Albert Allaham came to the United States from Syria in 1999 when he was 13 years old to live with family who had settled in New York City. After graduating high school at the age of 17, he went into the family trade and partnered with his brother to open a butcher shop in the Flatbush neighborhood of Brooklyn. The business took off and, in 2008, they opened The Prime Cut, a high-end butcher shop in Flatbush.
In 2013, Allaham used money he’d made from the family business to open Reserve Cut, a fine dining kosher steakhouse in Manhattan’s financial district. At 14,000-square feet, it is one of the largest kosher restaurants in New York City and has multiple private dining areas, seating for 287 people, and a glassed-in kitchen. The centerpiece of the dining room is a stunning glass wine cellar that displays 300 labels. The restaurant is located on the second floor of the Setai, a luxury residential co-op building on Broad Street, just steps from the New York Stock Exchange. Though most of Allaham’s clientele has discovered Reserve Cut by word-of-mouth, its prominent location near Wall Street means it has become a popular dining destination for some of the finance industry’s power players. During a recent visit on a Tuesday afternoon, the crowd was a mix of regulars from the Orthodox Jewish community and businessmen having hushed conversations over lunch. Allaham says dinner reservations are often booked by guests who come from all over the metropolitan area. He also says New York City mayor Bill de Blasio is a frequent guest.
Reserve Cut is not the only kosher steakhouse in New York City—there are a dozen or so in Manhattan and Brooklyn—but the highly competitive restaurant industry presented Allaham with a challenge since there are many established non-kosher steakhouses in the city that have devout followings. Despite all that competition, Reserve Cut remains the only kosher steakhouse in Lower Manhattan. Working in his favor, he says, is the growing number of kosher restaurants in New York. In recent years, the Jewish population has started to increase again after a few years of decline, and more kosher eateries have opened as a result. New York City’s health department counts more than 300 kosher restaurants in the city, slightly fewer than the number of French or Indian dining establishments. That expanding demand and interest has helped the family business grow—this year he projects $10 million in revenue and says he’s mulling options for the next location, either Chicago, Miami, or Tel Aviv.
“Fine dining was never available in the kosher market. We opened Reserve Cut because of the demand for a good kosher steak,” Allaham says. The beef is sourced from farms in the U.S. and cattle are fed honey and dates “to give their meat a sweet flavor.” On a typical day, the restaurant will serve 250 steaks. But the draw isn’t the fact that it’s Kosher—the food is fantastic (I had the reserve cut, the house specialty, and it’s incredible). “When you come here, you’re not going to realize you’re eating in a kosher restaurant. It’s a fine dining restaurant that happens to be kosher,” he says.
In a kosher restaurant, a rabbi, called a mashgiach, must inspect every ingredient to ensure that it meets strict religious standards. Meat and fish preparation are kept completely separate — the knives used in the kitchen are color-coded, red for meat, blue for fish and white for vegetables. The restaurant also serves sushi, which is prepared in its own area. Because kosher laws prohibit the mixing of meat with dairy, the use of milk, cheese, and butter are forbidden, even for the pastry chef, who must rely on margarine or other substitutes when making desserts.
Reserve Cut remains a family business. Albert’s father, Mourad Allaham, still works in the butcher shop in Brooklyn and handpicks every steak that is sent to the restaurant. In addition to managing the daily operations of Reserve Cut, Albert also works in the kitchen, is the restaurant’s head butcher, and oversees the meat’s aging process. He works long hours, from early morning to closing at the end of the night. Around mid-day, he changes out of his butcher uniform into a suit so he can manage the restaurant and greet customers. Working those long hours, he says, is what has helped the restaurant become a success.
Allaham’s advice to enterprising young business owners is “don’t be afraid. If you think it’s going to be too big of a space, if you think the rent is going to be too much, don’t worry. Just go after it. You’ll succeed.”