On Beechcraft Road in Gaithersburg, Maryland, there is seemingly typical industrial park, with businesses selling batteries, tires, trophies, and even entire patios. What makes this industrial park unique, however, is that it is home to kosher caterer Potomac 18’s new facility, which features the largest permanently kosher kitchen in America.
The facility has four large kitchens — one meat, one dairy, one pareve (neither meat nor dairy), and a bakery kitchen. Chefs, mashgichim (kosher supervisors), and Potomac 18 owner Rabbi Yisroel David Bacharach can be found bustling about.
Rabbi Bacharach is a tall man wearing the black pants, tzitzit (fringes), and short-sleeve button-down shirt of a yeshiva graduate who works with his hands. He worked as a mashgiach for 20 years before buying and renaming Dahan Caterers in 2011. Since then, Potomac 18 has catered over 1,000 kosher events, including the most prestigious event in DC: the White House Chanukah party.
After operating in its Rockville, Maryland, location for several years, Rabbi Bacharach moved to a new building in December 2017. The 40,000 square foot building in Gaithersburg used to be a print shop. Rabbi Bacharach said he needs the extra space to meet his goal of turning Potomac 18 into a brand-name packaged-food manufacturer. At full capacity, the kitchens can support at least 50 workers, including two full-time Orthodox Union (OU) mashgichim, he said.
In the next few months, he will release a line of vegan, organic, gluten-free baked goods and hors d’oeuvres. Rabbi Bacharach said they are working on a name, logo, and branding for the new line of foods. The products will be distributed to supermarket chains such as Costco, Giant, and Safeway.
The kitchens certainly have the capacity to supply supermarkets. One food expert told Rabbi Bacharach that his new facility could produce $150 million worth of food each year. When asked whether he is concerned about competing on quality with existing national brands, Rabbi Bacharach shook his head and smiled. “Our food is just that good,” he said.
How do you find a chef who can make food that is good enough to compete with national brands? Executive Chef Ravi Narayanan trained under master chefs in Washington, D.C.; West Orange, New Jersey; San Francisco; and Paris. After working for years as a chef, Narayanan started a food consulting business that helps struggling restaurants and hotels turn around their food operations. However, these days, Narayanan leaves the day-to-day management to someone else so he can do what he loves: being a chef.
Potomac 18 will be joining the ranks of over 400 other food-manufacturing facilities in Maryland. As a caterer, Potomac 18 is regulated by the Montgomery County Department of Health and Human Services. However, as a food manufacturer, Potomac 18 will be regulated by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) as well. Rabbi Bacharach said they are currently working out the FDA registration and regulatory requirements.
Becoming an industrial food manufacturer won’t detract from Potomac 18’s catering business. Simply walk behind the kitchens and you will find a loading zone, a second and third walk-in refrigerator, and shelves stacked 20 feet high with boxes of dishes, serving utensils, and tablecloths for events.
Ascend the stairs and you will find a tasting room for clients. Another two rooms will be renovated into one large party room for corporate and other events. “We have a party here scheduled for Purim,” Rabbi Bacharach said. And why would people drive out to Gaithersburg for a party? “Because our costs are lower when we cater an event in the same facility as our kitchen, so we can charge less for the same good, kosher food,” he said.
Turning a catering company into an industrial food manufacturer is an ambitious undertaking — especially now that Montgomery County voted to increase the minimum wage to $15 per hour. However, Rabbi Bacharach isn’t worried about failure or higher labor costs. “Let me be honest,” he said leaning in, “This isn’t really my facility. It’s G-d’s facility, and I’m just using it. G-d will give me more money to pay my employees.”
By Gabe Aaronson