopRite packaged to travel. Solomon says he can pack up anything for customers, on request.
Catering is also available. Kent said they have catered events for the Kaplen JCC on the Palisades and other charitable organizations. For smaller events, though, consumers can pick up platters and containers at the store. Kent said he may add a heated truck to facilitate their catering capabilities.
With 12 feet of space left to roll out, Kosher ShopRite in Englewood will continue to grow. More items for summer picnics are coming. In addition to Smokey Joe’s selections, smoked meats from the Wandering Que are sharing shelf space. “We’ll be adding more items, more variety, more kosher cuts of meat and higher-end cuts,” Kent said. “We want to attract people who have never tried us and win back people who left.”
Thankfully, we don’t have to think about Passover yet, but Kent already has big plans. “The kitchen won’t close; it’s a huge opportunity for us,” he said. “I’m thinking about doing a time-lapse video to show how, in three days, we do everything to get ready.” The kitchen made its debut this year at Passover. Kent said next year it will be even bigger.
By Bracha Schwartz