Itâ€™s not easy getting – or keeping â€“ Gigi Cohenâ€™s attention. Its Thursday morning a week before her new store is set to open and the small space is a buzz with activity. Behind the counter is an open kitchen where two women braid dough to make challah bread; one chops vegetables, while another stocks a fridge with home make soups. Delivery men are in and out, hauling crates of turnips, carrots, green peppers, onions and squash. Well-wishers drop by, offering their help.
Cohen, who also owns Juicy Lotus on Monkland Ave and is known in the “hood” for her healthy, gourmet, vegan cooking, has ventured into a new business concept familiar face with a twist – it’s kosher.
The energetic Cohen, who moved to Montreal with her parents from Israel in 1966 when she was 8, teamed up with Rabbi Yisroal Betnath of Chabad NDG to create Cafe Harvard. This unique store, which opened Dec 1, offers fresh made kosher, vegetarian health food, cooking classes and community dinners all wrapped up in an-everybody;s-welcome atmosphere.
Bernath moved to Montreal from Chicago four years ago settled in NDG, opening a Chabad house on Monkland, near Hampton. Cohen began to attend the rabbis Kabala classes.
“It was very nice for me when I participated in the Kabala classes, and I like to share what I create.” says Cohen. “I couldnt share my food because it wasn’t kosher. The rabbi had no place on the street to eat so I felt I could team up with him and offer the community a place to eat as well.
“The rabbi is completely devoted to healthy organic foods so it was easy for us to gravitate to him. When he said “Let’s do a kosher place, ” I said, “Absolutly”.
Located on Monkland, corner Harvard, Cafe Harvard and Chabad are both separate entrances but are born from the same philosophy and the culmination if hard work and support from numerous sponsors and volunteers.
Upstairs is where Cohen brings to life her multi-cultural menu and raw fresh foods, all pareve (non-dairy), kosher and MK certified. She also scours the planet to import natural and organic products that are kosher. Proceeds from the cafe pay for salaries and supplies as well as supporting the community initiatives of Chabad.
Cohen does the cooking with a focus on health. Availablke fee take out are all her gourmet gourmet dishes, including Thai and Moroccan specialties, as well as soups, chili, a variety of vegetarbles salads and organic breads. Also offered through Cafe Harvard are vegetarian cooking classes hekd twice a week and run by Cohen.
“They are Tuesday and Thursday nights, and cost $50 a person per class,” says Cohen, adding that the price includes a full four-course meal, with the recipes as keepsakes.
“People need a place to meet people and eat, and we are encouraging the while NDG community to come,” says Cohen, who adds that the dinners are non-religious and everyone is welcome.