Josh Hershkovitz, who grew up in Owings Mills and attended McDonogh School, now runs a hip, well- regarded restaurant serving Neapolitan-inspired cuisine at the end of Light Street in South Baltimore.
Hershkovitz, 39, majored in sculpture and philosophy at the University of Chicago before adding a master’s in business from the University of Maryland, College Park — always with an eye to running his own restaurant. He counts himself lucky to have apprenticed under some of the best names in the food world.
Six years ago, Hersh’s opened with Josh running the kitchen and his sister, Stephanie, 42, working the front of the house. He loves the exhilaration and creativity of running a restaurant, but his biggest challenge? Spending more time with his wife and two toddlers at their Summit Chase home.
How did you get your start?
When I went to business school it was because I wanted to open restaurants. The first kitchen I worked in was Charleston. I went in and wrote an essay on the back of my application letting Cindy Wolf know why I am so passionate about what I do. I started working there in 2001, and it was fantastic. I worked there for about a year, and then I worked for them at Petit Louis in Roland Park.
Why did you pick the very end of Light Street?
Everybody says, location, location, location. We were also looking at spaces that we could see working for this business. At first, we felt like the location was little bit of a liability. But now, since the Baltimore restaurant scene seems so crowded, it’s actually been a good selling point. We feel like we have this little corner to ourselves.
Where does your fresh, in-house ethic come from?
My grandmother, when she made kreplach for Rosh Hashanah, or whatnot, she made the dough, she took the meat and ground it herself. My dad’s mother also, because you don’t have cans of everything and ready-made pasta in Poland, or Romania. I feel like that was infused in me. So, we make all our pastas, we pickle a lot, we smoke a lot of stuff, we make our own breads, we make our own mozzarella. I feel like that’s where our craft is.
Two things. My sister was living in Manhattan and Brooklyn and there are so many places up there that have a wood-burning oven and do lots of other small plates. There wasn’t really anyone doing Neapolitan-style pizza here when we started. It is thin and crispy in the middle but a nice, puffy airy crust in the back. Really simple. Our father is Israeli — there’s a lot of focus on good produce, good ingredients and nothing too doctored up. We feel like Italian food really jibes with that. They eat very seasonably, because that’s what’s available. They focus on great ingredients.
Any influence from family recipes?
Sockeye salmon, wild Alaskan salmon, is a national treasure. I serve that over Israeli couscous because in my house every Friday night for Shabbat growing up, my mom made it. She called it farfel. We have chicken Milanese on the menu, but as far as I’m concerned, it’s schnitzel. I remember on the beach in Tel Aviv you get a pita stuffed with schnitzel, French fries, hummus and pickles. And our dish picks up a lot of those flavors, because it’s a delicious combination.
What is most challenging and most enjoyable?
During the day when I’m coming up with recipes and creating new things, I love it. It’s a great creative outlet. Keeping the kitchen well-staffed is challenging, but not having enough time with my family is the biggest problem My wife is an absolute superhero. She does all the heavy lifting. Today will probably be a 13-hour day. I love what I do, but I need more time with my family.
Why should people go to Hersh’s?
My parents come down from Stevenson all the time and bring friends and they comment on how fresh everything tastes, how interesting our take is on certain dishes. I think it’s great when we can make people feel like they’re tasting something new that they’ve eaten many times in their life.