Downtown Baltimore loses its last kosher cafe

Google Maps screenshot of The Van Gough Cafe.
Google Maps screenshot of The Van Gough Cafe.

Downtown Baltimore is losing its final kosher eatery.

Van Gough Cafe, a kosher cafe near the Fells Point area, will close its doors for the last time on March 7.

“It’s a very homey cafe that would sell breakfast, lunch and all different coffees, like at Starbucks, that kind of variety, or Dunkin’ Donuts,” said Mindy Alezra, the owner of the Van Gough Cafe and a resident of Baltimore’s Fells Point neighborhood. “I was the last kosher restaurant standing, and I do feel very bad about closing. But I’m hoping, once COVID is completely done, somebody will open a kosher restaurant downtown, because there is definitely a need.”

Van Gough Cafe first opened in 2009. Alezra said that she had long ago wanted to start her own cafe. Its location had previously been a bar that had closed four years prior. When Alezra learned that the location was available, she jumped at the opportunity.

Alezra picked the name because of its location on the corner of Ann Street and Gough Street. At the time she believed “Gough” was pronounced the same as the famed artist Vincent Van Gogh.

“So I’m like, ‘Ann Gough’ sounds like ‘Van Gogh,’ and so I named it ‘Van Gough,’” Alezra said.

In keeping with the name, Alezra had artworks from local artists available for sale in the cafe, she said.

Some of the more popular menu items included the cafe’s espresso drinks and bagels from Goldberg’s New York Bagels, Alezra said.

Alezra founded the cafe with help from two of her daughters, Maya Langermann, who currently lives in Israel, and Dalia Alezra. Both daughters have since moved on with their lives, and Alezra encountered difficulty in finding replacements for them. She explained this was part of the reason for the closure, along with a desire to retire and fatigue from dealing with the pandemic.

Alezra believes that the new owner may be planning to install a kitchen and turn the cafe into a restaurant. Even if this is the case, though, she doubts it will be a kosher establishment.

Looking back on her time with the cafe, Alezra said that “what made me happy was being able to serve kosher, and I had a lot of shidduch dates, and people would come back 10 years later and tell me they had their first date at the cafe, and now they’re married and they have lots of kids.

“So I feel like that part really made me happy,” Alezra continued. “Because it was a very quiet place that people could go to really get to know each other.”

Once the cafe closes, Alezra plans to start traveling more. She noted that she has an Airbnb in Costa Rica that she will visit for the winters. She also plans to spend time visiting her daughters.

To those considering starting a cafe or restaurant of their own, Alezra advised that they “go with their instincts, and have a positive outlook. And anybody can be successful in anything they do, as long as they have the right attitude.”

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