Thursday, May 20, 2010

When in Doubt, Blame the Vaad

During my shul rabbi years, I played an active role on Detroit's Vaad, especially with regard to kashrut. I won't claim that we were perfect - far from it, but generally the rabbanim I worked with tried to act appropriately and ensure that the kosher consumer could safely eat in a given establishment.
Nonetheless, the Vaad was always a running joke in Detroit. (I haven't been there for two years, but as I left a new administrator was in place, and I've heard good things since.) Surely there was a history, but I found time and time again, that when proprietors made bad business decisions, instead of blaming themselves, their business model, or even the bad economy, they would blame the Vaad. I've heard so many excuses, it's almost laughable:
  1. The restrictions were too onerous
  2. They didn't trust me
  3. The mashgiach wasn't any good
  4. They've maligned me privately
  5. They won't let customers into my store
  6. They're afraid it will become a hangout (that one I heard a lot in Detroit. My answer always was, "I'd much rather they hang out in your store than behind the 7-11, where they really were hanging out.")
The trouble is, the Vaad often cannot, should not, and will not fight back. And, there's an inherent distrust on the part of the frum public in Vaadim - or at least that's how it seemed to me. The sense was that the "rabbis" were making a living by adding to the cost of kosher food, and that if we'd just back off a little and stop imposing
I thought about this phenomenon reading an article about the demise of a Subway franchise in Woodmere, of all places. The article states,
Israeli-born Avi Paner, who bought the Subway franchise on Central Avenue in November and closed it in April, learned the hard way. For his troubles, Paner blamed the Vaad HaKashrus of the Five Towns and Far Rockaway.
“They destroyed my place,” he lamented, claiming that the Vaad didn’t like the idea of a kosher Subway and spread rumors that the store was not kosher.
“The store needs to have a minimum 120-140 [customers] a day and they didn’t come in because they were told in the schools to not come,” Paner alleged. He could not name specific schools but said some of his customers told him about a smear campaign.
You've gotta love it. Business was bad, so blame it on some kind of smear campaign. Have you ever been to Cedar Lane in Cedarhurst? The entire neighborhood is a hangout. Why would a school care where their kids bought lunch?
I can think of another reason why Subways sink in New York: the food is bad. I've had Subway, in the JCC in Cleveland. If you're living in the Midwest, any kosher food is great, and you'll pay a premium for it. But in New York, and especially Woodmere, where there seems to be a one-to-one ratio of kosher Jews to kosher restaurants, the food better be good, and it better be cheap. Subway is neither.
And that's why the Subway failed.
But why would facts matter? It's always easier to just blame the Vaad.