Grand & Essex’s director of culinary operations, Yitzy Elbaum, has launched a crazy endeavor to celebrate the Bergenfield kosher market’s sixth anniversary. Elbaum is overseeing the staff as they create a drop-off gala kiddush for at least 25 shuls and synagogues in Teaneck, Bergenfield, Paramus, Fort Lee and Englewood this Shabbat. With many shuls hosting more than one Shabbat morning minyan, the effort will be tantamount to catering a kiddush for 6,000 people.
“We don’t do much traditional advertising. We like to think in terms of giveaways for customers,” he said. “Crazy is my favorite thing; We don’t know how to do it halfway. We’re excited for people to celebrate with us and I like the challenge that it presents.”
“The number one thing we sell here is customer service. Actually it was the first thing my boss said to me at my first interview with them, and it really is true,” said Mali Baer, director of marketing and customer care. “Just like the good ol’ days where the customer was everything, everyone knew your name, asked after your family etc., we want to feel like that. We are a neighborhood store where we all care about the customer. We want to make and keep our customers happy,” she said.
Elbaum reported that the kitchen staff is working overtime to hand-peel 1,500 pounds of potatoes for 100 trays of its legendary potato kugel and almost as much cholent. They will use 500 to 600 pounds of ground beef for meatballs, and 800 pounds of chicken will be turned into the store’s signature pretzel chicken. The store is also baking up 200 pounds of rugelach.
“We’ll be running overnight shifts the next couple of nights,” Elbaum explained on Tuesday, adding that they’ve rented an additional refrigerated truck to complete the operation. “The other main thing is making sure our showcase (for takeout prepared foods) is not affected on Thursday and Friday.”
Elbaum added that he’s an expert on takeout since he’s been eating it since he was in yeshiva in Boro Park and then Monsey, and that there’s no reason why takeout can’t be great rather than average. Elbaum shared that his experience here combine with his background in sales and customer service gels well with the goals of the partners at Grand & Essex, including Mr. Schonfeld and Mr. Green, who are all of the mindset that they should put their customer’s needs first.
“We’re all obsessed with good food and customer service. We want our foods to taste homemade, heimishe. And we want to be bending over backwards for the customer. It’s a team effort.” Elbaum explained that certain culinary shortcuts, such as using machines to peel potatoes or crush pretzels have been tried and rejected, as they affect the taste of the food.
“The nice thing about working in food is, if you do your job well, you get to make people happy, and that’s gratifying,” Elbaum said. He explained that the mindset of every Grand & Essex employee is that “whoever walks in the door, we have the attitude of going out of our way to help them.”
Elbaum added that working with community members has helped the store be more helpful to customers. For example, Coach Gila Guzman’s work at the store grew out of customer requests for more diet-conscious, nutritious or allergy-friendly prepared foods, and that her line of Coach Gila-approved prepared foods are often just simplifications of Grand & Essex recipes, switching out oils, or removing breadcrumbs or creamer from various products. “We needed some guidance. It’s good to work with her. She’s in the store Monday and Friday mornings [to answer customer questions] as well,” he said.
Grand & Essex also partners with Yachad and individual families to hire employees with special needs. “It’s a benefit to us as much as it is to them,” Elbaum said. “It helps sensitize us all to be more inclusive,” he said.
Communicating with the community is also really important at Grand & Essex. “Social media important to us and our customers. When we heard Cooking in Heelss [spelled with two s’s] moved to Bergenfield we knew we had to have her as store ambassador. We know what is popular with our customers and that she is, therefore, a perfect fit for Grand & Essex,” said Baer.
Grand & Essex is located at 89 New Bridge Road, Bergenfield. Call 201-244-9955.