Finally, kosher fast food at University of Illinois basketball games

Most college sports stadiums don't sell kosher food. But the University of Illinois  State Farm Center now has a stand that sells kosher hot dogs, candy, and drinks.

Aside from soft drinks, there isn't much at your typical college basketball arena that qualifies as kosher. Not the nachos, and certainly not the hot dogs.

"Whenever I went to a game up until now, the only thing I was able to buy was the soda," said Rabbi Dovid Tiechtel, a University of Illinois basketball fan who wears a "Jew of I" t-shirt. "You can't bring food from the outside, and there's no place to go."

So what are Jewish hoops fans to do? Starting this week, they can eat like anyone else while watching their favorite team at the State Farm Center.

The university's Chabad Jewish Center, run by Tiechtel, has opened its own stand this season and sells kosher dogs, candy and drinks. Students, Tiechtel and other volunteers will staff the stand most games, though they'll skip Friday nights and Saturday day games for religious reasons.

It appears to be a fairly unique concession among college arenas. The University of Kansas has one at Allen Fieldhouse, but half a dozen Big Ten schools, in response to inquiries by The Associated Press, said they did not have one.

Many pro sports arenas have added kosher food in recent years and some universities have kosher student meal-plan options, said John Lowenstein, vice president of student affairs at the American Jewish Federation in Chicago. But college sports venues would be a nice addition for fans like himself who are accustomed to doing without at games.

"As someone who keeps kosher, you want to go to a ball game and eat and have fun," he said. "It's delightful to be able to get kosher."

About 3,500 of the Urbana-Champaign campus' 43,000 students are Jewish, according to Tiechtel. His brother Zalman Tiechtel, also a rabbi, started the kosher stand last year at the Lawrence, Kan., school, which has a significant Jewish student population.

"We're the trend-setter here — after we do it, everyone will do it!" Dovid Tiechtel said enthusiastically. "I'm getting calls from other campuses on the East Coast saying 'What did you do and how did you arrange it?'"

Tiechtel said they ran a kosher hot dog stand during a U of I football game, and were pleased to have a few Muslims among the customers.

Kosher can be complicated, but, for the hot dog stand's purposes, a handful of restrictions are most important. For instance, meat and milk aren't mixed, so you won't find anything made with cheese or other dairy products. And only animals that have both split hooves and chew cud can be eaten, so pork, the most common type of hot dog, isn't allowed.

The hot dogs sold at the stand come from Romanian Kosher Sausage Co., a well-known Chicago meat producer.

On Sunday, opening night for the basketball stand, student and volunteers worked hard to pull in customers during a sparsely attended game. The pitch, repeated over and over as potential customers wandered by: "Would you like to try the best all-beef hot dog at the State Farm Center?"

"They're excellent, just the taste of them," said Cory Coker, a policeman from nearby who works security at games. "They've got a good taste to them, good crispness, good stuff."

Ryan Baker, a Chicago sports broadcaster, said he heard about the hot dogs after Illini coach John Groce's wife, Allison, bought one.

"People have been raving about it ... she said these were the best at the State Farm Center," Baker said as he waited to give his dog a shot of mustard.

The University of Illinois has agreed to give the stand at least a one-year run. Jennifer Larson, the school's assistant athletic director for sales and marketing, said they want to see if the stand is profitable.

Few opening-night customers turned out to be part of the stand's target market — observant Jews. No surprise there, Tiechtel said.

"For many people a kosher dog is just a better dog," he said. "There are certain parts of the animal we don't use."

Tiechtel sees the kosher stand as an expression of Jewish life and culture. His brothers and sisters run Jewish student centers across the country and abroad — in Florida, Tennessee Arizona, Germany and Kansas — and he says his parents taught them to search for ways to give to others.

As for the hot dog stand idea, that's from the Jayhawk fan in the family.

"I give him credit," Dovid Tiechtel said, "even though he's my younger brother."

Copyright 2013 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

You've read  of  free articles. Subscribe to continue.

Dear Reader,

About a year ago, I happened upon this statement about the Monitor in the Harvard Business Review – under the charming heading of “do things that don’t interest you”:

“Many things that end up” being meaningful, writes social scientist Joseph Grenny, “have come from conference workshops, articles, or online videos that began as a chore and ended with an insight. My work in Kenya, for example, was heavily influenced by a Christian Science Monitor article I had forced myself to read 10 years earlier. Sometimes, we call things ‘boring’ simply because they lie outside the box we are currently in.”

If you were to come up with a punchline to a joke about the Monitor, that would probably be it. We’re seen as being global, fair, insightful, and perhaps a bit too earnest. We’re the bran muffin of journalism.

But you know what? We change lives. And I’m going to argue that we change lives precisely because we force open that too-small box that most human beings think they live in.

The Monitor is a peculiar little publication that’s hard for the world to figure out. We’re run by a church, but we’re not only for church members and we’re not about converting people. We’re known as being fair even as the world becomes as polarized as at any time since the newspaper’s founding in 1908.

We have a mission beyond circulation, we want to bridge divides. We’re about kicking down the door of thought everywhere and saying, “You are bigger and more capable than you realize. And we can prove it.”

If you’re looking for bran muffin journalism, you can subscribe to the Monitor for $15. You’ll get the Monitor Weekly magazine, the Monitor Daily email, and unlimited access to CSMonitor.com.

QR Code to Finally, kosher fast food at University of Illinois basketball games
Read this article in
https://www.csmonitor.com/The-Culture/Food/2013/1113/Finally-kosher-fast-food-at-University-of-Illinois-basketball-games
QR Code to Subscription page
Start your subscription today
https://www.csmonitor.com/subscribe