Opened less than four years ago (in December 2014), BerMax Caffé & Bistro, located at 1800 Corydon Avenue, has surprised many of its Jewish customers by making the decision to go non-kosher (meaning it is no longer under any kind of kosher supervision) as of September 10.

The BerMax Facebook page says that “Our menu will remain as is, but now we will be open 7 days a week with extended hours and larger cocktail/wine menu.”
Apparently the decision to abandon what had always been a fairly daring venture came about as a result of the business having to remain closed for Shabbat. Added to the problems facing the owners of BerMax, the cost of using kosher foods that met a higher standard of kashrut than other facilities in this city that also carry a kosher endorsement proved difficult.

While BerMax was a strictly dairy operation, its use of dairy products that were labeled “Chalav Yisrael”  was a factor in its facing higher costs than other operations in this city that carry a kosher designation. (Chalav Yisrael is a style of kashrut that adheres to a very strict standard of what constitute kosher dairy products. Only observant Jews are allowed to handle the products, for instance.)
Apparently when word that BerMax was considering opening on Saturdays (and Friday evenings), the suggestion was made to the owners of the restaurant that they come under the supervision of Western Kosher, which supervises other kosher facilities in this city.
While BerMax did adhere to a higher standard of kashrut than any other food establishment in this city, according to the owners of BerMax, its being supervised by representatives of the Chabad Lubavitch movement in Winnipeg came at no cost to BerMax. Thus, the idea that it would come under a different form of kosher supervision was rejected by the owners as a non-starter.

Still, BerMax had become a dining spot where some Orthodox members of our community – as well as Orthodox out-of-towners, felt comfortable patronizing.
Yet, according to Maxim Berent, over 80% of the restaurant patrons are not Jewish and, of the Jewish clientele, the majority have told him that they are not strictly kosher. In Berent’s assessment  many of the Jewish patrons had been coming to BerMax, not only for the food, but because it had became a popular meeting place for Jews.
However, Berent noted that a number of  Orthodox Jewish families in Winnipeg rarely or never patronized BerMax, despite its level of kosher supervision. Thus, the decision to go non-kosher should hardly lose the restaurant many customers, predicts Berent.
According to  Berent, moreover, BerMax still has plans to open new locations elsewhere in Canada and the U.S.
 As might be expected, when we spoke with various members of our community who are involved in the supervision of kashrut in Winnipeg, they expressed deep disappointment at BerMax’s decision to go non-kosher. No one though wanted to go on the record with a public comment about what BerMax has done.

We were also told that the situation with Gunn’s Bakery, where it has been allowed to remain open Saturdays through an arrangement whereby the business is sold to a non-Jew for Shabbat, then sold back, aroused a certain amount of resentment from BerMax (as well as Desserts Plus, which is also under kosher supervision.)
We asked Maxim Berent whether he would consider trying to emulate the Gunn’s model, but he dismissed that as a possibility.