Seth Leavitt has a beef with Trader Joe’s. For five years, he’s been trying to get the chain to carry his hot dogs. “You fill out a form online and they say they’ll get back to you,” he says. “But it hasn’t happened.”
Leavitt, 47, is CEO of Abeles & Heymann, a Hillside company that has earned acclaim and a devoted following for its glatt kosher salami, pastrami, corned beef and especially its hot dogs. That word “glatt” is critical to Orthodox Jews like Leavitt who follow the strictest interpretation of kosher law, but not all A&H fans fall into that category.
At Mets games at Citifield, Eli Arje sells 500 to 1,000 A&H hot dogs a game at his three Kosher Grills. He says the one thing his customers have in common is love for a great dog. “We tried other brands, but it’s the best kosher dog in town,” he says. “The taste, the color, it’s more appealing. It’s phenomenal.”
A&H is also the kosher dog served at Legends Lounge in Yankee Stadium; in the catered suites of MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford; and at the Wells Fargo Center in Philadelphia.
Leavitt’s most gratifying accolade came in a 2013 taste test conducted by the Forward, the venerable Jewish newsweekly. The A&H hot dog beat out seven other kosher (not necessarily glatt kosher) competitors. The paper deemed it “spectacular…juicy and meaty with a crisp bite.” In June, trend watcher Phil Lempert, the SupermarketGuru, gave A&H a 92 rating and wrote, “I haven’t had a hot dog this good in many many years.”
So what’s with Trader Joe’s? In Jersey, Costco carries A&H products in 12 stores, BJ’s in 15. It’s also in many ShopRites and Stop&Shops. In frustration in April, Leavitt posted a plea on the 25,000-member Kosher Trader Joe’s fan page on Facebook, culminating with, “Would you like TJ’s to offer my hot dogs at your local store?” The response was immediate and national. The tally at our deadline in late June was about 1,200 positive emoticons and a like number of comments. Still no response from Trader Joe’s.
“We don’t belong in every store,” Leavitt admits. “But they should be selling our product in stores near places like Paramus and Teaneck, where there’s a heavily Orthodox community.”
Leavitt grew up on Long Island. His father worked for a non-kosher meat company. The family, he says, was secular “until my mom became Orthodox and brought my father, brother and I along for the ride.”
He remembers the turning point vividly. “When I was about three, she made me a salami and cheese sandwich. It was the best sandwich I had ever eaten. When I asked for another, a week later, she said I couldn’t have one because we could no longer mix milk and meat. I cried.
“Obviously, I got over that.”
Leavitt thought he would become a lawyer. During college, he earned money on the side as a rep for kosher food companies selling to nursing homes. Eventually he got a call from a large glatt kosher meat company, and took a full-time job with them.
He enjoyed learning the business, enjoyed selling. In 1997, he and a cousin bought Abeles & Heymann, which Oscar Abeles and Leopold Heymann had started in 1954 as a Bronx butcher store. Leavitt, who lives in Englewood with his wife and three children, moved the company to Hillside in 2007.
“It was a half million dollar brand when I bought it,” he says. “Now we’re between seven and 10 million a year in sales, and growing by double digits.”
“I’m not a foodie,” he admits. “I’m sorry if that’s a bad thing. I was on an airplane yesterday, and they gave me my eggs and a roll. I added some salt, some pepper. And I’m telling you, I couldn’t have been happier. But I will tell you this. If you give me a bad hot dog, I’ll know.”Click here to leave a comment