The Kosher Machine
But even since Accents and Hoffman switched over, it has caused a bit of an uproar.
In June 2012, Pollak wrote a letter, which was sent to all people who had applied for grants from the organization. The letter stated that the board of directors decided that they would not consider any new funding initiatives for local Baltimore institutions, as they had “become increasingly troubled by a seeming lack of local support for Star-K. While we were striving to maintain a high level of kashrus in our community, some establishments began resisting agreed-upon standards and decided to seek certification from an outside agency.” (Star-K recently began reaccepting applications.)
The letter claimed that the caterer was dropped due to “flagrant and repeated violations” of Star-K policies. It mentioned Sinai Hospital and Levindale, too, who switched to the OU after Star-K refused to give full control of the mashgichim to the hospital and remove them from the Star-K payroll.
It also noted that another establishment [Accents] tried to remove a mashgiach for reporting a policy violation.
But Accents owner Larry Franks said it was his decision to leave the Star-K and that it took him close to eight months to do so. The decision was based on repeated abuse by a lead staffer (who has since been moved to another role but remains prominent within the company). He said the staffer regularly verbally abused his workers.
When asked about the abusive supervisor, Pollak said he was not concerned.
“There have been certain people who complained, but the ones who complained are ones we have had issues of not enforcing our standards,” he said. “Yes, the person may have been strong-minded — may not have been very flexible …”
Also, Franks said that the “policy violation” referred to in the letter was an accusation that one of his wait staff was wearing immodest clothes. Franks said he sent emails [which are on file] inviting the Star-K to see on the restaurant’s security cameras how his employee was dressed the day of the alleged violation, but the Star-K never agreed to do so.
Since the OU took over, Rabbi Genack said, “There was absolutely no change in kosher standards.”
Both Franks and Hoffman said the Star-K informed the OU that they would not recommend their establishments if they were under OU certification. Pollak said that this is the case with
Hoffman, but it has not been the case with Accents. He said the Star-K tells community members (if they ask) that the establishment had some questionable policies, but it does not have enough information today to say either way.
Franks said he knows for sure that there are five or six rabbis in town that will now not allow his food in their shuls.
Rabbi Jonathan Seidemann of Kehilath B’nai Torah, said via email, “We ordinarily allow Star-K, O/K, Chof-K and OU-certified caterers and products in our shul kitchen and social hall. In the case of [Accents], many of my rabbinic colleagues share a particular concern. Our shul policy concerning Accents is in line with many and maybe even most of the local shuls. We have nothing personal against the wonderful owners [of Accents] and look forward to patronizing them again if and when they return to local supervision, which would be in line with our communal standards.”
Franks said he is in discussions with the Star-K about switching back, but he is hesitant and not ready to make the move without certain parameters in place; these talks began shortly after Rabbi Shalom Tendler assumed his new role as the liaison with the local kosher restaurants.
“I do trust Rabbi Tendler,” said Franks. “Business is up. There is no reason for me to switch — other than community unity. I also want community unity.”