September 22, 2018

Osher Bar & Grill: L.A.’s First Glatt Kosher Sports Bar

With its family-style smooth wood tables, sleek bar, industrial beams, exposed-brick walls and 13 large television screens, Osher Bar & Grill looks like it could be a regular sports bar in Anytown USA. It even serves up pub grub including beer-battered onion rings, chips and guacamole, and Buffalo wings.

However, what sets Osher apart from similar establishments is that it’s Los Angeles’ first fully glatt kosher bar and grill, situated smack dab in the Pico-Robertson neighborhood, on a corner of Pico Boulevard and South Bedford Street.

Osher opened in May in the space formerly occupied by O’Woks. Owners Yoni Rappaport and Kfir Kamelgard — best friends and former college roommates from Rutgers University in New Jersey — are just 29 years old. 

There are actually four partners in the business (all of whom are modern Orthodox), including Kamelgard’s father, Joe, who is Osher’s main investor and shareholder, and chef Alexander Remer, who has spent 30 years working in both kosher and nonkosher restaurants on the East Coast. 

“We had always planned on doing something in the industry,” Rappaport said. “At Rutgers, we wanted to open up a diner on the campus and then do a bar afterward.”

But after the duo graduated, Kamelgard moved into finance while Rappaport went into the restaurant industry. It took seven years before they fulfilled their dream of having a restaurant together. 

Rappaport was the opening general manager and beverage coordinator for the first kosher sports bar in Teaneck, N.J., called the Teaneck Doghouse, and he and Kamelgard wanted to open something similar in Los Angeles that was a little more up-market.

“Not call it the Doghouse,” Rappaport quipped. 

That feel they were looking for is reflected in Osher’s menu, which includes beer-battered chicken poppers with a maple bourbon aioli, and fresh pappardelle pasta with beef cheeks, red wine sauce and watercress.

Chef Remer said he likes to call his food “New American” cuisine. “Postmodern cooking is how I think of it,” he said. “I try to focus on food items that have sentimental and nostalgic reactions — comfort food. But on the flip side, we’re reimagining those foods.”

Remer cited Osher’s burger as one example. “We grind our meat in house. We use the best meat and local produce. We’re not coming off as pretentious or highbrow, but we serve that burger with a cherry jam, a jalapeño aioli and flash-fry fennel, as opposed to onions.”

Osher is a Hebrew homonym. On the one hand it means happiness, but on the other it means success and wealth.” — Yoni Rappaport

And it’s not just the restaurant and its “postmodern” food that are new in the neighborhood. Osher’s hechsher (kosher certification) is the first in the area to be supervised by North American Kosher. 

While the independent kashrut label was established two years ago, it’s under the auspices of Rabbi Aharon Simkin, who has spent almost 30 years in the business. Over the course of his career, he has worked with the Orthodox Union (OU), Kehilla Kosher (which merged with OK Kosher Certification in 2015) and KOF-K Kosher Certification.

Simkin’s first introduction to Osher was when he met Joe Kamelgard at services at Beth Jacob Congregation in Beverly Hills, where they both pray. Simkin was friends with the late Rabbi Zushe Blech, the former Midwest regional director of the OU who went on to start his own kashrut supervision business and provided the certification for the Doghouse. 

“Joe had some questions about kashrut supervision for the restaurant, and he asked me to come and meet with him, Kfir and Yoni,” Simkin told the Journal over dinner at Osher. “And we had this common connection with Rabbi Blech.”

“We were looking for someone who had a good knowledge of modern kashrut and the industrial side of the industry,” Rappaport said. Had Osher received certification from OK Kosher, he added, the restaurant would not have been allowed to cater a wedding with mixed dancing, and he and his partners would not have been permitted to also open a nonkosher restaurant, among other things.

“We just wanted someone who was focused on the kashrut — the food, the drink and basics for operating a kosher restaurant,” Rappaport said. 

Simkin said he had no problem delivering on those things. “I am a strict hechsher,” he said. “We have a Jewish chef in the kitchen, which means we can also do Beit Yosef cooking, which is what the Sephardim require.” (Beit Yosef rules on what constitutes kosher meat are stricter than Ashkenazi requirements.)

“The other reason having Rabbi Simkin is so great,” Rappaport said, “is because he has the industrial background, in the same way Rabbi Blech did. He’s more willing to look into things and he has more contacts.”

Osher has taken advantage of Simkin’s knowledge to expand the restaurant’s craft and tap beers, because there’s a limited certified list.

“Some people assume certain beers are kosher, but that’s not the case,” Rappaport said. “Especially in a meat restaurant, because a lot of breweries use dairy products for flavoring and texture.”

Despite the relatively new name of North American Kosher, Rappaport said Osher’s owners have received little pushback from the community. “We are stricter than most places, actually, even when it comes to what we require of our mashgiach (supervisor in the kitchen),” he said. “If we open on a Saturday night, we make sure that we don’t ask him to be here less than 30 minutes after Shabbat goes out.”

Simkin said his North American Kosher supervises about 100 companies worldwide, including the Unique Pastry dairy café in Tarzana, and he hopes to expand on the West Coast.

“I think it’s really important to have an independent kosher certification agency here,” Simkin said. “And I’m competitive. I don’t have to pay rent for several floors of office space in Manhattan, so I don’t have to charge as much.”

Most importantly, he said, he can enforce Jewish law while still creating “a system of supervision that is tailor-made for a particular company, which is what we’ve done [with Osher].”

Rappaport concurred, saying he enjoys working with a smaller company. “You get much more personal attention, which really works for us and it ensures our practices are transparent,” he said.

The whole thing makes him happy — which brings us to the name of the restaurant. Osher, in Hebrew, means happiness. 

“We didn’t want something generic,” Rappaport said. “Kfir was born in Israel and his mother had these four blocks when he was a kid with these letters that spelled out Osher. It’s a Hebrew homonym — on the one hand it means happiness, but on the other it means success and wealth. And we see that as the transactional nature of a restaurant.

“We provide happiness and, hopefully, in return we get a modicum of success and wealth.”