Susan Mendelson launched Mendelson’s Kosher Gourmet from the kitchens at Vancouver Talmud Torah earlier this fall. (photo from Susan Mendelson)
Susan Mendelson, the entrepreneur at the helm of Lazy Gourmet Catering for the past 38 years, debuted Mendelson’s Kosher Gourmet from the kitchens at Vancouver Talmud Torah earlier this fall.
Mendelson and her team of six are now serving a selection of 25 lunches a week to VTT children and offering the Jewish community their kosher event catering services, as well as the opportunity to purchase BCKosher-certified challahs, babkahs and cinnamon buns.
Months ago, Cathy Lowenstein, VTT’s principal, approached Mendelson and asked her to help create a request for proposals that the school could use to obtain bids from potential caterers.
“I felt this would be a great opportunity to get back into the Jewish community,” Mendelson reflected. So, she put in a proposal, her bid was accepted and she worked with the school to create a kitchen space that would work.
Construction finished just as the first orders needed to be prepared, which meant the timing was tight and every detail needed attention. “When we need to order sheet pans and dishes, they have to be dipped three times in the mikvah before we can use them, so it’s much more complicated than anything I’ve done before,” she said.
Step One was finding a great team. Vancouver chef Marat Dreyshner is presiding over the kitchen while his spouse Ella Dreyshner is managing the operation.
Since both are mashgichim, all the kosher details are fully supervised. “They’re fabulous people and I’m lucky to have them,” Mendelson said.
Students were audibly impressed by their pre-ordered meals, which were based on focus groups with VTT kids earlier in the year. Lunch options include hot dogs, burgers (made from scratch), roasted turkey sandwiches, chicken noodle soup and sushi. There are gluten-free and vegan options daily, and the Mendelson’s Kosher Gourmet team is dedicated to healthy meals, with grains made from sprouted whole wheats and treats like banana chocolate chip bread served only on Fridays. “The rest of the time, it’s Caesar salad, kale chicken wraps, Israeli salad and dishes like that,” she said.
Sustainability is another key word for Mendelson, so you won’t find any take-out containers in her serving materials. Instead, the children are using regular silverware and melamine dishes for their meals.
Mendelson has spent her lunch hour walking around the school, creating systems and processes to streamline service and gauging reactions to the food. “It’s exciting to me that the kids are really enjoying this healthy food,” she admitted. “Today they were coming back for second and third portions of soup and, if there’s extra, we’re happy to give them more.”
The kosher catering orders are also coming in fast, leaving Mendelson fully energized, engaged and up planning from 3 a.m. She credits Lowenstein for getting her involved. “She’s an extraordinary partner, a brilliant, kind, thoughtful and accommodating woman who is always looking at how to make things work. If it wasn’t for her, I probably wouldn’t have pursued this,” she said.
Meanwhile, Lazy Gourmet Catering is still going strong with a staff of 170 and contracts for conference work downtown with Simon Fraser University and the University of British Columbia. There’s the womb-to-tomb events Mendelson’s been catering the past four decades and a new Chinese website is helping secure business from Vancouver’s Chinese community. “For one Chinese wedding, we had six days to cater for an event with 200 people,” Mendelson said.
“I’m exhausted,” she admitted. “But I’m energized. With Mendelson’s Kosher Gourmet I thought to myself, this might make a difference. If I can turn these kids on to a healthy way of eating, maybe I’ll make a difference in this world.”
To place kosher orders, visit mendelsonskosher.ca.
Lauren Kramer an award-winning writer and editor, lives in Richmond. To read her work online, visit laurenkramer.net.