After more than a year in planning, 7-Eleven, Inc. has opened its first kosher grill at a 7-Eleven store in the small New York hamlet of Monsey. Franchised by Anthony Mendicino and his brother Michael, the Monsey store is located in the midst of a thriving Orthodox Jewish community with relatively few kosher restaurants or prepared-food options.
The store held a Customer Appreciation Day Sunday, Aug. 5, with free samples of the three new grill offerings – beef frankfurters, hot and spicy beef links and Polish sausages – along with kosher Slurpee drinks for sale, of course. Face-painters, music, clowns added to the celebratory atmosphere.
For 19 years, the Mendicino brothers have catered to the needs of their 7-Eleven customers with one exception – fresh-prepared kosher foods. Because of the strict dietary requirements kept by observant Jews, the challenges seemed insurmountable. But when the store was remodeled last year and a second grill added, Anthony began to see the possibilities. With 70 percent of their store clientele observing Jewish dietary laws, kosher hot foods remained a service the Mendicino brothers wanted to fulfill for their long-time customers and friends.
“This is something our guests have wanted for years,” Mendicino said. “‘When will we have hot dogs too?’ they kept asking. We have some packaged kosher sandwiches, snacks and staple goods, and we tried a kosher hot dog vending machine once. That worked for awhile, but when the company was sold, servicing the machine became a problem, and we took it out. Now the community is really buzzing about the kosher grill.”
The kosher hot dogs, hot and spicy links, and Polish sausages are served on buns baked fresh daily at a local bakery, also certified kosher. The new 7-Eleven grill is under the supervision of local mashgiach Rabbi Zushe Blech.
A separate condiment bar has 18 spreads and toppings, some – like hummus, spicy mayo, garlic mayo, sweet peppers, and hot and cold sauerkraut – are not found at the typical 7-Eleven condiment bar. Potato and spinach knishes are also available. And while the company prides itself on serve-yourself efficiencies, that’s not possible with a kosher operation.
Enter Sam Indig – loyal customer and friend, observant Orthodox Jew, trained chef and something of a local food celebrity. Chef Sam, as he’s known around Monsey, is the man behind the grill, serving up hot dogs and warm words to his friends – and now customers.
So excited has Chef Sam been about the addition of the kosher grill, he set up a Facebook page called “The Kosher 7-Eleven” to inform area residents of the progress that led up to the grill’s official opening on Monday, July 30. He has even created a “Kosher Heaven” menu of special gourmet dogs – all with their own names – the Classic, New York-style, Jerusalem, Mexican, Garden of Eden, Airmont dog (Airmont is a nearby village) and, of course, the 7-Eleven.
“Some people come in and are confused because there are so many choices,” Indig said. “So I tried to help them out. Of course, anyone is free to create their own special dog.
I even printed the kosher menu listing the seven different dogs and all the condiments listed so customers can take them home.”
The dedicated kosher grill and condiments bar, separate from the store’s regular roller grill, are only open for business when Chef Sam is working. When he’s off duty, the grill and condiment bar are closed. Indeed, they all are locked down tight.
“No Sam, no grill,” Anthony laughed. “That means the grill is always closed on Sabbath days, Friday evenings and all day Saturday.
7-Eleven Zone Merchandiser Robin Murphy was the one who got the call from Anthony Mendicino about the possibility of separating his grill business. “I visited his store multiple times, and saw residential developments being constructed where the primary residents were of the Hasidic Jewish faith,” she said. “In addition to a new synagogue and yeshiva (Jewish boys’ school) were being about two blocks from the store and girls’ school was nearby as well.”
Like Mendicino, Murphy knew the hurdles they needed to clear. “We needed to have a ‘glatt’ kosher product, which is the designation necessary to gain rabbinical supervision,” she said. “It took us several months to find the right vendor and products.”
Globex Kosher Food Inc. of Brooklyn created exclusive recipes for the Monsey store, while most of the condiments are being sourced by H.J. Heinz Company. Besides the dedicated grill and condiment bar, a storage area in the store has been designated exclusively for the program.
According to Chef Sam, the Jerusalem and Garden of Eden dogs are the most popular custom frankfurters he has on the menu.