Students and community members dining together at PURE in East Food District

Kosher and Allergen-Sensitive Kitchen Enjoys Popularity Among Students and Community

Monday, February 19, 2018

Last fall, a new kosher kitchen opened its doors to Penn State and the surrounding community. Pure, located in the recently renovated East Food District in Findlay Commons, is Penn State's first certified kosher kitchen and food allergen-sensitive dining operation.

Since opening, Pure has become a popular dining spot on campus--for students and non-students alike. Open for brunch on Sunday and dinner five nights a week, Pure has developed a loyal following.

For Aish Penn State Rabbi David Grant, Pure has become a regular destination. "My wife and I go to Pure for our Tuesday date night most weeks," he says, "and sometimes we take the kids. The food is delicious, irrespective of the 'pure' factor--that's just a nice side benefit. We're grateful that Penn State undertook this effort to look after its Jewish community by providing an amazing facility like this, and we're thrilled to tell everyone about what we have here."

Another rabbi from Aish Penn State, Josh Malina, is a Pure regular. "My wife and I go to Pure a couple of times a month for dinner," he says. "The kosher food is great, we like the break from cooking, and we enjoy seeing the Penn State students at Pure."

One of those students is Marcos Bentolila, who dines at Pure almost every evening, "usually with a friend who keeps kosher, like I do. Some of my favorite menu items are the grilled chicken and the fried chicken."

As an undergraduate, Aaron Goldberg was another student who could be found at Pure frequently. Goldberg, who graduated from Penn State in December, was instrumental in getting Pure started and spent a lot of time there-- enjoying the food and chatting with fellow students, encouraging them to try Pure. "Students were dropping their commitment to kosher because it was difficult at Penn State," he says. Sensing a need for more kosher options on campus, Goldberg took his idea for a kosher eatery to Food Services. Staff worked with him as well as student leaders, a few local Jewish families, and students and staff members from Penn State Hillel and other student organizations to make Pure a reality.

Student Seth Cohen, who helped Goldberg with the initiative to bring kosher food to Penn State, visits Pure twice a week for dinner. "I keep kosher, so this option gives me flexibility with my meals," says Cohen, who particularly likes the steak, fried chicken, grilled vegetables, and mashed potatoes. "Having this kosher option at Penn State is incredible. I'm so thankful that Pure is here, and I hope it will remain and thrive for years to come. Ronnie, the mashgiach, does a fantastic job and deserves a lot of credit."

Pure operates under the supervision of a mashgiach, a rabbi who ensures a restaurant or food producer complies with Jewish dietary laws. Mashgiach Ronnie Berman oversees the daily operation of Pure, inspecting all ingredients to ensure adherence with kosher guidelines. Berman, the only person authorized to have a key to the kitchen, opens and closes the station each day, turns on all equipment, inspects the food, and trains employees.

Because Berman oversees Pure during all hours of operation, he gets to know his regular customers. On a recent Sunday afternoon, he greeted Rachel, a student who stopped by for brunch. "Let me show you a photo of your namesake," Berman said, pulling up a photo of his ten-month-old granddaughter--also named Rachel--on his phone. After admiring the photo and chatting with Berman, Rachel entered the brunch line, which included herb roasted turkey, mashed redskin potatoes with gravy, and pancakes with blueberry or cranberry compote.

Other menu options include steak Italiano with Tuscan garden vegetables on Tuesday and fried chicken on Thursday. Food is served buffet style on disposable dinnerware to prevent contamination, and no outside food or drinks are permitted in the station.

As well as offering kosher food options that meet Jewish dietary principles, Pure is sensitive of common food allergies and intolerances, serving food with no dairy, eggs, fish, shellfish, peanuts, tree nuts, soy, wheat, gluten, and sesame.

"Pure has become a showpiece for campus dining," says Brooke Jodon, food services manager at Findlay Dining Commons. "Not only is it a draw for our on-campus students who keep kosher and those with food allergies, but it's been welcomed by community members as well."

"Making Pure a reality was an amazing collaborative effort among many students, rabbis, community members, and staff who want to see our university and community grow," Goldberg adds. "So many people helped bring Pure to fruition."

Pure is open for dinner from 5 to 8 p.m. Sunday through Thursday, as well as brunch from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Sundays. Pure is open to the entire community, including students, faculty, staff, and guests.