Two years after working to get kosher sandwiches introduced as a meal option at the University of Minnesota, a full-service kosher restaurant will be greeting students when school is back in session on Sept. 3.
Chabad UofM will open House of Hummus at the Coffman Memorial Union, where a strictly kosher menu of popular Israeli and Jewish foods will be available to purchase with FlexDine and Gopher Gold. House of Hummus in an initiative of Rabbi Yitzi and Chavi Steiner – co-directors of Chabad UofM – who worked closely with Aramark and Amy Keran of University Dining Services to make Kosher food available for the U of M’s student body, which includes approximately 1,500 Jewish students.
“The kosher sandwiches went well, but it was time to take it to the next level,” Rabbi Steiner said. “Really, it’s a culmination of a 10-year relationship that we’ve had (with the school). It’s one of my biggest projects that I’ve been working on since I moved here.”
The restaurant is certified kosher by United Mehadrin Kosher, which is run by Rabbi Asher Zellingold in St. Paul.
“House of Hummus is strictly Kosher but it’s also very important to us that the food is the most delicious on campus,” said Frank Antonicelli, chef of House of Hummus.
The menu will include Middle Eastern and Israeli classics like hummus, shawarma and falafel bowls, beef tagine, basmati rice, brown rice, and couscous. Also available will be popular Jewish comfort foods such as potato knishes and matzah ball soup. A range of vegan and vegetarian options will be served as well.
Steiner is also working to have the restaurant halal-certified so that Muslim students who make that dietary choice can eat there as well.
“I believe we’ll get there if I stay persistent,” Rabbi Steiner said. “My vision for this is there may not agree on things on the political or religious spectrum, but there’s no reason we can’t share a meal together. I hope we can all agree on that.”
Steiner expects the restaurant’s clientele to include students from all walks of life.
“The menu at House of Hummus was designed to have something for everyone,” he said. “It’s a great student dining option that also happens to be kosher.”
The conversations for the restaurant, unfortunately, really kicked into high gear in the midst of anti-Semitic flyers and swastikas that around campus in the last several years.
“We all sat in a meeting, and I said that one of the things that anti-Semites want to do is push Jews away and make us uncomfortable,” he said. “What we and the U should want is to make Jews more comfortable. That message brought the sandwiches in and restarted conversation. Since then, we’ve been maintaining that relationship.”
Steiner said that having a full-service food option – not frozen meals or catered sandwiches – is where the campuses Jewish community needs to be.
“I’m never going to stop brainstorming and making this place welcoming,” he said. “In general, universities are being more aware. I don’t think 15 years ago you had dining halls that were vegetarian, vegan, or allergy-aware. This time that we live in a much better time. Slowly, lots of universities are accepting kosher in dining halls and food courts.”