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FOOD

At Chani’s Kosher Take-Out in Worcester, matzoh ball soup with a side of mitzvahs

‘As a rabbi, it’s so much easier to talk through food,’ said Rabbi Mendel Fogelman, who helps run a Jewish deli-style takeout service out of his synagogue

Chani's Kosher Take-Out is a takeout service that Rabbi Mendel Fogelman and his wife, Chani, run out of their synagogue, Chabad Lubavitch of Central Massachusetts.Suzanne Kreiter/Globe Staff

WORCESTER — Chani’s Kosher Take-Out, a Worcester spot slinging classic Jewish deli fare, is housed inside the most apt of venues — a synagogue.

Mendel Fogelman, the rabbi at the Chabad Lubavitch of Central Massachusetts, and his wife, Chani Fogelman, started the takeout business in the spring of 2020. For years, they’d hosted large Shabbat dinners at their house, later moving the meals to the synagogue on Thursday nights to raise money for the Chabad, including its afterschool program, camp, and preschool.

COVID-19 forced them to scrap the in-person dinners, but they began the takeout model shortly after Passover in 2020, offering more traditional deli options. “We actually meet a lot of Jewish people that will never come to synagogue, never come to shul,” Chani Fogelman said. “But they will come for a good pastrami sandwich.”

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Now, Monday through Friday, under a large Star of David mosaic, patrons can pick up everything from beef brisket platters to matzoh ball soup to hand-braided challah bread. All the proceeds — which Fogelman said is now close to $100,000 — still go to the synagogue’s programs.

“We’re here for a higher purpose,” Mendel Fogelman said. “And this helps the higher purpose go further.”

The pastrami sandwich is the bestseller, Mendel Fogelman said — he travels once a month to New York to pick up cases upon cases of that and other meats — but the corned beef sandwich and chicken schnitzel are also customer favorites. The Fogelmans make everything from scratch, with the help of two other prep-work employees.

“As a rabbi, it’s so much easier to talk through food than it is if I have to meet them in a class or something,” Mendel Fogelman said, adding that more than half of Chani’s customers are not Jewish. “The smells and tastes bring back certain memories to people.”

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The pastrami sandwich at Chani's Kosher Take-Out in Worcester. Suzanne Kreiter/Globe Staff

So, what’s their secret? Recipes passed down from generations of bubbies? Divine intervention? According to Chani, it’s the freshness of the ingredients.

“You feel it when you eat it,” she said. “We cook with a lot of love, so I think this is the main ingredient.”

Born in Worcester, Mendel Fogelman has been at the synagogue since 1973, when he began working under his father, the late Rabbi Hershel Fogelman. Despite the deep roots in the community, to get clientele, “the food had to talk for itself,” he said. “Even though you’re here years and years, still, people are afraid to try new things at first.”

But it didn’t take long for the good word to spread. Business picked up, he said, after the eatery got shout-outs on Worcester Eats, a Facebook group for food recommendations run by the Worcester Telegram & Gazette. Perhaps the most significant praise the takeout spot has gotten so far is winning an informal competition held by nearby tax firm Cunningham & Associates to find the best Worcester lunch spot.

In an effort to boost morale, Cunningham & Associates set up a March Madness-style bracket, bringing food into the office and narrowing it down to determine the best grub. Eight months later, Chani’s walked away victorious in mid-January, beating out establishments like Wonder Bar, Flying Rhino Cafe and Watering Hole, and George’s Coney Island. The prize? A $500 donation to the synagogue.

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Braided challah bread waiting to go into the oven at Chani's Kosher Take-Out in Worcester.Suzanne Kreiter/Globe Staff

“It was fresh, it was hot, a ton of food,” said Anthony DeSimone, a tax and growth associate at Cunningham & Associates. “And love the story behind it, too — there’s so much more than just the kitchen. You walk in and you’re going, am I in the right place?”

Meanwhile, lively dinners at the synagogue are back, with cholent (a traditional, slow-simmered Shabbat stew) being served every Thursday night, and a takeout Shabbat package for those who’d rather eat at home. Orders can be placed over the phone, by walk-in, or through the Chani’s Kosher Take-Out website, koshertakeout.square.site.

Despite the customer demand, Mendel Fogelman said he has no desire or plans to open a restaurant outside of the synagogue.

“That’s not my goal, that’s not my mission. I’m a rabbi, I’m very happy to be here in the synagogue, supporting our projects through this project,” he said. “If I open up somewhere else, what’s the difference between me and everybody else? Like this, we’re unique. I like that we’re unique.”

Rabbi Mendel Fogelman hands over pastrami sandwiches to a take-out customer at Chani's Kosher Take-Out, housed inside his Worcester synagogue. Suzanne Kreiter/Globe Staff

Dana Gerber can be reached at dana.gerber@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @danagerber6.