Casablanca Restaurant announces closure after 25 years
By ALAN SMASON, Special to the CCJN
By most measures, 2020 has proven to be a very bad year for New Orleans in general. With the current COVID-19 pandemic’s impact on local business, authorities warned a number of family-owned businesses would not make it through the depressed economy. After several near misses from four other hurricanes and tropical storms this year, Hurricane Zeta proved to be the final, devastating blow for Casablanca Restaurant, the city’s premiere kosher dining facility.
The closure of the Middle Eastern restaurant nestled in a strip mall at 3030 Severn Avenue in Metairie was announced by its proprietor Andy Adelman, who spoke with the CCJN in a phone interview.
Although several other businesses along the Severn Avenue corridor briefly lost power for hours or at most a couple of days, the outage at Casablanca lasted for five full days from Wednesday, Oct. 28 until Monday night, Nov. 2. As a result, the restaurant’s entire fresh food pantry, walk-in cooler and prepared frozen foods were ruined. The tens of thousands of dollars in lost food proved to be the veritable straw that broke the camel’s back. “It was the nail in the coffin,” he confided.
Like other businesses, Casablanca had closed its doors in preparation for the passage of Hurricane Zeta and had hoped to be back after the storm had passed. However, the restaurant failed to reopen following the storm.
“The rest of the businesses on Severn all had power,” he noted. “I think we’re just hooked up on a different line, maybe. The place across the street and behind us all had power except our strip center.”
He said he never received a satisfactory explanation as to why their power took so long to be restored.
Although he was insured, Adelman said the deductible for damages in his coverage was much higher because it was a named storm and there wasn’t enough to cover the monumental expense of restocking the freezer and the other prepared food items. “It was going to cost more than the business that was walking through the door,” he said.
Adelman indicated he is still in the midst of talks with his insurance company and had not yet received a payout.
The devastating blow could not have come at a worse time, exacerbated by the ongoing pandemic that had deeply cut into revenue from Casablanca’s previously profitable catering business. “Right when this thing hit we lost a couple of jobs right off the bat,” he indicated.
The restaurant had offered take-out service for Passover and had also offered a similar menu for the High Holidays.
“We were doing indoor dining, but, still, it was slow,” Andelman continued. “I think a lot of people still aren’t comfortable coming out to restaurants. Without the tourism – that’s a big part of our business: kosher tourists – without the tourists coming for conventions or for travel or leisure, it really affected us.”
When it debuted a quarter century ago, Casablanca Restaurant was the brainchild of Linda Waknin, who brought with her recipes featuring savory Moroccan flavors.
Aside from remarkable dishes like Tanzia Fanzi, a lamb dish baked in a clay pot with prunes, onions and Middle Eastern spices, and Fish Tangine, a spicy preparation of herbs, garlic, tomatoes and bell peppers, the restaurant’s kitchen also offered fresh hummus and pita, Chicken Schwarma and fresh beef and vegetarian gyros.
Additionally, the restaurant maintained a liquor license and offered the area’s only full service bar in a kosher dining facility. The interior was marked by many fans, a unique and colorful Middle Eastern mural, attractive decorative carpets and collectible items like gourds and swords that adorned its mirrored walls. An upstairs provided semi-private dining opportunities as well as a place for classes to meet. The Israeli music that echoed throughout its dining room made for an exciting ambiance unlike any other kosher facility in the New Orleans area.
Adelman took over the operation of the restaurant in 2016, successfully moving his catering operation that had begun humbly in the kitchen at Shir Chadash Conservative Synagogue. Adelman’s original focus in kosher food was towards comfort foods like barbercue and local favorites like red beans and rice and jambalaya. He also fulfilled kosher food requests at nearby Congregation Beth Israel, which had relocated in the rear of the Gates of Prayer facility and later built and dedicated its own Orthodox synagogue next door.
Later, Adelman’s catering business moved to the kitchen facility at the Jewish Community Day School (JCDS) on the Goldring-Woldenberg Campus. There he provided hot lunches for the school’s children and faculty on a daily basis under a contract arranged by the Jewish Federation of Greater New Orleans. Adelman also provided kosher catering for local synagogues and was a featured provider of food at the Jewish Community Center for events like the monthly Morris Bart, Sr. Lecture Series there.
Adelman and Aleeza, his fiancée and now wife, had moved to New Orleans in 2010, attracted by the Newcomers program then in place. She was a Jewish educator, who was working at what is today JCDS. Previously, he had worked as a line cook, a host, a server, a pantry cook and a bus boy in stints at restaurants in California and Colorado.
When he took over the restaurant four years ago, Adelman professed a love for Middle Eastern food and said he thought the fit for him was almost fated. “When I would fantasize about opening my own restaurant it would have been a Middle Eastern restaurant,” he told the CCJN at that time.
Approached by Waknin, Adelman agreed to take over the operation and secured financing. However, part of the deal hinged on his being able to keep the trained staff already on hand, which included Waknin’s daughter Ailene, who assisted him in making the transition smooth and orderly.
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 took over the daily lunch program there.
After Waknin sold her operation to Adelman, she began Dvash Kosher Catering and now provides meals and food services from the JCDS kitchen.
Notably, Casablanca suffered extensive damages to its roof and upstairs in 2012 after the passage of another storm, Hurricane Issac.
Adelman expressed regret that he would not be able to thank the members of the New Orleans Jewish community who gave him his start and for their support through the past decade. “I think Casablanca closing down is going to affect the Jewish community and we’re going to feel the ripples for some time to come,” he lamented.
While the fate of the restaurant has been sealed, the future for Adelman is indeterminate. He says he will spend some time with his wife and children and then “see what lands next.”
The loss of Casablanca Restaurant leaves nearby Kosher Cajun New York Delicatessen and Grocery, also on Severn, the Waffles on Maple Metairie location on West Esplanade Avenue and Rimon, located in the Tulane Hillel building, as the only existing full service in-dining kosher facilities. Local favorite Café du Monde is also under kosher supervision, but only offers beignets and coffee.
The original location of Waffles on Maple was shut down due to the coronavirus pandemic earlier in March and shortly thereafter the owners announced its closure would be permanent.