By Jacob Judah
(JTA) — The first kosher delicatessen to open in Ireland in over half a century is proving a surprise hit among Dubliners since it opened its doors in March — and not only among Jews.
Located in the southern part of the city, Deli 613 has been serving up a mix of local fare, such as salt beef sandwiches and chopped herring, alongside Israeli comfort food. And the cozy deli — named after the number of mitzvot, or commandments, in the Torah — has quickly cultivated a following.
In May, the Irish Times awarded Deli 613 four and a half stars out of five in a rave review that described the eatery as a “great addition” to the Dublin scene. Leo Varadkar, Ireland’s head of government, stopped by for latkes and matzah ball soup in July. Former Scottish soccer star Graeme Souness, “Star Trek” actor Colm Meaney and TV chef Donal Skehan have also dropped in.
“We have a counter full of food, shelves and a full fridge with grab-and-go items like sandwiches and salads,” said Rifky Lent, who runs the restaurant with her husband Zalman, a rabbi. The pair are Chabad-Lubavitch emissaries who live in Dublin. “We also have typical things, like hummus, tahina, chopped liver and herring, that we make in-house.”
Celebrities aside, Deli 613 has won a following among both local and visiting Jews. “We also have the local Jewish population, a lot of whom are elderly, and they were very excited to come and buy things like chopped liver,” said Lent.
Dublin, a technology hub, also plays host to a large number of Israelis who have been scouring the city for favorites from back home. “We have Israelis that are looking for things like Bamba, as well as Israeli dishes like hummus, shawarma and sabich,” an egg and eggplant sandwich, she added.
Since the space is small, patrons tend to sit and enjoy coffee and food on the tables outside.
In the future, the deli plans to offer formal table service once a week.
For now, reviewers have praised both the quality and freshness of the food on offer — which is made by a non-Jewish chef.
“We decided to hire a very good chef who was very experienced in the Irish food market who is not Jewish,” said Lent. “He was super excited about trying something new and different,” she said, adding that he was working alongside a part-time Jewish chef in the kitchen.
The Lents, who have lived in Ireland since 2000, had been planning for the opening of a new Chabad Center in southern Dublin. They had also been helping Ireland’s local community grapple with a shortage of kosher food that followed the United Kingdom’s recent withdrawal from the European Union, of which Ireland is a member. Jews in Ireland had traditionally relied on suppliers in neighboring Great Britain for kosher products, but new regulatory checks on goods crossing the Irish Sea have added costs and entailed mountains of paperwork.
These complications had made it difficult for Irish Jews to find the goods they needed. Deli 613 has managed to fill some of that niche.
“There were a few things that happened at the same time that made us think: let’s do it,” recalled Lent.
But she added that the deli itself has had to overcome some Brexit hurdles.
“It is really complicated,” said Lent. “We tried getting suppliers from England, and we did manage to order a few times from there, but it is very difficult ordering directly from Britain now. It is a nightmare with paperwork and businesses are generally not very willing to do it.”
For example, in a process that Lent called a “bit ridiculous,” the deli orders meat that originates in Britain but must first pass through somewhere farther away in the EU to get to Ireland.
Despite those difficulties, stocking the products that Irish Jews recognized — such as specific cold cuts — was important, Lent said. “The Jewish food culture here is much more aligned with British food culture, so they are much more used to what Jews in England are eating.”
Deli 613’s full shelves may also provide a long-term supermarket option for kosher-keeping Jews in Dublin. After Brexit, the market that had traditionally supplied Irish Jews announced that it would no longer stock kosher foods. While the local synagogue has opened a shop temporarily, Lent said that “It was not a long-term thing.”
“We are selling kosher meat, kosher chicken, matzah meal, the essentials of life,” she said.
Maurice Cohen, president of the Ireland Jewish Representative Council, believes that Deli 613 is the first fully kosher eatery in Ireland since the late 1960s. There is, however, a nearby bakery that sells kosher bread. Only a few thousand Jews live in Ireland, a country of about 5 million people.
“That there is kosher food available is tremendous,” Cohen said.
While only a few dozen families are thought to keep fully kosher in Dublin, many in the community have already begun to frequent Deli 613. “It has become a meeting place,” Cohen said. “People are going there at lunchtime. They sit outside and they have coffee.”
While Lent says that she was initially surprised by how much Dubliners have embraced Deli 613, Cohen says that its success reflects how much Ireland’s tastes have changed.
“Dubliners are very interested in different foods and cuisines,” said Cohen, who said that the quality and types of food on offer in Dublin have grown exponentially over recent decades.
“I’ve been involved in the food industry for a very long time,” he added. “Irish people have gone from having no palate to having a very sophisticated palate.”