Sure, summer has finally turned into fall, but when you live in Florida, it’s smoothie weather almost anytime – and now you can get a kosher one at the Winn Dixie in south Tampa.
If you think that is cool, consider this: Winn Dixie has 750 stores and only one of them, the store at 2100 W. Swann Ave., has a kosher smoothie machine.
Rabbi Levi Rivkin of Bais Menachem Chabad in south Tampa agrees that a kosher smoothie is a nice curiosity and volunteered to inspect it as needed, but believes what is really significant is that the recently revamped Winn Dixie on Swann has greatly expanded its kosher offerings.
Winn Dixie touts that the store carries more than 1,000 different items, including pre-packaged glatt kosher fresh and frozen meat. And, you can’t miss them. Throughout the store, the kosher product areas are marked with bright blue signs.
Up until now, for many Jews in the Tampa Bay area, especially in Tampa, it has been hard to keep kosher, said Rabbi Rivkin, who also leads the Chabad Jewish Student Center at the University of Tampa.
“When students or others do not have access to kosher, it moves them further and further away from Judaism. Kosher food is very important to the Jewish community; it makes you a more holy person, according to the Torah,” he said. “It keeps Judaism alive.”
Rabbi Josh Hearshen of Congregation Rodeph Sholom in south Tampa called the Winn Dixie store’s kosher expansion “a game changer.”
While Jo-El’s Delicatessen and Marketplace in St. Petersburg still has the most kosher offerings and its own kosher butcher, for those in Tampa not inclined to frequent drives across the Bay, the Winn Dixie offerings make it much more convenient to keep kosher, he said.
Rabbi Rivkin says since 2007 he has often pestered local grocers to add more kosher products. “I noodged them all,” he said, telling them about the increasing concentration of Jews in south Tampa and the number of nearby synagogues. Once plans were announced for the new Bryan Glazer Family Jewish Community Center, he added that to his pitch. He said he thought his words were falling on deaf ears, until the store manager at the Winn Dixie on Swann told him it was going to happen as part of a store makeover project.
Several local rabbis and others from the Jewish community attended a meeting with Winn Dixie folks to give input on what the store should offer. Rabbi Hearshen said they told the store officials about specific brands they like and requested items hard to find elsewhere in Tampa, such as margarine that is truly non-dairy, and deli meats that are unavailable elsewhere in Tampa. Different cuts of meats, kosher cheese and non-dairy desserts were also items requested.
“A lot of us do not like having to plan out menus two to three weeks ahead of time,” Rabbi Hearshen said. “This allows us at the last minute to pick up things. It makes kosher living a lot easier.”
Rabbi Hearshen noted that Trader Joe’s does have some kosher meats and cheese, but the Winn Dixie offers much more.
“Prior to the re-set in Tampa, we only had about 12 feet (of shelf displays along an aisle) for dry grocery goods,” said Amanda Blakeslee, a buyer for the store chain, explaining that those shelves contained only about 120 kosher items. “But now there are 20 feet of display shelving for dry foods, 8 feet for meats, 4 feet for dairy products, and three doors of kosher goods in the frozen food section,” she said. Additionally there are kosher breads in the bakery area, a kosher wine section with wines from Israel, and the smoothie machine. The ingredients for the smoothies are prepackaged so all employees have to do is insert the package in the machine and turn it on. The pre-packaged meats come from a distributor in Miami.
Blakeslee said there are about 375 Winn Dixie stores in Florida and 110 of them now have a kosher selection similar to that offered at the south Tampa store.
Rabbi Rivkin said he knows of shoppers who have come from Brooksville and Sarasota to the Swann Avenue store for kosher and that as word gets out, he feels more people will make it a shopping destination.
Last week a little before the store’s 10 p.m. closing time, Arlene Capeluto of Carrollwood was shopping in the kosher meat section and said she has been making the drive to the store ever since she heard it was open. “It is nice to have this selection to choose from,” she said.
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