Madonna and Rudy Giuliani walk into a kosher restaurant… No, it’s not the start of a joke but something that could happen at Prime Grill, an upscale kosher restaurant in Midtown that just celebrated its 10th anniversary. Owner Joey Allaham hasn’t rested on Prime Grill’s laurels. He opened Solo, an Asian-fusion restaurant, in 2005, and Prime KO, a Japanese steakhouse, earlier this year. The restaurateur, 35, who is also part owner of the Oak Room in the Plaza Hotel, is branching out and is expected to open a boutique kosher meat shop next year.
Q: It’s been 10 years since Prime Grill opened. How has the face of kosher dining changed since then?
A: I think it changed majorly. A lot of new places opened up, which makes it more difficult for me because I need to reinvent myself every day. It’s changed dramatically in a way that [kosher] diners have a lot more options. We try to compete with the non-kosher restaurants, not the kosher restaurants. A lot of our diners are not Jewish, a lot of them are non-observant — they go out to a non-kosher restaurant and then they come and try my restaurant, and it is as good or even better than any non-kosher place they eat at.
The Prime Hospitality Group now has three upscale kosher restaurants in New York. Are there more in the works, or do you think the market has reached its saturation point?
It’s never enough; I always have the next vision ready to go. We’re trying to do a burger joint next, with a lot of different, quality burgers. It should open in the next six to nine months. I also want to cater to businessmen and do a lot of corporate catering business. For the Japanese Prime KO, I had to spend a lot of time in Japan [researching the Japanese steakhouse concept]; my chefs are Japanese. It takes a long time to do the concept. We’ve been able to establish repeat clients.
New York has always been the center of kosher dining trends. Are there other areas of the country that can support kosher innovation?
No, New York is the only place that can support this. There are a lot of Jews who live here, and they also go out [to eat] for business and with family.
What are the plans for opening a Prime Grill meat shop?
We’re working now on opening a shop that will sell our meat exclusively. I buy from three or four different distributors in the Midwest. We hope to open by the middle of next year.
Who is the target consumer for the meat shop?
Meat is not just meat. When people try the difference and see the difference, they’ll want to come back. This is not going to target the guy who is looking to have a bargain or a sale item. We charge what we charge, but people know when they come into my doors they’ll get the top quality. We’ll sell fish, too. We’re in the fish market every day; I go myself two or three times a week to the fish market. I don’t use dealers. We could compete with our fish with any non-kosher place in the city. … I don’t compromise on quality. My rule is, when I serve a dish, we’re serving our image.
In these difficult economic times, many people may cut out going to an upscale restaurant. How have your three restaurants been faring?
At the beginning [of the recession], people were looking for a better deal or better bargain to feel that it’s cheaper. But at the end of the day, they’re coming back stronger than ever. People get what they pay for, and they really get a lot more with us than anywhere else. Business has, thank God, been doing good.