Two restaurants drop RCC after Doheny scandal


Less than two months after a private investigator videotaped the owner of Doheny Glatt Kosher Meat Market allegedly bringing unsupervised animal products into his store, two local kosher restaurants have dropped the Rabbinical Council of California (RCC) as their glatt kosher certifier. 

The RCC, a nonprofit consortium of local Orthodox rabbis, had certified as kosher the now-disgraced retailer and distributor’s meat, and RCC President Rabbi Meyer May confirmed in an interview on May 20 that other restaurants under the group’s certification are also considering an exit. 

“Two have left,” May said, “and it depends on some negotiations going on now whether there are more, or are not allowed to be more.” 

Asked how the RCC can prevent privately owned businesses from dropping their kosher certification, which can cost a business hundreds or thousands of dollars a month to maintain — mostly for the kosher supervision of a mashgiach, but also in fees paid to the RCC — May said his organization is currently in talks with Kehilla Kosher, the other major Orthodox kosher certifier in Los Angeles. May said he hopes the two agencies can agree on a common set of standards to apply to kosher restaurants citywide, which, he said, might dissuade businesses from fleeing the RCC. 

“Will it be successful? I don’t know,” May said. 

May confirmed that Elite Cuisine, a restaurant and catering company located on Beverly Boulevard near La Brea Avenue that had been under the RCC’s certification, is now certified by Kehilla. An advertisement for Elite that appeared in the May 19 edition of the Hillygram, a community e-mail newsletter, featured Kehilla’s logo.

May declined to name the other restaurant that has left the RCC. Habayit Restaurant in West Los Angeles, which had been listed on the RCC’s Web site in early April, no longer appears on the certifier’s site. 

Reached by phone, Amir Simyonov, Habayit’s owner, confirmed on May 17 that he had dropped the RCC’s certification and is now solely under the supervision of Rabbi Yehuda Bukspan. 

Meanwhile, the glass front door of Doheny’s retail outlet on Pico Boulevard remains covered with white butcher paper. If the initial reaction to the scandal, which broke on March 24, was rapid, progress toward reopening the store has slowed more recently. 

Shlomo Rechnitz, a local businessman and philanthropist, bought the shop and its distribution arm on March 31 and then transferred the agreement to David Kagan, owner of Western Kosher, the competing kosher retailer, on April 8.

The main obstacle to reopening Doheny is the question of which kosher agency will oversee the reopened shop. Western Kosher is certified by Kehilla, but Rechnitz told the RCC’s May at the time he purchased the shop that he intended to reopen Doheny under RCC certification.

Reached by phone on May 21, Kagan declined to comment. On Tuesday, Rechnitz declined to comment about the negotiations on the record, other than to say that they are ongoing.

On that same day, May said he isn’t sure exactly who currently owns the shop, but he appeared to be expecting Rechnitz to make good on his promise that the reopened Doheny would remain under the RCC’s certification. 

“We won’t accept that Doheny will open up under Kehilla,” May said.

Whether the RCC would, in fact, be able to stop that from happening is unclear. 

In what he called an effort to improve the standards of kashrut in Los Angeles, May said the RCC recently underwent internal and external audits of its operations. Rabbi Gershon Bess, the RCC’s chief rabbinic authority, in an open letter to the Jewish community sent on May 3, said that the auditor, “a senior representative of the [Orthodox Union],” found that despite the RCC’s “general high standards and excellent staff, [the RCC] needed to improve and upgrade in many areas.” 

May told the Journal in April that results of audits would be made public, but declined to discuss them on Monday. He said he hopes to implement higher kosher standards in Los Angeles, and that, ideally, such standards would be implemented by Kehilla’s certified businesses as well. 

Kehilla’s rabbinic administrator, Rabbi Avrohom Teichman, declined to be interviewed on May 21. In response to a message left for Teichman on Tuesday, a Kehilla employee who identified himself only as Noah, told the Journal that the agency is “not aware of any obstacles” that would prevent Doheny from reopening its doors. The employee declined to respond to follow-up questions by phone. 

New Doheny Meats owner explains his purchase of scandal-ridden store


Shlomo Rechnitz, a prominent local businessman and philanthropist, has purchased Doheny Glatt Kosher Meat Market, the scandal-plagued kosher meat retailer and distributor.

Rechnitz, who co-founded TwinMed, a large medical supply firm, and owns a number of other businesses, purchased the store and its distribution arm for an undisclosed sum from its former owner, Mike Engelman.

The sale closed late in the day on Sunday, March 31, just one week after its former kosher certifier, the Rabbinical Council of California (RCC), revoked the store’s certification and hours before the beginning of a two-day holy period celebrating the end of Passover.

Starting on March 25, the day after the revocation, rabbis from the RCC reached out to Rechnitz, urging him to buy Doheny, and in an interview with The Jewish Journal on April 3, Rechnitz said he initially considered making the purchase as “a favor to the community.”

[Related: After Doheny Kosher scandal, what does the future hold for L.A.’s meat market?]

“Before I came out with the announcement that I was going to purchase [Doheny],” Rechnitz said, “there were already stores calling up different distributors, even being quoted prices 35 to 40 percent higher than their current prices.”

Doheny is believed to supply as much as 50 percent of the kosher meat and poultry in Los Angeles; its disappearance would have significantly reduced competition in the marketplace, which, Rechnitz said, “would have destroyed the kosher market in Los Angeles.”

RCC President Rabbi Meyer H. May said Wednesday morning that he was one of those who personally urged Rechnitz to buy Doheny Meats, and he was cheered by news of the sale.

“It’s really extraordinary,” May said. “He’s going to preserve the richness of the meat supply and preserve the price structure for consumers.”

Rechnitz was involved in the response to the Doheny scandal from its earliest hours. He was one of a handful of non-rabbis who attended a hastily organized meeting on Sunday, March 24, when Engelman spoke to the RCC’s leadership and rabbis from synagogues around the Pico-Robertson neighborhood about what he had done at his store.

Engelman, who had owned the shop for 28 years, was videotaped by a private investigator last month bringing unidentified products into his store at a time when its rabbinic overseer was absent. Engelman did not return repeated calls requesting comment, and has not spoken on the record since the scandal began.

At the March 24 meeting, Engelman reportedly told Rechnitz, May, and the other laypeople and rabbis present, that he had, on two or three occasions, brought unsupervised meat into the store.

According to multiple people who attended the meeting, Engelman claimed all the meat he had brought to Doheny was kosher, but he admitted some was not up to the RCC’s higher “glatt kosher” standard. Glatt kosher meat is more expensive than kosher meat, which itself carries a higher price tag than equivalent non-kosher products.

Rechnitz said that he believes Engelman with “99 percent” confidence.

Rechnitz did add a caveat.  “You can’t rely on someone like me, who got my information from someone who unfortunately has made mistakes, who wasn’t always as truthful as he should have been,” Rechnitz said.

Over the course of a week of negotiations, Rechnitz spent between eight and 10 hours with Engelman; he said he does not believe Engelman brought the unsupervised products into Doheny to respond to specific customers’ requests, as some have suggested.

Rechnitz said Engelman himself couldn’t fully explain why he brought the unsupervised meat into the store, but Rechnitz speculated that it may have been due to anger Engelman felt towards his main supplier, Agri Star, the large kosher meat processor based in Postville, Iowa. In 2009, Agri Star bought the Postville plant from the bankrupt Rubashkin-owned firm AgriProcessors, which had been shut down in the aftermath of the largest immigration raid in American history.

Money may not have been the motivating factor, Rechnitz said, “because it wasn’t that much of a difference, based on the quantity.”

In the private investigator’s video, a Doheny employee was seen unloading eight boxes from Engelman’s SUV and bringing them into the store. Based on additional videos received from the investigator, the May said the RCC estimates Engelman brought a total of approximately 1,200 pounds of animal products into the store over the weeks he was under surveillance.

Although Rechnitz’s initial reason to purchase Doheny was to maintain competing distributors for the city’s kosher-observant community, over the course of the week of negotiations he became a bit more optimistic about the business prospects for the company.

“I didn’t have time to send in a forensic accounting team,” he said, but Engelman told him that Doheny’s gross sales on the retail and distribution sides added up to approximately $8 million a year.

That said, Rechnitz said he hopes to remain a mostly silent investor in Doheny, and won’t aim to build its market share at the expense of other distributors.

Engelman won’t have any role in the business – Rechnitz said the agreement required the former owner to make a “complete” break, and included a non-compete clause – but the rest of the operation should remain mostly the same.

The RCC will once again certify Doheny’s retail and distribution operations, the name will remain the same and every current employee, Rechnitz said, has been offered his job.

The store, which is currently closed, could reopen as early as next Monday; Rechnitz said that the store, the utensils and dishes used there were being kashered — ritually cleansed — “just in case there was non-kosher meat being used.”

Rechnitz is currently Doheny’s sole owner; he said he is in negotiations with another investor who might buy into the business. The deal with Engelman included a non-disclosure agreement about the price, Rechnitz said, but he described the negotiations as “amicable” and described the final selling price as “sizable,” but not as big as it might have been prior to the scandal.

“It definitely came at a major discount due to the fact of what [Engelman] did, or what he tried to get away with,” Rechnitz said. “He definitely was not rewarded for his actions.”

Rechnitz has experience working with organizations at times of crisis. In his role as CEO of one of his companies, Brius Management Co., which manages multiple nursing homes across California, Rechnitz told a reporter in 2011 that his company looked mostly for “distressed facilities.”

In his philanthropic work, Rechnitz has also come to the aid of embattled organizations. Last year, in the wake of Hurricane Sandy, Rechnitz donated $1 million to an organization that supports Jewish day schools in the New York area. In 2011, Rechnitz donated $5 million to the Mir Yeshiva in Jerusalem, which was struggling under millions in debt following the death of its chief rabbi and fundraiser. That same year, Rechnitz also helped save Chabad of California’s headquarters from foreclosure.

But Rechnitz is also known for charitable giving of a very different sort. Every Saturday night, Jews line up outside his family’s home. Until six months ago, those who came walked away with checks; now they leave with gift cards to one of two kosher markets in the area near Fairfax and La Brea.

Rechnitz announced his purchase of Doheny at his synagogue on Sunday evening, March 31, just hours after the deal closed. He said the reaction there was muted – “It was kind of almost expected,” Rechnitz said, adding that his goal in making the announcement was to change the conversations that observant Jews in Los Angeles were bound to have over the two days that followed, the last two days of Passover, during which work and the use of any electronics is prohibited.

“I wanted to stave off two days of people creating rumors and completely defaming the place,” Rechnitz said.

In that regard, Rechnitz appears to have succeeded already. Just hours after Passover ended on Tuesday, April 2, after sundown, at least one person had reported the news in a comment on Facebook.

Rubashkin family members fined $2 million


Members of the Rubashkin family, who operated the now-defunct Agriprocessers kosher meatpacking plant, must pay a total of more than $2 million after defaulting on loans.

A federal judge ordered Dec. 16 that Abraham Aaron Rubashkin and sons Sholom and Tzvi must pay the money to the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. and Value Recovery Group. The latter was owed more than $1.6 million in unpaid rent, according to court records, The Associated Press reported. The judgment also includes interest and litigation costs.

Agriprocessors CEO Sholom Rubashkin was sentenced last June to 27 years in federal prison after being convicted in November 2009 on 86 counts of fraud in connection with the Agriprocessors plant.

In a federal raid on the plant in May 2008, 389 illegal immigrants, including 31 children, were arrested.