First kosher restaurant in Nashville opens for Vanderbilt students and community

September 3, 2002

NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Grins (pronounced “greens”) is Yiddish for vegetables and the name of Nashville’s first fully kosher restaurant. Located at the new Ben Schulman Center for Jewish Life on the Vanderbilt campus, the restaurant is now open to the public for breakfast, lunch and afternoon takeout.

“We want this to be a place that brings people and especially students together,” said Schulman Center Director Shaiya Baer. “From the beginning we’ve planned for the center to offer good food and a comfortable atmosphere regardless of faith or background.”

Grins serves kosher vegetarian and vegan meals from 7 a.m. to 2 p.m. Monday through Friday with takeout available until 5 p.m.

The restaurant also hopes to serve an important role for Nashville’s Jewish community. “Judaism in the South is different than in the North where it’s relatively easy for orthodox and even some conservative Jews to keep kosher because the infrastructure is established,” said Baer. “The options tend to be more limited in the South.”

The opening is the culmination of many months of planning and cooperation between Vanderbilt Hillel and Vanderbilt Dining. Bob Bernstein, owner of the local coffee house Bongo Java, will supply much of the kosher food and both Rabbi Yitzchok Tiechtel of the Center for Jewish Awareness and Rabbi Michael Merdinger of Sherith Israel will monitor the kitchen to ensure Grins is fully kosher.

“There are a lot of very strict rules to maintaining a kosher restaurant,” said Grins manager and chef Michele Watkins Knaus. “And we still have all the logistical hurdles any new restaurant faces.”

According to Jewish law kosher is not a style of cooking. Chinese and even Southern foods can be kosher if they are prepared in accordance with Jewish law, and traditional Jewish foods can all be non-kosher if not prepared or served properly. Many restaurants serving traditional Jewish foods like knishes, bagels and blintzes call themselves "kosher-style" because the food or preparation does not necessarily meet all of the stringent standards to be certified kosher.

“We hope the menu will surprise people with its range of international influences,” said Knaus. “We will even have kosher vegetarian sushi at times.”

Knaus believes in mixing the traditional with a wide range of ethnic styles from Italian and Mexican to Asian fusion. "I’m glad Ghirardelli chocolate is kosher,” she said. “The homemade deserts and muffins at Grins will definitely be memorable.”

The word “kosher” comes from the same Hebrew root as “Kashrut,” the body of Jewish law dealing with what and how foods can be eaten and how they must be prepared. The laws regarding kosher slaughter require such stringent steps to ensure cleanliness that kosher butchers and slaughterhouses have been exempted from many U.S. Department of Agriculture regulations. However, health is not the only reason kosher rules are followed by Torah-observant Jews.

To many Jews, keeping kosher is a practice in being obedient to God. According to Rabbi Hayim Halevy Donin in his book <u>To Be a Jew</u>, imposing rules on what a person can and cannot eat ingrains a kind of self-control and elevates the simple act of eating into a religious ritual.

“Rabbis are answerable to a higher authority than the health inspectors,” said Knaus. “That keeps us on our toes.” Grins is located in the Schulman Center at the corner of 25th Ave. S. and Vanderbilt Place, two blocks off of West End Avenue across from Memorial Gym. Metered parking is available on-site.

For more information on the rules for keeping kosher see

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