Cooking up some kosher in St. Louis Park
Vitali’s Bistro contains the word “vital” in its name, points out founder Vitali Logman.
While the inclusion of the word in his name is a coincidence, the namesake of a new kosher cafe in St. Louis Park said the word “vital” is representative of his goal of bringing liveliness to the food experience at Vitali’s Bistro.
“We bring vitality, as opposed to fast food and Western civilization and the Industrial Age,” Logman said.
Many ingredients, even some of the cream cheese and butter, are handmade at the kosher cafe, which moved in to the former Bean Good Cafe location at 5101 Minnetonka Blvd. on New Year’s Eve but held its grand opening earlier this month.
Menu items include crepes and crepe pies, a diverse set of salads, fish, omelets, sushi, bagels, soups, fresh pastries, organic coffee and tea and smoothies. Sandwiches are served on panini or in wraps and vary from a grilled cheese sandwich for $5.99 to the elaborate vegetarian Napoleon with rice, a towering layered sandwich that costs $12.99.
Fresh is best
Logman eschews the use of preservatives in his cafe’s food, preferring fresh ingredients. Freshly squeezed juice, for example, contains a handwritten label on the cup about how long it can last instead of sitting in a refrigerator indefinitely.
“Food should be alive and kept alive,” Logman said.
Chemical reactions from preservatives change the essence of the food, Logman said.
“My idea is to preserve the life of food,” he said.
As a vegetarian personally, Logman does not serve meat except for fish at the cafe.
Keeping the food kosher is also a high priority for him. A rabbi from Minnesota Kosher visits at least once a week for an inspection. All products at the bistro are certified kosher.
Living according to the laws of the Torah is vital for Logman, he said, as is “using the wisdom of the sages of the Jews.” He notes that food traditions are an important part of Jewish holidays and events.
“Kosher is clean and clear,” he said. “It’s the connection to the human body. The vitality of the food should be connected to the live person.”
His mission, Logman said, is to provide a healthy menu that is nourishing to the body and soul.
“People will have not only a physical experience, but something else as well,” Logman said.
Although his cafe closes for the Sabbath each week, as well as for Jewish holidays, Logman hosts live music every Saturday night after the Sabbath officially ends. His cafe closes two hours before sunset Fridays and opens two hours after sunset Saturdays, staying open until midnight.
As a musician himself, Logman sings and plays the guitar and piano on Saturday nights. He and his wife, Maria Kaganovich, installed the piano along with curtains, traditional knickknacks and art in an effort to provide a European type of atmosphere.
Fulfillment of a dream
Opening a cafe serving the foods he loves himself is the fulfillment of a dream for Logman. In New York City, he worked for a decade in restaurants as a waiter and in restaurant management.
He left restaurant management for a career in information technology, but he hoped to return to the food industry.
“I always have been passionate abut food, and I love looking and experimenting with the recipes,” Logman said.
“He was always dreaming of doing something of his own,” Kaganovich said. “His vision has always been that he doesn’t want to poison people – he doesn’t like the things people do when they use the preservatives. It’s not good for us.”
Kaganovich said Logman also seeks to provide joy to people and provide a good value with a homey atmosphere.
“We’re not so much for Starbucks culture,” she said, referring to the mega chain of coffee shops. “We wanted to make an art of food.”
She compared the difference between chain-style food and food at the bistro to the difference between a standard metal bowl from a corporation’s assembly line and an artist’s creative, handmade bowl.
“It will look and feel different,” Kaganovich said. “His love is in that piece.”
A group visiting the cafe before a Southwest Light Rail Transit meeting at St. Louis Park City Hall, across the street, picked up on the vibe.
“Thank God it’s not another Starbucks,” exclaimed a chuckling Katie Walker, Hennepin County project manager for the Southwest Light Rail Transit line. “Maybe the neighborhood coffee shop won’t die.”
Cathy Bennett of the Urban Land Institute Minnesota said she likes the bistro’s menu as well.
“It’s different,” Bennett remarked. “I love crepes.”
The location is convenient, added Kerri Pearce Ruch, principal planning analyst for a Hennepin County department.
Fulfillment of a dream
The location is what attracted the owners to the spot near their St. Louis Park home, Kaganovich said.
“We live down the street, it’s in the heart of the Jewish community, it’s Uptown, it has a beautiful patio for the summer,” she said. “It just feels right. It’s very convenient for everyone.”
Kaganovich admits the owners were unprepared for the influx of customers who showed up without any advertisements soon after the bistro opened. They were still working on the menu and hiring people when they opened to lines of customers.
Some people waited a half an hour for food and sometimes orders ended up overlooked. But Kaganovich said the community was supportive and understanding when such mishaps occurred shortly after the cafe opening.
“We had so much of an influx of people,” Kaganovich said. “The good thing is everyone gave us a second chance.”
Since then, the bistro has provided an extensive menu on chalkboards behind the counter, made hires and become more organized, so that Kaganovich said staff is able to handle rushes of customers.
“In the last month we experienced tremendous growth, mainly because of the support of the community,” Kaganovich said.
Like their aims for their food, she and Logman hope their cafe will remain alive and vital.
Hours are 6 a.m. to 8 p.m. Sundays through Thursdays; 6 a.m. until two hours before sunset Fridays and two hours after sunset until midnight Saturdays. A menu with prices is available at vitalisbistro.com.
Contact Seth Rowe at firstname.lastname@example.org