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Squirrel Hill Dunkin' Donuts goes kosher

| Wednesday, Oct. 14, 2009

Chocolate-frosted doughnuts and pumpkin muffins have joined bagels and lox as kosher breakfast fare in Squirrel Hill.

A Dunkin' Donuts opened at Forbes and Shady avenues in Squirrel Hill two weeks ago and altered its menu to adhere to Jewish dietary laws. It's the first national chain to go kosher in Pittsburgh and could set the stage for others in the neighborhood, said Rabbi Daniel Wasserman of Shaare Torah Congregation.

"It's ideal to have a regular restaurant that happens to be Kosher, too," said Wasserman, a member of Pittsburgh's Vaad HaRabonim, a board of rabbis that certifies and supervises local Kosher restaurants. "To the Jewish community, this gives them another place to go."

The doughnut shop makes three kosher restaurants in Squirrel Hill and brings to 10 the number of kosher-certified businesses there. That surprised Robyn Frederick, spokeswoman for the Heartland Restaurant Group, the outfit that opened the Dunkin' Donuts.

"I was shocked by how few kosher businesses there are in the neighborhood," she said.

The number and types kosher businesses has fluctuated through the years, Wasserman said.

"There was a time when we had seven Kosher butchers on Murray Avenue," he said.

Squirrel Hill residents approached Dunkin' Donuts to ask whether the location could be kosher. The bulk of Dunkin' Donuts' products are kosher, so tweaking the menu wasn't difficult, Frederick said.

In addition to special kitchen equipment and storage requirements, the Squirrel Hill location dropped its line of flatbread sandwiches and breakfast meats. Instead, the restaurant offers vegetarian sausage and bacon on its breakfast sandwiches.

"The community was really the driving force," Frederick said.

The Squirrel Hill store is the eighth of 105 locations the group plans to open during the next eight years and is one of only 35 kosher Dunkin' Donuts nationwide, Frederick said.

Squirrel Hill's other two kosher restaurants welcomed Dunkin' Donuts.

"It's healthy to have competition," said Alisa Sokol, assistant manager of Milky Way and Aaron & Ari's Grill on Murray Avenue. "Plus, it's a treat for us also. We don't sell the things they sell."

During the nine years Milky Way and Aaron & Ari's Grill have been in business, Sokol said she has seen at least five Kosher eateries close.

"Is there room for another Kosher restaurant• I don't know," Sokol said.

About 10,000 of the roughly 50,000 Jews in the Pittsburgh area keep kosher, according to a 2002 study by the United Jewish Federation of Pittsburgh. No such survey was conducted before or since.

Wasserman said Squirrel Hill has managed to support about two kosher restaurants during his 15 years in Pittsburgh, but the neighborhood had as many as four such restaurants five years ago.

"Unfortunately, less Jews are keeping kosher exclusive," Wasserman said. "My hope is we return Jews to their traditions."

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