Reinventing Ralphs

By

By Ruth Judah.

Los Angeles hasn’t financed a Jewish community survey since 1997 and at this time the anecdotal evidence shows young Jewish families are moving eastwards and away from the Valley.
Sherman Oaks had always enjoyed a strong Jewish presence but it is not an area that abounds in orthodox families. In fact, there is just one orthodox synagogue, Chabad of Sherman Oaks at Kester and Ventura Blvd, as well as the Conservative Temple B’Nai Hayim on Van Nuys Blvd.
Despite the unknown demographics of the current Jewish community in the San Fernando Valley, changes are a happening in the accessibility of kosher food for the orthodox community. And this is because of Ralph’s supermarket.
For 42 years the city of Sherman Oaks cloistered a Ralphs store at the corner of Hazeltine Ave and Ventura Blvd. It was a traditional store, but Ralphs conducted their own neighborhood research and decided that this location could handle something more extraordinary. On Thursday, April 10, just sneaking into the calendar to catch the final Pesach shoppers, a newly built Megastore Ralphs was opened at the same location. Taking eighteen months to build, it is for the most part, an impressive store. In fact, it’s overwhelming.
The pharmacy section rivals Target, a kosher bakery offers crispy croissant that will make other kosher bakeries drool. There’s a new Kosher Deli that rivals the busy counter at Cambridge Farms and roasted and fried chickens are at affordable prices. The Sherman Oaks area lost two terrific bookstores, but superstore Ralphs has a decent book aisle, extensive kitchenware, substantial flower market and inviting garden plants; this is a store that changes the way you shop. The fruit and vegetable section is luscious and the wide aisles and new shopping carts create a more upscale experience than a race around the 99c store or a game of bumper carts at Super Sal.
The new Ralphs is open from 6am to 2am and rumor has it that at least two Mashgiach will cover the hours and will supervise the 1500 sq ft kosher department, which includes a private kosher meat processing room, a deli, meat, seafood, wine, canned goods and frozen section. What more could we ask?
Actually, there may be a little more that is needed. In the race to open the store before Passover, the shelves in the kosher department were erratically organized and only partially covered with paper. Bissli was available in a non- kosher- for- Pesach variety and more than one family found they had accidentally purchased the wrong kind. Amidst the crowd of 1000 people who visited the store in just the first hour, this was to be expected, but time will tell whether the store’s management will continually fix the problems. How confusing will it be for kosher customers to shop in a store that offers identical brand products in a non-kosher form on the adjoining aisle?
Shoppers for the neighborhood and the surrounding catchment zone will be able to price match. Could this be healthy competition that successfully livens up the local stores that previously had exclusive rights to feed our kosher families? Will the Valley Village crowd be drawn to Sherman Oaks for all-in shopping? And just as important, how costly and tasty are the challot? So far, the pricing is exhaustingly erratic.
At the opening of the new Ralphs, an iPad was raffled and Emek Hebrew Academy was given a donation of $2500, which Principal, Rabbi Shifman, accepted with grace. Milliken High School was also a recipient. As for the rest of the shoppers, they were happy to enjoy face painting, balloon animals and certain food samples. The bold decision to open this new mega Ralphs has brought change to the Valley. G-d can change everything in the blink of an eye.