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BY REY MASHAYEKHI | A popular Lower East Side kosher restaurant was forced to close its doors earlier this month after racking up numerous violations from the city’s Department of Health — including evidence of mice on the premises and inadequate hand-washing facilities.
The city shuttered Shalom Chai Pizza, at 357 Grand St., on March 8 after an inspection that same day recorded 61 points worth of violations at the restaurant. The infractions ranged from “evidence of mice or live mice present in the facility” to lack of a hand-washing facility “provided in or near food preparation area,” to the fact that the restaurant’s food was “not protected from potential sources of contamination during storage, preparation, transportation, display or service,” according to D.O.H.’s report.
This is the second time in less than a year that Shalom Chai has closed because of a failed health inspection; last May, the city ordered the restaurant temporarily shuttered after the place garnered 73 points worth of violations.
Frank Durant, general manager of the Seward Park Co-operative, which owns the strip of retail locations on Grand St. that houses Shalom Chai, told The Villager he was unsure whether the restaurant would reopen after its repeat violations.
Shalom Chai is one of the only kosher pizza restaurants located in the Lower East Side, long an enclave for Manhattan’s Jewish community, though the Grand St. co-ops have become more diverse over the years.
William Soo, an employee at The Pickle Guys, a pickle shop next door to Shalom Chai on Essex St., said he was sad to hear of the potential demise of “one of the last kosher pizza places” in the Lower East Side.
“It’s a shame,” Soo said, “because if you want some pizza that’s kosher, where are you going to go now?”
Victor Mendez, owner of nearby Vic’s Pizza, located on Essex St., said he was not surprised at how seriously city inspectors took the violations cited at Shalom Chai.
“They’re very strict,” Mendez said of the city’s inspection guidelines. “If it is what I heard it is, they don’t fool around with mice.”
Veronica Foley, an employee at Flowers Cafe on Grand St., said that while she had personal reservations about the restaurant’s cleanliness, it was always popular with locals.
“The windows never looked very clean, and I judge a place by its windows,” she said. “But there were always people in there, and it was never empty.”
Several employees of neighboring businesses located in the Seward Park-owned retail space — which also houses Kossar’s Bialys and the Doughnut Plant — said that their establishments share a common storage space with Shalom Chai in the building’s basement. All, however, described the shared basement as well-lit, clean and vermin-free, a sentiment echoed by Seward Park general manager Durant.
“[Seward Park] maintains the common basement area; we’ve painted it, it’s lit up, everything is immaculate down there,” Durant told The Villager. “So I don’t know what the issue is with [Shalom Chai], but I don’t think the basement played any role in it.”