For two years, University of Miami junior Seth Kinzbrunner ate a lot of cereal. That and his mother’s weekly supply of food is what kept the kosher-observant accounting major sated.

“I lived off a microwave and a fridge,” says Kinzbrunner, while other students could trot to any of a number of eateries to grab a bite.

This school year, however, has been different since the opening of the Oasis, a full-fledged deli and restaurant at the school’s Whitten University Center. At 3,700 square feet, it is believed by administrators to be the largest kosher establishment at an American university. And under supervision by the University of Miami Rabbinical Association, the operation joins a rapidly-growing list of kosher restaurants whose existence is due in large part to campus-based Chabad-Lubavitch centers.

Rabbi Mendy Fellig, director of the Chabad House serving the University of Miami, leads the team of supervisors who ensure that the food at the Oasis adheres the strictest requirements of kosher law. The Chabad House, he says, decided to provide the service at no charge after the university determined that paying supervisors was outside of its dining budget.

“The Oasis wasn’t worth having if it wasn’t going to be 100 percent kosher,” says Fellig. “The university invested a lot of money in redoing the facility and it’s beautiful.”

Earlier this year, the Chabad Jewish Student Center helped administrators at the California State University Channel Islands unveil its dining plan, and in 2008, the Chabad Center for Jewish Student Life helped the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign open its first-ever kosher eatery. This spring, Chabad-Lubavitch Rabbi Yerachmiel Gorelik koshered a kitchen at Colorado State University so that the Fort Collins school could host a Shabbat meal for 100 people.

Food preparation at the Oasis occurs in two kitchens, one for meat and another for dairy. Only meat entrees are served in the evenings.

With a menu featuring bagels, blintzes, chicken soup, salads and falafel, the eatery’s selections are better than expected, says Kinzbrunner. An added benefit is the school’s new kosher dining plan, which allows students to charge their meals to their bursar bill.

“The food is pretty tasty,” offers Kinzbrunner. A favorite is a “turkey sandwich with lettuce and tomato.”

At 3,700 square feet, the Oasis is believed to be the largest on-campus kosher eatery at American universities. (Photo: University of Miami)
At 3,700 square feet, the Oasis is believed to be the largest on-campus kosher eatery at American universities. (Photo: University of Miami)

Deli and More

The Oasis joined 11 other retail establishments when it opened at the beginning of the semester, says Mel Tenen, the university’s assistant vice president of auxiliary services. University president Donna Shalala, who served as the U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services under President Bill Clinton, has been one of its staunchest champions.

“She was one of the guiding forces,” says Tenen. “She firmly believed that the University of Miami should have a kosher restaurant.”

Shalala discovered her taste for Americanized Jewish cuisine when she was president of Manhattan’s Hunter College several years ago.

“I love deli,” she says, noting that her favorite dishes at the Oasis include the matzah ball soup, pastrami sandwiches and giant black-and-white cookies.

Tenen says that the restaurant has also proven a draw for the school’s Muslim’s students that adhere to their religion’s halal dietary laws.

“We consulted with the Muslim students here,” he says, “so they would feel this was a place for them, too.”

With the opening of the Oasis, Kinzbrunner says he views his school differently.

Having the restaurant “has impacted the way I talk about the university,” he explains. “This will definitely change the dynamics of the school.”