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COVID shutters longtime New Haven Kosher Caterer

By Paul Bass

The pandemic has claimed a second-generation kosher catering business that was an omnipresence at local religious celebrations.

Meredith Abel-Berei, owner of Abel Caterers, announced the closing of the business in a mass email message Thursday.

The last day of business is Dec. 11.

Abel-Berei’s father Neil Abel started the business 45 years ago. It is/was the last fleishig (meat) kosher caterer in the area. (Edge of the Woods and Claire’s Corner Copia, two vegetarian restaurants, have kosher certification and have catered Jewish events.)

Abel’s pivoted to take-out orders once the Covid-19 pandemic did away with the large weddings and b’nai mitzvah celebrations, synagogue kiddush meals, and other events that were the business’s challah and butter.

But that failed to make up the gap, so with winter coming, it was time to close, events coordinator Melissa Risado told the Independent Thursday.

Before the pandemic, the company typically catered 20 or more events a month, Risado estimated. Since the pandemic hit, the number shrank to maybe four or five – and those events had maybe a quarter as many attendees as pre-pandemic events.

The caterer usually has five to six full-time employees and many contracted part-timers, depending on the number of events being catered, Risado said.

“A kosher caterer in the area provides a vital function for the community,” observed Westville Synagogue Rabbi Fred Hyman, who also serves as president of the Vaad Hakashrus of Fairfield County (VKFC), which certifies commercial kosher food businesses.

“We are grateful to Meredith for having provided premium kosher catering in our community for so many years. Her dedication to high standards of Kashrut allowed her to serve the entire breadth of the Jewish community from Lubavitch to Reform. We hope this is only a necessary pause in her business activity and she will be able to return very soon.”

Following is the full text of the announcement Abel-Berei distributed Thursday:

Friday December 11th will be our last day of operations here at Abel Caterers. While we truly appreciate the support that our community has shown through the pandemic and have pivoted as best we could to continue to serve you all, I have made the difficult determination that the time has come to close our doors. 

For over 45 years one Abel family member or another has been providing kosher catering services in the tri-state area. It began with my father Neil as a young culinary school graduate in the 1970s, and then continued with me 13 years ago after my father’s untimely passing. Although being a Kosher caterer was never my dream, I could not help but fall in love with my work and with all of you.  

Thank you to our wonderful clients – you entrusted us with some of the most important days of your lives. 75-80 hour work-weeks were the norm during our busy seasons. Running from one end of the state to the other, managing housing for mashgiachs, adhering to the laws of kashruth, broken down trucks in the middle of the night, standing in ankle deep water grilling hot dogs, last minute funerals on the busiest weekends, and trying to keep the band on schedule so that the beef wouldn’t be shoe leather has been challenging. And no one loves a good challenge more than my team and I do. A young rabbi once asked me if I attended Synagogue on a regular basis and I told him, “Of course, sometimes 3 or 4 different ones in the same weekend!”  

This decision comes with much sadness but also with many wonderful memories of sharing in your simchas and your lives. It has been an honor and a privilege to work WITH and FOR the Jewish Community. None of this would have been possible without my amazing staff throughout the decades who willingly gave up their own holidays and special occasions so that we could serve you on yours.

 I would especially like to thank my current staff who have masked up and shown up through a global pandemic. We have continued to cook and provide meals for so many during these unprecedented times. I would also like to thank my amazing family and friends who have supported me and Abel Caterers every step of the way.  

We are reaching out to current clients to return deposits to those who had given them and I will continue to be available at (203) 389-2300 through the end of the year as we wind things down. I have picked some of our most popular Dinners To Go for our final week and I hope you will enjoy them as much we enjoy cooking them! Don’t forget to stock your freezer with your favorite Abel Caterers staples when you order your last Dinners To Go! 

Again, thank you for your support and the lifetime of memories.

With love & gratitude,

Meredith Abel-Berei

This article is reprinted with permission of the New Haven Independent (newhavenindependent.com) where it first appeared.

Main Photo: A Jewish wedding with a lavish spread by Abel Caterers.

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