Just weeks after a local farm agreed to supply kosher chickens to the Jewish community in S. Petersburg, Russia, a popular eatery that has been feeding patrons for more than a decade has made the switch to following the strictures of Jewish dietary laws.

After a grueling 17 days of preparations supervised by Chabad-Lubavitch Rabbi Menachem M. Pewzner, the city’s chief rabbi, the 7:40 restaurant opened to raving reviews.

“Those were the hardest 17 days of our existence!” remarked proprietor Abram Israelashvili. “We washed and scrubbed every square centimeter of the restaurant. We koshered our metal cookware with a blow torch. We replaced all of our dishes and china, as well as the large stove.”

Always known as a “Jewish-style” eatery, 7:40 built a reputation on its shtetl-themed cuisine, such as gefilte fish and kugel. But Judaism’s kosher laws mandate that all food be prepared with strictly-kosher ingredients and under rabbinical supervision. In addition, the restaurant may not operate on Shabbat.

Israelashvili said that the switch, while expensive, has actually paid off. He’s seen an increase in business, more than enough to make up for closing one day a week.

Sara Pewzner, who co-directs the local Chabad House, attributed the popularity of the restaurant with a steadily-increasing interest among locals, both Jewish and non-Jewish, in Jewish cuisine and culture.

“The décor is similar to an old inn, like the kind that many Jews made their living operating a couple of generations ago,” explained Pewzner. “There are Chagall paintings on the walls, and there are a lot of little touches that reflect the shtetl, or at least how people think of the shtetl.

“It has always reflected people’s nostalgia,” she added.

Over the years, the 80,000-strong Jewish community in S. Petersburg, Russia’s second-largest city, has dug deeper into its roots. Today, it boasts four day schools, a yeshiva, eight kindergartens, a kosher café on the opposite end of town from 7:40, and a long list of Torah classes and study programs.

Like his fellow residents, Israelashvili joined a few of those programs and became a regular at the Chabad House. As he became more acquainted with Jewish law, he developed an interest in keeping kosher.

In the end, he moved to kosher his restaurant in part because he wanted to be able to eat there. He also wanted to provide food to the community. With the help of local businessman Mikhail Mirilashvili, he was able to cut prices on his revamped menu from 30 to 40 percent.

“The concept of this restaurant has changed completely: Our goal is not to earn as much money as possible, but to make kosher food available to all the Jews of S. Petersburg. 7:40 will eventually be able to sustain itself, but is not expected to turn a profit,” Israelashvili announced shortly after reopening in July.

Pewzner asserted that the move “has strengthened the community.”

“Now, the restaurant represents something more than a fascination with the Jewish past,” she said. “It is also about a present-day community that is growing in its commitment to Jewish life.”