Most evenings, Jack Hochman’s pursuit of dessert involves mounting a steep spiral of a staircase, striding past an elegant cocktail area and into a softly lit ballroom, as empty as it is magnificent (stratosphere-high ceiling, "Phantom"-sized chandelier), eventually taking a seat at a small table in the center. If you think that’s a lot to ask of a cinnamon roll-loving 93-year-old, then you don’t know Hochman, and you really don’t know his cinnamon rolls.
He is tall, trim, incurably dapper — the swagger he walks with is entirely earned. Think of it: over the past 58 years, Hochman and his late wife, along with his daughter and son-in-law (the Wilks), and their daughter and son-in-law (the Swerdloffs) have repeatedly looked death in the face and survived, that is, thousands of perfectly executed wedding receptions, bat and bar mitzvahs — first in Brooklyn, and more recently at Temple Beth El in Cedarhurst. Along the way, the Hochman-Wilk-Swerdloffs have become the Flying Wallendas of kosher catering. Theirs too is a high-wire act performed without a net.
"We did everything," recalled Gayle Wilk, who co-owns Seaview Caterers. "The building, the talent, the shows, the creativity. I would wake up in the middle of the night trying to create the fantasy that a bride wanted or a different theme for a bar mitzvah."
Seaview long ago mastered the art of the pivot.
"We are not going down with the ship, we are not going to go down with the COVID," said Wilk with defiance, segueing into the origin story of 46 Locust, Seaview’s new on-site kosher restaurant. When Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo banned gatherings of more than 50 people "whether you’re the size of Madison Square Garden or the size of a local delicatessen," the only event Temple Beth El’s 500-person ballroom seemed suited for was the superspreader sort. "But what he did with restaurants was give them 50% of capacity," Wilk said. "That’s when the electric light bulb went off."
Seaview’s multigenerational workforce sprung into action, installing MERV 13 filters and UV lighting indoors, and pitching tents for al fresco dining. Together with chef Bryan Zembreski, they developed a menu composed of Seaview’s most oft-requested items and more. Highlights include a divine rosemary and honey-glazed roast chicken ($25), pan-seared branzino Provençal ($32), a bright sesame-crusted tuna ($18), and superb bone-in rib-eye ($45), after which you’ll want to stay for a few warm cinnamon rolls ($12), because, well, Jack does.
"You don’t ever see a restaurant like this, with all these private cabanas," general manager Russell Swerdloff pointed out, and it’s true. Who would have thought that so many private spaces could be carved out of a 500-person ballroom merely by the judicious use of sheer drapery? Indeed, 46 Locust flows so naturally from its core business, it’s a wonder Seaview didn’t try it sooner.
"The infrastructure of restaurants and catering are actually worlds apart," Bob Wilk offered. "It’s like the difference between volleyball and baseball. You’re dealing with a ball but it’s two different games."
The transition has been a struggle, Gayle admitted, but "an enjoyable struggle, because we’re seeing results." She sympathizes with the challenges faced by her catering clients as well, some of whom, frustrated by seeing their weddings postponed again and again, are booking dates for summer and fall 2022, when the coast is clear — they hope. But that’s not an option for everyone. "A lot of my clients are older brides," she continued, her voice breaking a bit. "They want to have children. They can’t keep pushing it off."
Soon it was time for Jack Hochman’s nightly return to his empire, part of which he still controls, by the way ("he orders the liquor, watches the checkbook, puts on his tuxedo"). He seemed pleased that the ballroom, the setting for so many happy occasions, had emerged from the unhappiest of seasons and was walking a tightrope anew. Which begged the question — when and if the old normal returns, what will become of 46 Locust?"
"We would like to be able to do both," said Gayle simply.
46 Locust is at 46 Locust Ave. at Temple Beth El in Cedarhurst, 516-295-3335, seaviewcaterers.com/46-locust. Reservations requested. Opening hours are Sunday through Thursday, 4 p.m. to 10 p.m. Closed Friday and Saturday.