January 16, 2019

Some Coffee Bean stores opt out of kosher standing

After years of assuring customers that everything sold is kosher, a handful of Southern California Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf shops can no longer make the promise.

Kosher LA, which oversees the kosher certification of The Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf stores in the region, announced last month that several privately franchised stores have opted out of being kosher. Previously, all Coffee Beans in Los Angeles, including the corporate-owned and franchised locations, were kosher.

The locations no longer certified include those at Paramount Studios, USC Cinema, USC Roland Building, the Santa Barbara Airport and two at Los Angeles International Airport (LAX) — the Tom Bradley International terminal and Terminal 1. In May, the store at LAX Terminal 5 will not be kosher.

JJ Smith, vice president of franchise operations for Coffee Bean, said in a telephone interview those locations became non-kosher after their supplies of kosher-certified snacks and sandwiches ran out and were replaced by non-kosher items.

“When they wanted to change their grab-and-go items, we discussed it with our rabbi, and he said they needed to take down their certification,” Smith said. “These locations are not kosher as of right now, but we’re working to get them back up to status.”

In a statement, the company said, “All of our Company-owned stores and the vast majority of our franchise stores in Southern California are certified Kosher. The relatively few franchise locations not fully Kosher are so at the discretion of the franchisee due to their specific business requirements.”

The Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf, owned by two Jewish brothers who are kosher observant, is the oldest and biggest privately owned specialty tea and coffee retailer in the United States.  The company was founded in 1963, with the first store opening five years later in Brentwood. Today, there are more than 1,000 Coffee Beans worldwide, including a large presence in Asia and one store on Jaffa Street in the heart of Jerusalem.

The company-owned stores are in California, Arizona, Singapore and Malaysia, and the rest are franchise locations.

All of the corporate-owned stores will remain kosher, according to Smith, who acknowledged the need to satisfy kosher customers.

“Working with the Jewish community is such an important part of our heritage and our future,” he said. “And being kosher is extremely important to us and our guests.”

For now, some Coffee Bean regulars say they are upset about not being able to rely on the kosher certification. “When you keep kosher, your options are so limited,” said Nina Safar, a kosher chef who owns Kosher in the Kitch. “It was a great relief knowing that on the West Coast, there was always a Coffee Bean nearby, and at the airport, especially.”

Most Coffee Bean locations not only sell kosher certified drinks, they also offer a mix of pareve and dairy kosher salads, sandwiches, fruit cups, yogurt, muffins, cookies, bagels, challah bread, gummy bears, chocolate and nuts.

The store at Beverly and Alta Vista boulevards near Hancock Park also provides cholov yisroel drinks as well for customers keeping the stricter kosher status for dairy.

Rebecca Klempner, a writer living in Pico-Robertson, said the changing kosher status of the coffee chain poses an inconvenience.

“Jews in California will have to plan more carefully while spending the day out or traveling around the state. It’s not a tragedy, by any means, but it is a hassle.”

Despite the recent changes, the company insists it will remain true to halachic standards.

“Kosher products are our heritage,” Smith said. “It’s our brand image. It’s who we’ve been and who we are as Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf.” n