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By BERNIE BELLAN
It took a little bit longer than was planned, but finally Winnipeg has a new kosher restaurant: Bermax Caffé and Bistro, at 1800 Corydon Avenue.


The idea for opening a new kosher restaurant came from the brilliantly creative mind of 25-year-old Maxim Berent who, along with his mother, Oxana, has been working tirelessly for months in order to be able to offer Winnipeggers some excellent food in an absolutely beautiful setting, but totally kosher food at that.
While father Alex continues to devote his energy to the very successful family business, Bermax Design, which is involved with the manufacture of custom made kitchen cabinets, doors, architectural millwork and furniture, for both residential and business clients, Maxim and Oxana have been applying themselves to creating something that is totally unique to Winnipeg: an Italian-inspired bistro serving a wide combination of kosher foods and beverages.
Ultimately Bermax Caffé and Bistro will also serve as a showcase for Bermax Design’s products, but at this point that stage of the business is still being developed. In the meantime, the café has been opened for just over three weeks and has already met with glowing reviews from diners who have had a chance to taste some of its fantastic cuisine.
All the food is prepared on site, Maxim explains, with ingredients that are brought in from Toronto and Montreal to insure that they comply with the strictest kashrut standards. Even the milk, he says, is “chalav Yisrael”, meaning that only Jews are involved in its manufacture. The Israeli-born chef had been working in an Italian restaurant in Israel – an experience that is perfect for the kind of food that Bermax Caffé and Bistro is offering.
With an extensive and quite ambitious menu featuring everything from soups,  sandwiches, salads, pizzas, gnocchi, ravioli, and crepes, to a dazzling  variety of  baked goods, along with some exquisite coffees and teas supplied by the well-known Italian purveyor of fine beverages: illy coffee, Bermax Caffé and Bistro has already attracted a cadre of loyal patrons who have become regular customers in the short time that it has been open.
“What we want to do is give people the experience of eating kosher Italian and Israel food in a gorgeous setting,” Maxim says. With Italian-flavoured décor throughout, including in the sumptuous bathrooms – which you aren’t going to want to leave, this is no ordinary bistro. I was there at 11 o’clock on a Friday morning and although, not packed, the restaurant was quite busy. The mix of ages there at the time covered the gamut, from children with their mothers to young men and a fair number of seniors.
What Maxim says he’s found most interesting is how immediately popular Bermax Caffé and Bistro has become with so many Italians especially, along with members of many other of Winnipeg’s many ethnic communities. Clearly they find the atmosphere familiar and the reasonably priced food highly affordable. While the idea of catering to Winnipeg’s kosher community is of paramount importance to the Berents, it is bound to become a favourite meeting place for Jews to whom keeping kosher is of less importance than enjoying fabulous food in a beautiful setting.
While I was there – sampling some of the food (one of the perks of the job), I was able to taste a variety of baked goods, including a delicious potato-filled boureka along with a heavenly mushroom soup, Maxim expounded on the future plans of the café.
“We’ve already received bookings from several Jewish organizations,” he noted, and many people have asked to hold private parties there. With regular seating for 50, the restaurant can hold up to 60 for private functions, he added. At some point Bermax Caffé and Bistro will hold a grand opening, but right now plans are just to let news of the restaurant spread by word of mouth – and this article (which I offered to do for no reciprocal payment, by the way.)
Currently Bermax Caffé and Bistro is open from 9-9  from Monday-Thursday and Sunday, Friday from 9-2, but as the days lengthen plans call for it to be open later on Fridays along with Saturday evenings.
Considering that Winnipeg doesn’t have a single kosher butcher shop, taking on the challenge of opening a fully kosher restaurant is something that not many people might have suggested is a prudent business move, but for the Berent family, doing everything first class  - as is their style in their design business, is the only way to operate. Their assumption in opening Bermax Caffé and Bistro was that non-Jews and Jews who don’t keep kosher would find it just as attractive a destination as observant Jews. What an interesting gambit – and one that is very likely to prove that, when done right, kosher food can find a much larger following than merely among kosher-keeping Jews.

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