Kosher operations continue for restaurants and companies despite unexpected Epicurean Group closure on July 20 as companies adjust.
Employees and management of the Soul Café and the Milk & Honey and Epic Kosher Catering companies were shocked to receive an unceremonious email July 20 announcing they were no longer employed by the Epicurean Group. The Metro Detroit hospitality company stated it was severing ties effective immediately with everyone affiliated with the numerous restaurants and catering operations under the Epicurean umbrella.
“People started calling and asking, ‘What’s going on? Do I still have a job?’” said Shalom Shomer, director of kosher operations for the Epicurean Group, which includes Epic Kosher Catering, Milk & Honey and Soul Café.
The email from the Epicurean Group indicated that management would revert back to Stanley Dickson Jr., who owned the company prior to selling it to Ryan Moore last fall. However, this turned out to be false. Dickson, who is now retired, had no interest in returning to the business.
Shomer’s first call was to Rabbi Levi Shemtov, executive director of Friendship Circle of Michigan, which sponsors the Soul Café and Milk & Honey. Shemtov was already talking with members of the organization’s board of directors, who agreed closing the restaurant and catering businesses was not an option. The group worked through the night to figure out a plan that would allow them to keep the restaurant and catering businesses up and running.
“Levi said, ‘We have a café to run and a community to serve and we have to make sure everyone is taken care of’,” said Shomer.
According to Shemtov, Friendship Circle has taken over the payroll, allowing all the employees to keep their jobs. Elliott Baum, Friendship Circle of Michigan board member and longtime supporter of the organization, is handling the business side through his company, Blue Ribbon Restaurants, a licensee of Famous Dave’s Barbecue. His staff is responsible for payroll, purchasing, accounts payable and receivable and other administrative functions.
“When I found out what was going on, I had a talk with my accounting staff and told Levi we’ll jump in,” said Baum, whose father, Fred Baum, was the first kosher caterer at the Southfield location of Congregation Shaarey Zedek. “We didn’t miss a beat … we had a great first week.”
Epic Kosher Catering is the meat division of the catering operation, while Milk & Honey provides dairy catering out of the Soul Cafe, a kosher dairy restaurant. Together, the three divisions employ approximately 25-30 people, including individuals with special needs at Soul Café and Milk & Honey.
“We see the entire kosher division as something that really needs to be together to make the project viable,” Shemtov said.
Synagogues and other organizations who rely on the kosher catering services, such as the JCC, will see no changes. “It’s business as usual,” said Justin Wedes of the JCC.
While the logistics of running the restaurant and catering companies are likely to continue evolving, Shemtov remains fully committed to the businesses, the employees and the community.
“We have confidence in Shalom’s ability to continue to lead the team and in assuring the continued success of the business,” wrote Shemtov in a letter to the staff. “Elliott Baum has decades of experience in the restaurant business … and his leadership team will be assisting the Friendship Circle and Shalom in anything that is needed to assure a smooth transition.”
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