Clean, Green and Kosher
WSU’s new veggie cafe has both the bulgur and the blessing.
Kosher dining has come to Wayne State University’s Midtown Detroit campus with the creation of Gold ’n’ Greens Urban Fresh Cuisine.
Certified as kosher dairy, the cheerful-looking dining hall has its own ground-floor entrance at the Yousif B. Ghafari Residence on Anthony Wayne Drive (Third Avenue) at Williams Mall, near West Warren.
The vegetarian cuisine served here is not only healthy and delicious, it’s affordable, too. For those without a campus meal plan, one price covers the cost of an all-you-can-eat meal at breakfast, lunch and dinner — for $5.50, $6.60 and $8, respectively.
The Southfield-based Council of Orthodox Rabbis (Vaad Harabonim) provides strict kosher supervision at Gold ’n’ Greens. Rabbi Joseph Krupnik, the Vaad administrator, visits twice a week and always has a mashgiach or supervisor of kashrut on premises. Ruth Goodman, co-owner of Sara’s Glatt Kosher Deli and Restaurant in the Jewish Community Center in Oak Park, supervises product deliveries and food preparation/service during the day. Her counterpart, Josh Marzouek, works Monday-Thursday evenings.
Word has been getting out about Gold ’n’ Greens since its “soft opening” on Aug. 27; it will become official later this month.
“I’ve eaten here almost every day, and my wife, Susanna, and our children like it, too. Jews and non-Jews tell me it’s the best place to eat on campus,” said John Klein, a WSU math department faculty member.
“The number of diners is growing significantly every week,” said a very pleased Tim Michael, associate vice president for business operations at WSU. He worked with Miriam Starkman, executive director of Hillel of Metro Detroit, Rabbi Krupnik and leadership of AVI Foodsystems, the campus’ Ohio-based food service provider, to bring kosher dining to Wayne State.
“[University of] Michigan and Michigan State [University] don’t have anything like this for kosher dining,” said Starkman, whose Jewish student organization is situated in a building less than a five-minute walk from Gold ’n’ Greens. Indeed, said Krupnik, Wayne State has “the only kosher kitchen of its kind on any public university campus.”
A Need For Change
While Hillel had long provided kosher food for Jewish students on campus, “we never were in the kosher food business,” Starkman said. A change became necessary when the fire marshal told her the exhaust system from the Hillel kitchen, through the building and to the outside, was no longer up to code. The repair was going to be very costly — too costly for Hillel to pay.
Starkman approached Michael of the WSU administration to discuss options for accommodating kosher-keeping students. The timing was fortuitous. Wayne State had noticed a decline in its customer base, combined with a growing demand for the university to try new things with its food program.
Campus groups affiliated with Hillel, such as the Jewish Student Organization, Students for Israel and two Wayne State associations, one for Jewish law, the other for Jewish medical students, were among “our customers telling us they wanted more veggie, vegan and healthy options,” Michael said. “So we had been thinking about doing vegetarian/healthy dining for about two years.”
The university, he said, concluded that this type of cuisine could be a “recruiting tool for bringing more people down to campus,” including Orthodox and Conservative Jews, Muslims, Indian students and vegetarians.
As the project talks began, Michael enlisted the expertise of AVI Foodsystems and its district manager Karl Skokas, campus food services manager Susan Schmidt and director of operations Farhad Shahbazian.
The planners, including Starkman, initially considered offering kosher dining in the Warrior Grille, a non-kosher dining operation in Ghafari Residence. Over discussions, the idea evolved into the current concept of having Gold ’n’ Greens replace the entire 10-year-old dining hall.
The spacious dining room, new from top to bottom, has individual walls painted vibrant shades of green, blue and other colors. Up to 180 can dine at tables while 20 can choose to eat or relax on a comfy couch or chair on the room’s left side. Natural sunlight during the day adds to the appeal of this soft seating area — “a warm and friendly environment,” said Shoshana Cohen, 20, a junior from Oak Park who went to Beth Jacob School for Girls there.
Krupnik provided guidance on what to upgrade in the new Gold ’n’ Greens kitchen and how AVI could run a quality kosher operation.
“It took six of us 17 hours to kasher everything possible — from the stoves to the trays and silverware,” he said.
Skokas helped design the food service area, which is arranged in various stations. Fusion is the name given to the center island station where workers arrange and serve the day’s main entrees with sides.
Giulio Fattore, an AVI executive chef assigned to WSU, supervises the entire campus’ dining operation. He works with Krupnik to adapt current recipes or create new ones that conform to Vaad guidelines.
Fattore’s kosher cuisine is creative and wholesome, but it is not a Jewish-style menu. Michael said campus residents are being encouraged to submit favorite home recipes for possible adoption at the holidays.
“Everything here is made from scratch,” Fattore said. “We soak our own beans and then smoke them” for Smoky Black Bean Tostadas. “The tostadas are made individually.” The entree won’t be back for another 21 days on the chef’s revolving cycle.
Lining the walls are other food stations, most with changing items. The Grill might have a vegetarian MS Farms Chicken Ranch Sandwich with some type of vegetable fries. Or look for Pesto Vegetable Pizza, Veggie French Onion Soup, and bulgur salad in the Whole Grains and Beans station.
The dining hall has a bakery and fresh fruit. The water is flavored delicately with lemon or orange slices. Soft self-serve ice cream is another dessert option.
There need be no surprises because the WSU Housing & Residential Life website (housing.wayne.edu/dining/greenngold-menu.php) posts daily dining menus for Gold ‘n’ Greens.
Fusion recently offered spiced lentils, sweet peas, tzatziki and zucchini keftedes for lunch and green beans, polenta cakes with wild mushroom ragout, roasted potatoes, and spinach and ricotta canneloni at dinner. Specials from other stations are listed as well.
The attentive service is another plus, led by facility manager Aaron Zanders, a Jewish AVI staffer.
A natural setting for Jewish clientele, Gold ‘n’ Greens is where Rabbi Herschel Finman will hold a Monday lunch-and-learn series for students. Orthodox Jews can feed their large families relatively inexpensively.
During three days of Sukkot, food was available to carry out and be consumed in the campus sukkah.
A new Grab-and-Go counter refrigerator is coming soon.
“We are encouraging all students to try [Gold ‘n’ Greens], and once they do, they keep coming back,” Startkman said.
“It is so nice to have a kosher cafeteria for the Jewish students on campus to enjoy hot meals during their breaks from class,” said Moshe Alishayev, 19, a sophomore from Oak Park, who attended Frankel Jewish Academy in West Bloomfield.
“Gold ’n’ Greens is a great option to have on campus, not just for the Jewish students but for everyone,” said Dan Snyder, 20, a fourth-year student from Farmington Hills, who went to North Farmington High.
Starkman noticed a “veritable who’s who among the [WSU] administration” in the dining hall. Physicians from Detroit Medical Center and Henry Ford Hospital also frequent the place. She called Gold ’n’ Greens “a dining option that is truly unique to the Wayne State campus and the city of Detroit.”
Klein, the frequent diner, says he already knows the dining hall will be successful.
Torah on Tap Rabbi Leiby Burham agrees.
“Gold ’n’ Greens is clearly not only attracting people who are looking for kosher,” he said. “It’s just a great place to eat!”
By Esther Allweiss Inger, contributing writer