One local Publix is expanding its access to kosher food for an estimated 5,000 Jewish families living in Cape Coral.
Jewish families make up a substantial portion of the city population, but finding stores in Southwest Florida with kosher food has always been a challenge.
Any family wanting food that is kosher or halal, meaning “permissible,” needed to venture to the east coast in Fort Lauderdale or Miami in search of specialized delis. Other Jewish families waited for a traveling vendor called Kosher on Wheels to makes periodic stops in Naples, Cape Coral and Fort Myers.
“Here in our community you couldn't find any stores that carried it,” said Cape Coral resident Herb Young. “They had such a gap in fulfilling the needs of the community. This truck would come by once a month and if you couldn't be there, you wouldn't get your products.”
Kosher on Wheels delivers food that adheres to the faith's strict dietary laws — items ranging from Haolam shredded cheese to Babka cake and beef or poultry that was packaged under the watchful eyes of a rabbi.
Young and Rabbi Yossi Labkowski, from the Chabad Jewish Center of Cape Coral, recently met with corporate officials from Publix to ask that shelves carry more kosher foods. The grocery store chain agreed and the Publix on Cape Coral Parkway at Chiquita Parkway is already stocking additional items.
Labkowski said the grocery store is carrying kosher chicken, meat, dried goods and Israeli products such as soup mixes. Now he is working with the store to expand the bakery.
“The bakery will be kosherized,” said Labkowski. “For baked items to be kosher, a rabbi needs to oversee the whole baking process to ensure that the ingredients are kosher and the whole process is done correctly according to the Jewish law.”
Kosher food items carry a symbol letting consumers know they were prepared in a specific way. Not only does the preparation include specific ingredients, but there are adamant procedures on how to prepare kosher food.
One way, for example, is how an animal is slaughtered for meat. Young said one way to know that meat is kosher is whether the animal felt any pain during death because — in preparing kosher meat the animal wouldn't feel pain, he said. The butcher also needs to drain the blood in a certain way.
“For the meat to be kosher, the animal needs to be slaughtered in a certain way according to Jewish law,” he said. “Otherwise, even though the animal may be kosher, if not slaughtered properly, the meat is not kosher.”
Publix Community and Media Relations Manager Shannon Patten said the demand for kosher products has been steadily increasing over the past year.
“We have had a significant number of requests from customers looking for kosher and private label kosher items,” she said. “We decided the demand was there and we wanted to make sure we would please the customers, so we increased the offerings at that particular store.”
Every Publix store offers kosher food, said Patten, but the store on Cape Coral Parkway has expanded its offerings to surpass many of the others across the state. The store is in the process of expanding its selection at the bakery and more kosher items have already been added in the dry grocery, frozen, deli and meat departments — featuring brands such as Osem, Manischewitz and Gefen.
Publix customers can check the Web site, www.publix.com
, to see a full list of available kosher foods.
Not only is the grocery chain offering more kosher food, Patten said it's carrying other Jewish products for religious or holiday items.
Temple Beth Shalom is one Cape Coral temple that sets up a gift shop for Hanukkah-related items in December. Many local retailers don't carry candles, dreidels or wrapping paper designed specifically for the Jewish holiday.
Mark Glick, treasurer at Temple Beth Shalom, organized the shop to open the first night of Hanukkah. In December he said other than in temples, finding Jewish holiday items is difficult.
Other local stores, including BJ's Wholesale Club on Pine Island Road, are also offering expanded kosher choices for the thousands of Jewish people living in Cape Coral. Young said the store reported an increase in patrons buying kosher food since the shelves were stocked.