Tara Barber didn’t know kosher when she started working years ago at what has since become her establishment, Bo’s Kosher Cafe. But now she doesn’t start her morning — making delicious salads, fries, falafel, those grilled cheese sandwiches, and much more — until after a visit from Rabbi Friedman, who turns on her equipment every day as per kosher standards. Bo’s remains the only certified dairy kosher restaurant in Alabama.
LJCC: How did you end up owning and operating a kosher restaurant in B’ham?
TB: I’ve been in and out of the restaurant business my whole life. My family owned VJ’s Cafe On the Runway for more than 50 years. It was a fabulous spot, but it burned to the ground from spontaneous combustion 11 years ago.
I was a member at the LJCC, though, and I’d heard they were looking for someone to run its snack bar during the summer. The director at the time, Betzy Weinblatt-Lynch, offered me the job, and then let me stay into the fall. I got to know some members better, including Carl Corenblum, who was especially persistent about wanting me to become certified kosher.
Rabbi [Yossi] Freidman then made everything happen. He has been so great overseeing the snack bar and teaching me all about kosher.
How have you learned about kosher and Jewish food?
In the beginning it was hard to cook differently than I’d been doing all my life, but now I just have kosher in my head all the time. It took a while to learn all the different Jewish holiday foods, and I still sometimes need confirmation from Rabbi Friedman that I’m following all the labels correctly.
Although some people might not realize it, much of what you buy is already kosher. The symbol that jumps out the most is the “U” in a circle. The majority of my products are the circled U or kosher dairy, but I always check because distributors can change their kosher protocols.
I think “parve” [Yiddish for “neutral”] kosher is the best way because it’s the easiest!
What does it mean for a restaurant to keep kosher?
I can handle everyday kosher, but if I have to do a meat dish (like hot dogs), Rabbi Friedman is right there with me. You might think you could just throw some fries on a plate out of my kitchen or use a knife, but you can’t because the rules can be complicated — everything has to be dairy when you’re cooking dairy, for example, and everything has to be meat when cooking meat.
And, as per kosher standards, Rabbi Friedman turns on my equipment every morning.
What are your most popular dishes?
French fries are my best seller. Sometimes I wish I sold only fries — ha! I sell a lot of falafel pitas, too, along with grilled salmon and veggie burgers, plus grilled cheese (I have to admit that I prefer the taste of kosher cheese) and tuna sandwiches. I also sell a lot of different salads, and then soup and chili in the winter.
What food(s) do you most enjoy preparing?
I enjoy preparing anything my customer wants. It doesn’t matter what because I am going to make it taste and look great, whatever it is.
You also run a catering business. What are some of your favorite specialties on that side of things?
I make a lot of spinach lasagna, eggplant parmesan, and baked ziti for catering. If it’s dairy, I’m happy to do whatever the customer wants, but I work with Rabbi Friedman if I get a request for meat. I can handle small parties or 200 wedding attendees, and I’ve worked with groups that are in town for a week and need 60 breakfasts, lunches, and dinners. I strive to do whatever a customer asks me to do.
Do you have a favorite time of year at The J?
My favorite time of year is summer. I love kids and they are so excited to get food from Bo’s. But then I feel a little attached to the N.E. Miles Jewish Day School kids, too, so all year round works for me.
So who’s Bo?
The name came about when I had to make a quick decision. While my 13-year-old daughter said “No way” to the use of her name, my 10-year-old son thought it would be cool.