For more than two decades, Simcha Kosher Catering in Dallas offered a variety of specialty prepared foods that customers could take home for their Passover seders — the ritual meal that begins the eight-day holiday. During the pandemic, the company turned to “Seders in a box,” which included matzo, gefilte fish and other Passover items.
But this year, for the first time since opening, Simcha will not be offering small orders of chicken cutlets, matzo kugel or other kosher Passover foods that can be taken out. The catering company will only focus on large events.
“We just felt like people were going to freak out about the awards this year,” said founder Lowell Michelson.
And with wholesale poultry, meat and salmon prices up 20 to 25 percent and employee wages up $7 to $10 an hour, Michelson said, the numbers haven’t changed. either been in the right direction for Simcha. In previous years, meals prepared for Passover typically accounted for only about 5% of the company’s annual revenue.
As millions of Jews across the country prepare for the holidays to begin on Friday evening, many face much higher prices for Passover foods, which, along with so many other rising expenses, are straining their budgets. With inflation at its highest level in four decades, caterers, grocers and shoppers say it could be the priciest Passover in recent memory.
For many companies and holiday watchers, the only thing to do now is try to make it work.
Baruch Epstein is an Orthodox rabbi and the director of community outreach at Lubavitch Chabad of Illinois, Chicago. He said he had been more frugal this year in preparing for the public Seder his organization will host for 50 to 60 people on Friday night while trying not to cut back too much.
“It’s no secret that a big part of the attraction is the delicious food, and if that’s going to get people coming and being able to follow the Passover traditions and commandments, we don’t want to skimp. on that and undermine the overall message,” Epstein said.
Thanks in part to donations, Epstein’s congregation overcame shortages and rising prices to provide food for everyone in the community. But some traditional foods have become almost impossible to obtain, such as handmade matzo shmurah, which is often imported from Ukraine.
No amount of planning could have solved the matzo shortage, but for many grocers and restaurant businesses, planning well in advance made the difference.
At Zelda’s Catering in Skokie, Ill., Passover orders typically averaged around $200,000 a year until the pandemic hit and orders plummeted. Faced with a huge loss, CEO Linda Neiman realized, “If we’re not trying to do something for Passover, we might as well close today. There is no reason to stay open. She quickly started local outreach programs and launched Zelda’s Catering At Your Table! For Passover. The company held firm.
But the workarounds were not complete. Neiman suspected that this year would be riddled with shortages. She began placing Passover orders in November and avoided the shortages that have plagued many food retailers and distributors. She also revamped the company’s menu, removing some hard-to-obtain items, such as a particular type of boneless chicken breast, which reportedly fetches a high price. Prices for basic catering platters for chicken, fish and plastic have all increased by 25-50%.
Despite prices “out of control,” Neiman said, his customers placed larger orders this year. “We see that people want to come together, they want to celebrate, so at this point it hasn’t necessarily had an impact on their purchases,” she said. “If anything, we see them ordering larger orders for Passover.”