Filed Under Food

Coventry Kosher Poultry

As the well-dressed young adults sit on the patio of Panini's Bar and Grill, sipping their drinks and watching the game on TV, few probably realize that their trendy warm-weather hangout was once the site of a slaughterhouse. From 1946 until 1992, the Coventry Poultry Market sat on the eastern edge of what today is Panini's patio, providing freshly-killed kosher chickens to the neighborhood's Jewish residents.

Jews began moving to the Coventry area in the 1920s, leaving neighborhoods on the east side of Cleveland for apartments and small homes in the suburbs. Their presence led to the opening of a number of kosher delis, bakeries, and meat markets (including a few poultry slaughterhouses) on Coventry Road.

Benny Simon opened the Coventry Poultry Market in 1946. Since it was a kosher market, a "shochet" (ritual slaughterer) handled the killing duties, using a special, sharp knife to quickly sever the chicken's neck arteries, sparing it (supposedly) from undue pain. Kosher chicken is also carefully drained of all blood, since the Old Testament states that "blood is the life; and thou shalt not eat the life with the flesh." The shochet must also rigorously inspect each chicken for disease or impurities and say specific prayers at the beginning and end of each day.

In the 1960s, the "counter culture" came to Coventry, and many Jews left the neighborhood for suburban areas further east. One by one, the Jewish businesses on Coventry Road closed up shop. Younger Jews seemed less concerned with the strict Kosher practices of their elders, and it was more modern and convenient to buy frozen, pre-packaged chicken at the nearby Pick-N-Pay supermarket. The Coventry Kosher Market, however, remained -- the last remnant of a largely bygone generation set amidst "jazzy window displays, 10-speed bicycles, and patrician antique stores," as a 1982 Plain Dealer article described it. Nonetheless, the market still served a diverse clientele, including elderly Jews who had not moved away, new Russian immigrants, and Muslims. A number of Asians who used chicken blood in their cooking also frequented the market, as did some Case Western Reserve University students who picked up chicken heads for research. Therefore, even as the community changed, there still seemed to be a use for the Coventry Poultry Market.

In 1992, however, the city of Cleveland Heights had the market torn down. The market simply did not fit in with Coventry's new image as a family-friendly, middle-class shopping and dining destination. Today, the only place to find chicken on the old site of the Coventry Poultry Market is in one of Panini's "overstuffed" sandwiches.

Audio

"The Package Was Warm" Violet Frayne recalls buying chickens at Coventry Poultry Market. Source: Cleveland Regional Oral History Collection
"It Would Stink" Larry Beam talks about the Kosher butchering practices at Coventry Poultry Market and explains why city authorities were not happy with the business. Source: Cleveland Regional Oral History Collection
A Surprise in the Dumpster Steve Presser recalls his experiences sharing a dumpster with the Coventry Poultry Market during the early 1990s, when his Big Fun toy store was located next door. Source: Cleveland Regional Oral History Collection
"Run, Chickens, Run!" Tommy Fello recalls visiting the Coventry Poultry Market as a child and shares the story of one young man's attempts to free the chickens. Source: Cleveland Regional Oral History Collection

Images

Rabbi Kazen, 1980 Rabbi Zalman Kazen, the "shochet" (ritual slaughterer) at Coventry Poultry Market, came to Cleveland in 1951 after escaping persecution in the Soviet Union. In addition to working at the market, he also led an Orthodox Jewish congregation on Cleveland's east side. Photograph by Alice Stratton
Poultry Market, ca. 1950 This is the oldest known view of the Coventry Poultry Market, which at this time appears to have had a gas station next to it. Image courtesy of Cleveland Heights Historical Society
Central Market, 1931 In the past, live poultry could also be bought at Cleveland's large markets, like the West Side Market or the east side's Central Market, pictured here in 1931. Shoppers could either slaughter their purchase at home or have it slaughtered for them at the market. These vendors did not practice kosher laws on slaughtering, however, like the Coventry Poultry Market did. Image Courtesy of Cleveland State University. Michael Schwartz Library. Division of Special Collections. Cleveland Press Collection.
Wagner's on Cedar Hill, ca. 1935 Small, family-operated meat and produce markets were the norm before the era of the one-stop supermarket. Wagner's market on Cedar Road in Cleveland Heights's Cedar-Fairmount neighborhood sold a variety of meat, poultry, and fish to shoppers. Unlike the Coventry Poultry Market, animals were not actually slaughtered at most markets like Wagner's. Image courtesy of Cleveland Heights Historical Society
World's Poultry Congress, 1939 Cleveland hosted the 7th World's Poultry Congress (the first to ever be held in the United States) in 1939, drawing over 380,000 people to Public Hall during the ten-day event. The Poultry Congress featured informational exhibits, thousands of live and dressed poultry on display, educational meetings, and representatives from more than 40 nations. Cleveland was chosen as the site of the Congress because of its central location and excellent facilities. This photograph shows "A Florida 'Hen' Party" at the State of Florida's exhibit inside Public Hall. Image Courtesy of Cleveland State University. Michael Schwartz Library. Division of Special Collections. Cleveland Press Collection."
Exterior, 1985 The Coventry Poultry Market was torn down in 1992 to make way for a parking garage. Image courtesy of Cleveland Heights Historical Society
Old and New Views The photograph on the right shows the Coventry Poultry Market in 1985, while the one on the left is the same view in 2012. Historic image courtesy of Cleveland Heights Historical Society. 2012 image courtesy of the Center for Public History + Digital Humanities
Backyard Chickens, 2012 On Cedar Road, right up the street from where Wagner's market once sat, one Cleveland Heights woman is raising chickens in her backyard. This follows a national trend of urban and suburban residents keeping small numbers of poultry for food, reflecting both rising foods costs and increased scrutiny of the moral and physical costs of "factory farming" methods. While backyard chicken coops are currently illegal in the city, Cleveland Heights City Council is considering a law that would allow them. Image courtesy of Cleveland Heights Patch

Location

Metadata

Michael Rotman, “Coventry Kosher Poultry,” Cleveland Historical, accessed January 16, 2022, https://clevelandhistorical.org/items/show/440.