OyChicago articles

8 Questions for Josh Schonfeld, restaurant guy, world traveler, deli lover

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8 Questions for Josh Schonfeld photo

Josh Schonfeld is a partner and general manager of Grass Fed, a new, chic, modern steak restaurant in Bucktown. The star of the menu is their grass-fed sirloin steak, which comes with fries for just $25, but they also offer yummy sides and desserts. 

Before opening Grass Fed, Josh was most recently manager for Chicago based Lettuce Entertain You Enterprises, at Joe’s Seafood, Prime Steak & Stone Crab in Las Vegas. Prior to moving to Las Vegas, Josh was General Manager for Vail Resorts at Beaver Creek’s high volume on mountain restaurant, Spruce Saddle Lodge. 

A Chicago native, Josh graduated from American University in Washington, D.C. and he holds an MBA and master’s degree in hotel and restaurant administration from the University of Nevada Las Vegas.

So whether you’re a steak eater, love the show Private Practice or have been to over 75 countries, Josh Schonfeld is a Jew you should know!

1. What is your favorite blog or website? 
Anything that has to do with food or travel. I read the Eater and RedEye every day! I know, really I should watch the news more!

2. If time and money were limitless, where would you travel? 
Well, I have been fortunate to have been to over 75 countries, but nowhere in Africa or Asia. I would have to say South Africa, Thailand and Vietnam are all next on my list.

3. If a movie were made about your life, who would play you? 
Jason Alexander for his mannerisms and quick wit (not the belly :) ) 

4. If you could have a meal with any two people, living or dead, famous or not, who would they be? Where would you eat or what would you serve? 
Dr. Addison Montgomery from Private Practice. Not gonna lie, I have the biggest crush on her! And Rich Melman. I have learned so much about the restaurant business from him and really love what he has done with his restaurants in Chicago for the past several decades. 

5. What's your idea of the perfect day? 
Getting up around 9 a.m., hitting the gym, working a lunch/early dinner shift at Grass Fed, leaving work around 8 p.m., dinner with some good friends, and then head home to catch up on DVR.

6. What do you love about what you do? 
I love the daily interactions with my staff and my patrons. I could never sit at a desk from 9-5, I'd kill myself. I love being on the restaurant floor, talking with guests, running food, tasting wine with my staff, and never knowing what to expect the next minute. Every moment is unexpected—my flat top grill could be on fire, or a customer could be buying me a shot of tequila that I really don't need to be having!

7. What job would you have had if not the one you have now? 
I'd love to own a hotel/resort with several restaurants on site.

8. What's your favorite Jewish thing to do in Chicago? In other words, how do you Jew? 
I love going to the Bagel with my friend, Victoria, on Thursdays for lunch and having a good ole bowl of matzo ball soup and a turkey/pastrami sandwich. All their servers have known me since I was a baby. 

Festival of lights and laughter: YLD’s Big Event starring Aziz Ansari draws big Chanukah-reveling crowd

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Festival of lights and laughter photo 1

Photo credit: Jeff Ellis

For the fifth year in a row, Young Leadership Division's (YLD) Big Event was the place to be for young Jewish adults in Chicago this past Saturday night.

A whopping 2,400 young Jews came together to support the Chicago Jewish community and the Jewish United Fund, celebrate Chanukah together, and watch entertainment by standup comedian and Parks and Recreation star Aziz Ansari as well as young local Jewish singer, Edon Pinchot. YLD's Big Event, held at the Sheraton Chicago, kicked off YLD's 2013 Annual Campaign. 

Festival of lights and laughter photo 4

Photo credit: Bob Kusel

Big Event revelers rang in the first night of Chanukah together, entering the ballroom to the sounds of Adam Sandler's "Chanukah Song." Then the crowd lit up the room with the first candle on the menorah--and thousands of waving glow sticks too.

'Doing our generation's part'  

YLD's Big Event is JUF's premier fundraising event for the next generation of Jewish Chicagoans, and marks the first YLD event for many guests in attendance.

David Goldenberg, 2013 YLD Campaign Chair, addressed the crowd. He discussed the belief that all Jews are responsible for one another, exemplified in the important work of the Jewish United Fund of Metropolitan Chicago, which he said has touched everyone in the room directly or indirectly.

Festival of lights and laughter photo 2

Photo credit: Bob Kusel

In addition to showcasing great comedy, YLD's Big Event offers the millennial generation something more, according to Goldenberg. "[We're here] to do our generation's part in building a strong Jewish community and take care of those in need in Chicago, in Israel, and around the world," he said.

He recalled the recent terrorist attacks directed at Tel Aviv, Jerusalem, Ashkelon, and cities throughout Southern Israel, and how overnight, JUF advanced $1 million to its partner agencies that operate in Israel.

"I am so proud to look out into a room of 2,400 people celebrating and supporting JUF's efforts," said Jimmy Sarnoff, YLD President. "The Big Event has become bigger than anything we ever could have imagined. It's clearly the 'can't miss' Jewish event of the year." For many in attendance, the Big Event also marked their first YLD event.

'YLD's Got Talent'

Next up was a performance by Pinchot, a freshman at Ida Crown Jewish Academy--who made headlines recently as one of the feel-good Chicago Jewish stories of 2012. Pinchot, who earned a spot last summer as a semi-finalist in the hit show America's Got Talent, brought a special performance home to Chicago to the delight of the crowd. 

Festival of lights and laughter photo 3

Photo credit: Bob Kusel

He sang three powerful songs, the David Guetta/Usher hit "Without You," Elton John's "Your Song," and a Chanukah song called "Miracle," written by past Big Event alum, Matisyahu.

'The funniest man under 30'

Then Ansari came to the stage. "I'm excited to be here with so many Jewish leaders. I don't know what happens when there are so many Jewish leaders in one room together: 'We're going this way.' 'No, we're going this way,'" said Ansari, moving in different directions across the stage. 

Festival of lights and laughter photo 5

Comedian Aziz Ansari entertaining the crowd. Photo credit: Bob Kusel

The comedian, who Rolling Stone recently named "the funniest man under 30," was  born and raised in South Carolina to immigrants from southern India.

Ansari told the audience a bit about himself, including that he was a double major in business--and biology--during college. "First, I hit you with the business. You think it's all done. Then, I come back and I hit you with the biology," he said. "What was I going to do with this stupid double major? Sell organs on the black market very efficiently?" 

In addition to performing standup, the comedian co-stars in the NBC series Parks and Recreation, currently in its fourth season. On the big screen, Ansari has starred in films including 30 Minutes or LessI Love You, Man, and Funny People.

Ansari, a 29-year-old bachelor, spent the bulk of his act reflecting on the varied life stages that 20 and 30-somethings experience, some married, some single. 

The comedian referred to peers who have met their spouses online. He asked one of his Jewish friends what key search words he used to find his wife, expecting his friend to say something super romantic. But, instead, his friend told Ansari he simply typed in the word "Jewish" and his zip code.

"What? That's all you were looking for? Just someone Jewish and close by so you didn't have to drive too far?" Ansari replied. "I found a Wendy's that way a few weeks ago. I typed in "Wendy's" and my zip code and then got some nuggets. He got a wife the exact same way." 

And once people get married, Ansari said, then it's all about the babies. He poked fun at Facebook for being a reservoir of baby pictures and baby milestone status updates by braggadocios new parents. He said a friend will boast, for instance, about "Baby Brian's first steps."

"I walk all the time," Ansari said. "I'm not impressed."

For a list of upcoming YLD events and to view pictures from the Big Event, visit www.yldchicago.org.

A special thank you to YLD's Big Event Presenting Sponsor Eleven City Diner; Supporting Sponsors AMS Staffing Solutions, LLC, Associated Agencies, Inc. and Chubb Group of Insurance Companies, Charles E. Dobrusin and Associates, and The Great Escape; and Event Sponsors Chicago Apartment Finders, Durable Packaging International, Hub 51, JFS Realty Capital, Paris Club, RJ Grunts, RPM ITALIAN, Sarnoff and Baccash, Steve's Deli, and Wicker Park Veterinary Clinic, and Media Sponsor Splash: A Chicago Sun-Times Publication; Thank you also to Mercadito Hospitality and Spin Spun All Natural Confections for their support of this event. Another special thank you to the 150 Table Hosts whose support of this event made it an enormous success.


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A Remembrance of Freedom Sunday, 1987

Glasnost! photo

In 1987, I was 17 years old. I got on a bus in Cleveland with many of my friends from school, synagogue, camp, and my youth group. We were bound for Washington D.C., to send Mr. Gorbachev a message: We, the Jews of the United States, stood with the Jews of the Soviet Union. We wanted them to stop being refuseniks… and start being olim to Israel or immigrants to America. 

As we arrived, my busload was mingled with others from Ohio. As we marched, alphabetically by state, we passed the National Archives. Our signs waved in the same wind that blew through the banners on that building’s columns, declaring the 200th anniversary of the Constitution. 

When our march arrived before the White House, I could not see or hear any of the speakers, from back in the “Os” with Oklahoma and Oregon. I could barely make out some strains of Peter Paul & Mary, who were playing at the event. But I held my “Glasnost for Soviet Jews” sign as high as I could. “Glasnost” being the Russian word for “openness.” (The sign now hangs on the wall of my house.)

I also found a poster that said “B’nai B’rith Youth Demands: Open Your Iron Gates!” It seemed to me that the mighty Soviet Union might not exactly quail before some Midwest suburban Jewish teens. But you know what? Every voice joined in the chorus makes it harder to ignore. 

I later learned that Gorbachev did not make his scheduled visit to the White House that day. Message received.

Just before Rosh Hashanah this year, my great-uncle’s brother, Isaac-Mordchah, passed away in his late 90s. He had been stuck behind the Iron Curtain after surviving the Holocaust. But for decades before he died, he sat between my great-uncle and grandfather in synagogue every Shabbat, worshipping as a Jew in the land of the free. 

So on this 25th anniversary of that rally, I say: God bless America. Thank God that I live in a country that teaches me that I can use my voice to make sure other voices are heard. And that because I can, I must. And so I hold high my 25-year-old sign, and write these flickering words, and I raise my single voice. 

Until all eyes and ears are open. Until all hearts and minds are open. Until all iron gates are open: Glasnost!

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