The CTO of OpenTable has 55,000 restaurants on his app – but he only eats at 30 of them

joseph essas

Joseph Essas is on a special diet.

As the CTO of OpenTable, Essas oversees an app for people to reserve and review over 55,000 restaurants – but as an Orthodox Jew who only eats certified kosher food, he estimates that only 30 of those restaurants are compatible with his religious observance.

“Kosher” means “fit” or “proper” in Hebrew. Jewish organizations like the Orthodox Union work with companies to ensure that the food they produce meets kosher standards, as detailed in the Torah and codes of Jewish law. Kosher restaurants require additional levels of expert supervision in the kitchen.

This undated product image provided by OpenTable shows the new delivery option for diners on OpenTable's app. The restaurant reservation company said Wednesday, July 24, 2019, that it's adding food delivery to keep up with customer demand. (OpenTable via AP)This undated product image provided by OpenTable shows the new delivery option for diners on OpenTable’s app. The restaurant reservation company said Wednesday, July 24, 2019, that it’s adding food delivery to keep up with customer demand. (OpenTable via AP)Associated Press

Insider spoke to Essas at an event hosted by Jew in the City, an organization dedicated to breaking down stereotypes about Orthodox Jews, where he was recognized as an “Orthodox Jewish all-star.” He told Insider that keeping kosher has led to some amusing misunderstandings when restaurants try to accommodate his dietary restrictions.

“I’ve had [kosher] airline food brought in the fanciest restaurants in the world,” he said. “I’ve had people serve complete traif [non-kosher] and say, ‘This is kosher.’ I’ve had people bring ham and say, ‘This is kosher.’ I’ve had it all.”

kosher airplane mealPhoto taken July 18, 2017, shows a kosher in-flight meal offered by All Nippon Airways. The meal, made up of kosher foodstuffs and sealed in a container after a prayer is offered, is heated by a flight attendant after being opened by a passenger. (Kyodo)Kyodo News Stills via Getty Images

If he can’t eat the food at a restaurant, Essas politely declines and offers a simple explanation.

“I usually say, ‘I’m on a special diet’ and get away with it,” he said. “Our office is in San Francisco – everybody understands crazy diets.”

While his religious practice has presented certain challenges around dining out, Essas is particularly grateful for the opportunity it grants him to dine in. The practice of observing Shabbat, the Jewish Sabbath during which work ceases from sundown on Friday to sundown on Saturday, allows him to spend quality time with his family despite his busy schedule (celebrities like Karlie Kloss and Natalie Portman have also attested to the benefits of unplugging from technology on Shabbat).

“We have offices everywhere in the world, so I travel a lot. But I’m always home for Shabbat, never miss it,” he said. “I feel Shabbat is a gift we have that others haven’t figured out yet, how important it is to just disconnect and spend time with your family, and that it allows us to do so.”

chef restaurant cooking fireBa’Ghetto restaurant co-owner and chef Ilan Dabush cooks during an interview with the Associated Press, in Rome, Monday, Jan. 20, 2014. For just one day, the kitchen of the Vatican hotel where Pope Francis lives went kosher, with Rabbi Jaakov Spizzichino overseeing the scrupulous cleaning of countertops, boiling of utensils and heating of the oven necessary to render it fit for cooking under Jewish dietary laws. The occasion? A four-course luncheon Francis hosted last week for a dozen Argentine rabbis. Francis was hosting Rabbi Abraham Skorka and about 15 other rabbis from Buenos Aires who came to Rome en masse to visit their old friend, and the Vatican pulled out all the stops. Organizers turned to Ba’Ghetto, one of the best kosher restaurants in Rome’s ghetto on the other side of the Tiber River, to cater the affair. &quotI decided to do it simple, because the pope is simple,” said Amit Dabush, Ba’Ghetto’s Israeli-born co-owner. &quotBut the menu was full: He had to make a ‘bella figura,'” or a good impression on his guests.Alessandra Tarantino/AP

Even though he can’t take full advantage of OpenTable’s array of restaurants, Essas says that it’s not the first time he’s led a company that isn’t pertinent to him personally.

“Before OpenTable, I was the CTO of a company called eHarmony, so I couldn’t use that service either because I’m happily married,” he said, citing his wife of 23 years and five children. “Now I work at OpenTable. It’s the story of my life.”

[“source=businessinsider”]