Last year in our Best of Kosher 2011 contest, Beth Torah Caterers came out number one. When I first spoke to them I found out I was talking to the owners daughter and that this company was truly a family business. She told me they had a story to share and would love for us to share it. It took a little while, but we finally got a chance to do an interview with them and they even gave us some recipes to try. Beth Torah Caterers is based in Flushing, NY, but serves the greater NY area, they specialize in Mediterranean food.
Tell me about your family background and how you got into the catering business.
My family’s origin is in Baghdad. We lived in a society where food was such a huge part of the culture. I remember being a little boy and seeing the way my family prepared for Shabbat. It was like a wedding every Friday. The smiles on everyone’s faces gave a new meaning to the word happy.
However as I grew up life got harder especially for a Jewish family in Baghdad. My father passed away and Jewish families were leaving because it became clear that Iraq was no longer safe for Jews.
I escaped with my mother in 1970 and from there we went straight from Israel to America. In America I studied at Queens College and was working part time washing dishes at a restaurant. I started to watch how the food was made and prepared and next thing you know I was helping out with the cooking. My other brother arrived from Israel and that is when we decided to open our own business.
We moved to 42nd street and we were there for 14 years.
It was around this time I met my wife. One of my friends who I knew from Baghdad gave me a list of Women to go meet in Israel. My wife was the first one and the second I saw her I threw the rest of the list out the window. She was perfect. We were engaged in two weeks and married in two months. It was really with her that the business took off.
She became the heart of the business. People came to us because had a passion for what we did. My wife Doris started taking samples of our Iraqi food to different temples to get us a job as the in house caterer. Forest Hills Jewish Center is where we started and from there we began developing menus and creating a way for Irqai food to be experienced. To us that was the greatest gift, being able to share our culture with our community.
So, it really is a family business, from the top to the bottom?
It is a family business. At the head of the company are the Zilkha brothers. Aodi, Jamal, and Elias. At any point throughout the week you can see Aodi’s children in the office helping run day to day activities. Even at events the kids will be working as bartenders, waiters, and cooks, making sure everything goes according to plan. The recipes are ones that have been in my and my wife’s family’s for generations and now it is our pride and joy to share them with you.
What do you like most about catering?
Catering has so many aspects to it. My favorite part is seeing everything come together the night of the party. Seeing the smiles on peoples faces as everything about their special day turns out to be better than they imagined is priceless.
Why do you think you won the Best of Kosher award?
You know that is a great question and it is really all about our customers. We have been in this business a long time and with each new customer we make a friend for life. Our network knows no bounds. Each event is special and each person deserves the best. We know that and it means so much to us to be given this award because that means that our customers feel what we are giving.
What are your future plans for you and your business?
My son Ben joined our operation this year and plans to continue it in hopes to pass it on to future generations!