It ain’t no lie: Seattle’s Orthodox Jews love their kosher restaurants. And they cherish them, too. Kosher restaurants in this region are a scarce and precious commodity. None can be taken for granted, and any put-downs of the food usually result in immediate backlash from friends and mishpacha.
However, as of late, it is evident the broader community loves at least one kosher restaurant as well.
On Jan. 10, Island Crust Café was recognized as the Mercer Island Chamber of Commerce’s Business of the Year. Owners Rich and Kim Benjamin were presented with the honor at the monthly Chamber of Commerce luncheon. Chamber members cited the Benjamins’ dedication to giving back to the community.
The couple did not expect the honors.
“We were white, white as ghosts,” Rich Benjamin said.
The restaurant was nominated for the award by Kris Kelsay, a development officer for Mercer Island Youth and Family Services, based on its charitable work. The café will cater the annual Giving From the Heart breakfast in February, which fundraises for the Mercer Island Youth and Family Services (MIYFS). The breakfast will serve 500 attendees with the restaurant donating $5,000 to the cost of providing the food. At the 2012 breakfast, the restaurant gave free pizza parties to each classroom at Mercer Island Elementary School as a prize for an MIYFS-sponsored project. The restaurant also gave 20 percent of its revenue to MIYFS.
In addition, Island Crust Café helps host or provide for local community events, including free meals to veterans on Veteran’s Day, special events to raise money for Israeli orphans, poker nights with proceeds going to philanthropies, and local school fundraisers.
The Benjamins also offer meeting space in their restaurant, in the Island Corporate Center at 7525 SE 24th Street to various organizations for classes, meetings and other events.
“[Kelsay’s] letter reminded us about all the things we’ve done over the past year or two — and we were really overwhelmed because we never thought about it in this type of way,” Rich said.
“Owning a restaurant is certainly a thankless job — but just to be recognized by people who are so distinguished,” said Kim Benjamin. “We’re humbled by it. We’re just little people and these are big players in the community, and it’s really nice they’re recognizing what we’re doing.”
The Benjamins took over Island Crust Café from its previous owners in January 2011. When it originally opened in 2008, it served mainly pizza. The couple has since expanded the menu to serve soups, salads, sandwiches and a wide array of entrées and desserts. And, of course, they still serve the pizza.
The couple formerly had no experience with restaurant management before Island Crust Café. Kim’s background was in finance while Rich’s was in sales and marketing.
The Mercer Island Chamber of Commerce’s award is only one of a series of honors for the restaurant. Island Crust Café has won several online reader’s polls — including in JTNews for several years running — such as best take-out, best kids’ menu, and best vegetarian food on Mercer Island.
Diners come from all over, with an approximately 50/50 Jewish to non-Jewish split during the week.
David and Tova Wren, with their one-and-a-half-year-old Yaakov, come to Island Crust Café regularly and say they enjoy the food.
“The pizza is always good,” said David Wren.