For Noam and Shmuel Sonnenberg, their work starts when the cleaning ends
While Pristine Kashering, a cRc-certified kashering agency run by brothers Noam and Shmuel Sonnenberg, services all sorts of clients across the gamut of religious observance, there was still one phone call that took them by surprise. The woman on the other end of the line wanted her kitchen kashered, and Noam prepared to take down her details. But the conversation took a surprising twist when she asserted that she personally didn’t care about kashrus, but her mother was paying for her to have her kitchen kashered for Pesach.
Happy to help another Jew have a kosher kitchen for Pesach, Noam told her a little bit about what kashering entails, and told her to make sure not to use anything hot in the kitchen for 24 hours before the koshering team came down.
At the appointed time the team arrived, ready to get to work — only to find the cleaning lady hard at work… washing the oven grates in the sink with hot water. That effectively derailed the plans, but they did squeeze her in for the next day.
“When it comes to helping others have a kosher kitchen for Pesach, you need to step up to the plate, whatever it takes.”
Why Not DIY?
While most of their clients are standard frum Jews, it’s still easy to mess up when kashering a kitchen if you don’t really know what you’re doing, Noam explains. There are a multitude of sh’eilos and complexities that can come up, not to mention the potential damage to appliances and cabinets when kashering isn’t done properly. It’s more than just foil and boiling water.
“The process does involve a lot of boiling water and foil, but it needs to be done right,” Noam says. “And ‘right’ is more complicated than most people realize.”
Noam’s heard stories of people who burned themselves badly, ruined their cabinets, and even damaged appliances while kashering. As part of their training, the agency employees learned about different kinds of ovens, stove ranges, countertops, materials, and how to kasher each one without causing damage.
“And we’re constantly learning more,” Noam adds.
A Business is Born
It was early 2020 when Noam and his wife left Israel, where he was learning in the Mir, to visit his in-laws in Far Rockaway. On Taanis Esther, their son was born… and a week later, life as they knew it turned upside down. With Pesach around the corner and Covid on the rise, people were completely overwhelmed. Hundreds of people didn’t have the headspace to even think about Pesach. Some were sick, some were sitting shivah, and many had never made Pesach before and didn’t have the foggiest idea how to kasher their kitchens.
Noam’s brother Shmuel happened to be at his in-laws in Far Rockaway too, and they decided to band together and do something.
The brothers realized they could fill a huge need by kashering kitchens. After speaking with their rebbeim at great length, they purchased top-grade machinery, and started advertising the old-fashioned way.
“We printed out flyers, and went to the only place that was open at the time — supermarkets,” says Noam. “We approached people shopping for Pesach, and distributed flyers, keeping the requisite six feet away, and also stuck them on windshields in the parking lot.”
The brothers had tapped into a real need; within days they’d booked 68 kashering jobs. Masked and gloved as a Covid precaution, they did house after house, mostly locals, though they did manage a few jobs in Brooklyn and Queens.
“Shmuel and I were busy 14 hours a day — we were even kashering at 2 a.m.!” Noam remembers.
The brothers knew a good thing when they saw it, and one year later, they decided to expand Pristine Kashering beyond New York. Word quickly spread in Baltimore, Lakewood, and Monsey, and they hired a few employees to help with the out-of-town jobs.
The operating system is simple, Noam explains. Clients are asked in advance which materials and appliances their kitchens are equipped with, so the team can come prepared. They have machinery that heats up water at record pace, and sprays a precise amount to countertops, effectively getting the job done mess-free. Jobs generally take about an hour to complete (depending on the kitchen size), and when the team leaves, the kitchen is fully ready for Pesach.
They also offer to cover kitchens, and for those who don’t like the spaceship-foil-lined kitchen look, they offer some really innovative products, like trendy, heat-resistant, fiberglass covers for stovetops and waterproof counter linings.
Doing It Right
While an official hechsher isn’t common in this line of work, it was important to the brothers that their clients feel confident their kitchens had been kashered to the highest standards.
When Mishpacha ran an article featuring Rabbi Fishbane of the cRc discussing the need for more regulation in the kashrus industry, Noam was inspired to get officially certified. He reached out to the cRc, who guided them through their certification process, and Pristine Kashering became the first nation-wide cRc-approved kashering business.
All of the employees undergo intense cRc mashgiach training. They take advanced classes on hilchos kashrus and must pass a test before they take on any jobs. There is also a cRc mashgiach who is informed about every job and will drop in sporadically to oversee the process. Every client receives a cRc certificate and goes into Pesach confident that the job was done right.
Noam also finds the overlay between his learning during the year and his bein hazmanim business fascinating.
“It’s also something I’m thinking about all the time,” he says. “I’m learning hilchos kashrus in my chaburah in the Mir now, and I’m understanding it in such a practical way… When I sit and learn all year, this is what I’m learning. It’s an amazing experience to be able to actually use what I’m learning in a practical way to help others and earn a small parnassah at the same time.”
While Pesach is obviously peak season, the brothers do find that people need kashering other times too: to prepare a vacation rental, when going away for Yom Tov, or if they mistakenly treifed up their kitchen. So Pristine offers their services year-round to accommodate Jews seeking kosher kitchens.
“Even people who have made Pesach for many years say they don’t know how they did it without us,” Noam says.
By the time people get up to the kashering stage, they’ve racked up hours and hours of heavy cleaning, and they’re wiped. Kashering can seem like a huge hurdle they just can’t jump over. That’s when Pristine steps in with their equipment, and after about an hour, the kitchen is good to go.
“When you do that for people, you become their hero,” Noam says. “People have described us as their knights in shining armor.”
(Originally featured in Mishpacha, Issue 905)
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