MILWAUKEE — The only kosher grocery store in the area is to close, but a new brick-and-mortar store may soon open on the west side to serve the observant community.
“I’m fairly optimistic that we will be able to pull it together,” said Rabbi Chaim Twerski, of the renowned Twerski clan that leads the Orthodox Congregation Beth Jehudah, 3100 N. 52nd St. Chaim said he’s working on the project with others in the Jewish community.
The Kosher Meat Klub, 4731 W. Burleigh St., announced in late March of 2019 that it would close sometime after Passover. The owners, the Eisenbachs, purchased the Kosher Meat Klub in 1977; at the time it was just a deli. Rabbi Dovid Eisenbach and his wife Marcia Eisenbach say they want to spend time with their grandchildren and great-grandchildren, and focus on their kosher distribution business.
The Kosher Meat Klub serves the local observant community, offering a place to get a bit of strictly kosher-certified vanilla sugar, or some such thing, when no other shop in the city may have it. It’s on Milwaukee’s west side, close to where many of the observant live and walk to Beth Jehudah.
But competition from grocers in Chicago, who can attract Milwaukee customers willing to go on intermittent shopping excursions, has been fierce. And all those freezers and lights in the shop saddle it with a monthly electric bill of around $5,000 or more.
The Eisenbachs’ more profitable KMK Distributors has a warehouse at 208 E. Capitol Drive, serving nursing homes, shops and other commercial customers, often in Chicago. “Thank God we have the wholesale,” Dovid said, adding that he’d just sent two trucks with merchandise down to Chicago.
It’s not clear when the Kosher Meat Klub will close. “I really don’t know,” said Dovid just before Passover. “When everything sells out, sometime after the holidays.”
The deli in the store will stay open until the entire Kosher Meat Klub closes, he said.
The presence of the Kosher Meat Klub has actually been a factor for some who’ve chosen to move to Milwaukee.
“It will be a loss. It will be a huge hole,” said west-sider Jess Bernstein, who shops at the Kosher Meat Klub just about every week. “It filled a need for a very long time. I’ve only been here for about nine years.”
As Marcia was cutting some deli meat for him they talked about how he’ll have to shop elsewhere. “The only thing you won’t be able to get is a hug,” she told him.
To be sure, the Kosher Meat Club is a place where they know your name and you’re treated like family. It’s a spot to shmooze, hang out and bump into a friend.
Need some of that vanilla sugar? They’ll call the warehouse for you and have it sent up. Need some deli? Marcia can pull herself out of the office and cut some for you.
Rabbi Yaakov Sklar, of Bader Hillel High School, said the loss is part of a larger trend beyond just the Jewish world, that this is among the last of the traditional mom-and-pop shops. “We’re really losing an iconic Jewish Milwaukee landmark,” he said.
“It’s been quite the journey,” said Marcia, who is filled with emotion over it all. “42 years …. It wasn’t an easy decision.”
She said she’ll miss “just the people, the customers.”
Plans for something new
Rabbi Michel Twerski of Beth Jehudah sent a letter out, dated 20 Adar II, or March 27, 2019. The letter, to the observant community, announced the Kosher Meat Klub would close.
“As a Torah community, we have begun to address and assess the Kosher needs of our community going forward,” he wrote, adding that “we are working diligently” toward having a facility with kosher food on the west side.
“We need to be able to have access to kosher food,” said Chaim, who added that some in the Jewish community were seeking to address the loss. “We’ve begun the process and are underway with the goal of putting together a brick-and-mortar store on the west side,” he said.
Chaim declined to give additional details, with plans still in the works, but he added that “in an ideal world we’d like to see that there’s no interruption of service.”
In his letter, Michel called the Kosher Meat Club critically important and a pillar of strength for the community.
He applauded the Eisenbachs’ accomplishments and expressed hakaros hatov, or gratitude (“recognition of the good”), “for all they have done for our community.”
He added, “Everything the Eisenbachs did, they have done with joy and a full heart.”