Gleiberman’s enters its fourth decade as the region’s sole exclusively kosher market.
by Michael J. Solender
Shortly after Jeff Gleiberman opened his eponymous kosher market in 1990, he was chatting with a woman in his store who marveled at his selection of kosher products. Many items were foods she grew up with in New York City yet had difficulty finding in Charlotte.
“The woman had her son with her, who I guessed to be about 8 or 9,” Gleiberman recalls. “I asked her if she wanted any knishes.” Gleiberman proudly carries the popular treat — a flaky dough pocket, typically stuffed with potatoes and onions — that is a fixture on Jewish tables and a ubiquitous New York City street food. “Her son innocently turned to her and asked, ‘What’s a knish?’ It really set me back, I was stunned he didn’t know.”
Charlotte’s ethnic food scene has changed dramatically in the 31 years since Gleiberman’s opened. And while fresh knishes and kosher Jewish delicacies from gefilte fish (fishcakes made with white fish and spices) to rugelach (crescent-shaped pastries made with a cream cheese dough) can now be found at Harris Teeter, Food Lion and other supermarkets, Gleiberman’s remains the only market in the Carolinas selling exclusively kosher foods.
Gleiberman’s, located just off Sardis Road North and Galleria Boulevard in Matthews, is in its third incarnation since opening in 1990 at the Amity Gardens Shopping Center on Independence Boulevard, now home to a Walmart Supercenter. In 2006, the market moved to Providence Square Shopping Center near Shalom Park. For 12 years, Gleiberman operated the city’s only kosher restaurant alongside the store until 2018, when the site’s owner began to redevelop the property, precipitating the move to Matthews.
Many Jews maintain kashrut, or kosher dietary laws, as a critically important element in adhering to their faith. “Kosher is part of our Jewish way of life and a religious belief,” says Rabbi Yossi Groner, director of Chabad-Lubavitch of North Carolina and chief rabbi at Charlotte’s Congregation Ohr HaTorah, an Orthodox Jewish synagogue. “What the torah tells us is food that is kosher means it is fit for us to eat because it has passed the standard of purity.” Both the ingredients and their preparation techniques make foods acceptable or not under kosher dietary laws, Groner explains. “Gleiberman’s provides an essential service for Charlotte’s [observant] Jewish community,” he says.
For Brooklyn native Gleiberman, it’s a matter of pride and sense of responsibility to the Jewish community, where he finds inspiration to operate in an increasingly difficult retail environment. “It is an important part of Jewish life, and I believe it is important to have a local resource,” says Gleiberman, 63. “It gives me pride to bring items not found in mainstream markets to my customers here in Charlotte.”
Gleiberman estimates slightly more than half his customers keep a kosher home, while others patronize his store to find a taste of Jewish culture and comfort food. Memories are found in treats such as fabled black and white cookies, challah or seven-layer cakes from Beigel’s New York Bakery, chocolate and cinnamon babka from Green’s Bakery in the Bronx, Bells bialys, or Bissli, a popular brand of snacks favored by the store’s many Israeli customers. Gleiberman’s also carries a wide selection of kosher wines and nonalcoholic beverages.
It’s during Passover, the major Jewish holiday annually commemorating the liberation of ancient Israelites from Egyptian bondage, that Gleiberman’s shines, providing access to an increased variety of kosher for Passover foods. (This year, Passover begins on the evening of March 27.)
“It’s our busiest time of the year,” says Gleiberman, who sees customers come from as far afield as Hickory, Wilmington, Raleigh, Asheville and Columbia, S.C. Gleiberman’s carries more than a dozen varieties of matzoh alone — the unleavened crispy baked crackers are favored by observant Jews as a bread substitute and considered a staple over the holiday. “I even carry kosher for Passover Coca-Cola,” Gleiberman says. “There’s a special formulation during the holiday that doesn’t use corn syrup and is bottled in New York.”
The market also serves as a cultural touchstone and social center for many area Jews. Visits here are often punctuated by friendly banter evocative of corner bodegas in New York City’s Jewish enclaves.
“My father’s commitment to the Jewish community is special and inspiring,” says David Gleiberman, Jeff’s 29-year-old son who works at the market “Many times over the years, I’ve seen him open the store during off hours to help someone get ingredients for a special meal, or to provide a shelf-stable prepared dinner for a traveling businessperson seeking a kosher meal. He’s put his heart and soul into the business. It’s his life’s work.” SP