Family converts catering business to kosher food truck during pandemic

Torri Donley

Rabbi Rona Shapiro of B’nai Jacob and David Franklin enjoying some food from Neil’s Wheels. Rabbi Rona Shapiro of B’nai Jacob and David Franklin enjoying some food from Neil’s Wheels. Photo: Melissa Rosado / Contributed Photo Photo: Melissa Rosado / Contributed Photo Rabbi Rona Shapiro of B’nai Jacob and David […]

WOODBRIDGE — A decades-old catering company has been trying something new — bringing kosher cuisine to their customers with a food truck.

Abel Caterers, a family-owned business, rolled out the truck — called Neil’s Wheels — around the community in July. After the COVID-19 pandemic hit Connecticut, owner and operator Meredith Abel-Berei said they’d lost about 80 percent of their catering business for the rest of the year. So, they changed gears.

“I thought it would be a good idea just to keep our name out there,” she said. “Keep people fed, give people the opportunity to have kosher food, and have a little fun.”

The food truck went out “two to three days a week” in the summer, Abel-Berei said. Individuals can request the truck for a private event with a set menu, or an organization could send one to its location and have attendees pre-order through an app, she said.

Since they have several kitchens, they are able to provide more options than the average food truck, she said.

“We certainly give the clients suggestions, but if it’s reasonable, we go ahead and do it,” Abel-Berei said. “We’ve done pizza, we’ve done poke bowls, we’ve done fried chicken, we’ve done chili baked potatoes and chili dogs, flatbreads, gourmet flatbreads.”

In addition to the food truck’s business, they’re offering meals three times per week for groups of four that can be picked up curbside or delivered. According to the menu for Friday, for example, there will be sauteed boneless chicken picatta, matzo ball soup, ratatouille, rice pilaf, challah rolls and more.

“Although it’s not hugely profitable, it’s allowing us to maintain our staff and maintain our bills while we get through this pandemic,” she said.

They’d been a “little bit hopeful” that people would be able to congregate in larger groups, or be back in synagogues, by the holidays, Abel-Berei said. Once it became clear that traditional catering wouldn’t soon be making a comeback, she said they “really decided to push forward” with ramping up business for Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur.

Still, Abel-Berei said she’s “terrified, every single day” like other business owners in the U.S. during an uncertain time. October through December used to make up 35 percent of their business, but with a lot of large event cancellations, that won’t be the same this year, she said.

“I wake up in the middle of the night like, ‘Oh my God, how am I going to get through this week?’” she said. “We’re doing the best we can. It’s not easy.”

Her team is looking forward to getting “back to some sense of normalcy.”

“We miss catering events, we miss being out in public, we miss being a part of people’s celebrations,” she said. “We’re hopeful that, with the new year, we can hope to get back to doing our business the way we have in the past. But I think, realistically, I think most of us know that we’re still far away from that.”

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