Andy Adelman acquires Casablanca Restaurant
By ALAN SMASON, Exclusive to the CCJN
Andy Adelman, a caterer with his own kosher take on local favorites such as jambalaya and red beans and rice, recently took over the ownership of Casablanca Restaurant, the Middle Eastern restaurant established and run by Linda Waknin for the past two decades.
Despite his being of Ashkenazic heritage, Adelman says it’s a dream come true. “This is what I’ve always loved to cook,” he revealed in a recent CCJN interview. “When I would fantasize about opening my own restaurant it would have been a Middle Eastern restaurant.”
A participant in the Federation’s Newcomers Program, Adelman arrived in New Orleans with his fiancée in 2010. She had received two years of schooling and a livable stipend through the Avi Chai Foundation, which mandated a three-year stint as a teacher at a Jewish day school in return. Through her acquaintance with Shir Chadash Rabbi Ethan Linden, she was able to make contact with Bob Berk, who was then head of the New Orleans Jewish Day School. By the time Berk hired her, Adelman, who had only been to New Orleans once before as a chaperone on an alternative break trip for college students doing rehab work after Hurricane Katrina, was on his way back to the Crescent City to live here full time.
Adelman had considerable experience working as a line cook, a host, a server, a pantry cook and a bus boy in previous stints at restaurants in California and Colorado. That experience qualified him to help organize food for a Shir Chadash retreat a year or so after his move to New Orleans. His cooking turned out to be so successful that it generated requests for more from nearby Congregation Beth Israel and, eventually, every other synagogue in the area as well as for special events at the Uptown Jewish Community Center.
Adelman’s food was featured at the Uptown Jewish Community Center’s Morris Bart Lecture series once a month.
Recently, he had also been operating the school lunch program at Jewish Community Day School (JCDS) under a contract he had signed with Jewish Federation of Greater New Orleans to rent the kitchen space on the ground floor of the Goldring-Woldenberg campus. In that capacity he sold parents lunch packages for students at JCDS .
As Adelman tells it, he was dining at Casablanca Restaurant a few months ago, when he was unexpectedly approached by Waknin. She inquired as to whether she might be able to telephone him about an undisclosed matter later and he agreed. When she talked to him privately, she informed him she was looking to retire and wondered whether he might be interested in taking over the operation and ownership of the restaurant.
It didn’t take long before Adelman had secured financing and inked the contract with Waknin. In his mind part of the deal hinged on his being able to keep the present trained staff and all have elected to stay in their present positions. That includes Waknin’s daughter Ailene, who has also agreed to assist him in making the transition orderly and smooth.
In order to concentrate on running the restaurant properly, he notified Federation he would be electing to opt out of the kitchen rental at JCDS. Kosher Cajun New York Delicatessen and Grocery has since taken over the daily lunch program there.
In the six weeks since he took over operations, Adelman has been very hands on. He believes the current nationwide trend towards seeing Mediterranean food as a healthy alternative is a big draw. “I think this type of food is definitely one of the hot trends right now in the restaurant business industry,” he said.
But Adelman is also interested in making Casablanca more than just an eating establishment. “One of my philosophies about food is that I think it really brings people together,” he mused. “When you sit around a table and you have food and you have conversation, a lot of special things can happen at the dinner or lunch table.”
He hopes to beef up more business in several ways and one of them is to reach out to local residents and business people who might not know Casablanca, nestled in a strip mall at 3030 Severn Avenue opposite Lakeside Shopping Center.
He recently became a new subscriber to the Open Table website that allows diners to book tables online free of charge.
“I think the more kosher food we have in the city is the better. I don’t think it would be good for business, if we were the only kosher restaurant,” he confided. “It’s good for the community and the more kosher restaurants we have, the more attractive New Orleans becomes for Jewish families.”
Adelman is not planning on changing the existing menu for now, but is working on what he termed “a menu redesign.” He suggested that he will slowly add new items when he feels the time is right, reserving the right to explore new options such as increasing his present bar business, expanding the existing wine list and adding new baked items to the dessert items that presently includes pareve cakes.
“I’m going to add my personal touch,” he promised. “I think that I really want to create a friendly family atmosphere. I have young kids and I want to make it a very homey atmosphere.”