Sharon Shvarzman and Abraham Bloom anticipated working long hours, especially during the opening weeks of their new Queen Village takeout restaurant, Keshet Kitchen.
But their workdays stretch way beyond 12 hours, seven days a week, and now they’re toying with closing one day a week just to catch up. They are having trouble finding cooks and counter staff — a common refrain this spring as restaurants ramp up operations amid a depleted job market. Many restaurant workers changed careers during the pandemic, while others are collecting unemployment compensation.
“It doesn’t matter how much you pay anyone,” said Shvarzman, who said he cooks almost everything on his Israeli-Eastern European comfort-food menu from scratch. (Say his first name “sha-RONE.”) Shvarzman and Bloom recently hired dishwashers and are hoping to train them to help in the kitchen.
Keshet Kitchen is set up in a storefront where Fifth Street and Passyunk Avenue meet, just below Bainbridge, formerly the home of Humpty’s Dumplings. Keshet is Hebrew for rainbow, which is fitting. The facade is decorated with glass mosaic tiles and the redbrick interior is striped with bold color.
The workload has forced Shvarzman to pare down his menu, which is still fairly extensive: chicken shawarma, falafel wraps, garlicky hummus, harissa-infused mac and cheese, roast beef, mashed potatoes, fried chicken, fruit drinks, and desserts. Bloom takes orders, shuttles the food from the kitchen to the register, and in his spare moments preps pita to bake on sheet pans.
Shvarzman, 36, emigrated from Israel as a baby and his family settled in New York City, near his grandparents, who had come to America 10 years before.
Shvarzman’s maternal grandfather, Timor Umarov, owned Asia, a restaurant serving comfort food, in Brighton Beach, Brooklyn. “I grew up in the kitchen,” he said. “My first toys were pots and pans while my mom was a waitress. My grandmother was a host. My grandfather was the master chef, my other grandparents worked the line.”
Then came tragedy. Shvarzman’s grandfather died of cancer, forcing the sale of the restaurant. “My family drifted apart,” Shvarzman said. “I decided, after two or three years of my family never getting together for family dinner, to learn some of my grandfather’s recipes, like his plov and his shashlik and stuff like that. I wanted to try to bring my family back together with his food.”
The strategy worked, and set in motion his dream to become a chef. “One day, I was watching a [Food Network] show called Worst Cooks in America and I was like, you know what, maybe the show will teach me something.” Though he didn’t win his season of the show in 2018, “it lit a fire under my bum. I just wanted to be the best cook I could be.”
Shvarzman set out for Philadelphia to follow Bloom, 34, who had enrolled at Thomas Jefferson Medical College to study physical therapy. Bloom put his studies on hold to get the restaurant on its feet. Their third business partner is Morissa Schwartz, a New York public relations professional and a friend of Shvarzman’s.
First-timers should trust Bloom, who knows the inventory and pushes desserts, such as the rich pistachio rose puddings, tiramisu, and mango saffron cheesecake in cups that sell out daily.
“I’m hoping that the same recipes that brought my family together will also bring some people in Philly together,” Shvarzman said.