Has it already been a year since we touted the arrival of an authentic Jewish deli to the local food scene? At the time, Modern Nosh owner Stephanie Levin said her goal was to launch her new eatery with a philanthropic twist, by sharing profits with local charities.
“Our tagline is ‘you dine, we donate’,” she says. And donate, they did. After enlisting suggestions from customers about prospective recipients, Modern Nosh recently cut checks for $2,500 each to both The Women’s Initiative, which provides mental health services for women in the area regardless of their ability to pay, and the Companion Animal Fund, an organization that gives financial grants to various local pet rescue organizations.
That Levin had profits to donate bodes well for the deli, considering how hard it is to get a restaurant up and running. She says her first year in business was relatively painless.
“It’s been fun,” she says. “Some things were harder than I expected, some easier. I’d heard horror stories, and I don’t really have any horror stories, so that was really good.”
Levin, a UVA grad whose parents owned a restaurant in Norfolk, says that helping out locally was important to her.
“When I came back to town, I said I would really love to do this, but who knows if they’ll support it, and it’s been a really positive experience,” she says. “I was keeping my fingers crossed at the end of the year that there would be money to donate because there are so many expenses.”
Levin enjoys working in the food business, even when the hard part of owning a restaurant rears its ugly head.
“The paperwork has taken a lot of time—there are not enough hours in the day to work the behind-the-scenes bookkeeping…and other office stuff,” she says. “But the hardest part has been exposure. I’m still surprised that to this day people walk in and ask ‘Did you just open?’”
While the Modern Nosh menu features popular lunchtime deli standards like Reuben sandwiches, matzo ball soup, and latkes, the shop now serves breakfast fare as well. Favorites include the innovative latke Benedict—two latkes (potato pancakes) with eggs on top and hollandaise sauce (you can add meats such as pastrami bacon)—and challah French toast, which comes three ways: with powdered sugar, chocolate chips, or golden raisins.
“The restaurant makes its corned beef and brisket in-house,” Levin says. “All ethnic things and salads and soups are also homemade,” and even though people in Charlottesville seem unaccustomed to toasted bagels, it’s how they’re served at Modern Nosh.
She’s also added a lunch special for the cost-conscious diner. “Lunchtime we have a couple of hours where it’s a special lunch menu in addition to the regular menu,” Levin says. “Nosh for Nine,” which changes every few months, features nine menu items for $9 from a set menu served between 11am and 1:30pm.
Even with menu additions, Levin says it’s the customers’ word-of-mouth that makes Modern Nosh a success. “There’s no amount of money I could put into marketing to get [that level of] exposure and name recognition,” she says.