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“Takes a nice guy to make a tender chicken,” Washington Jewish Week, February 29, 2012

Takes a nice guy to make a tender chicken
Washington Jewish Week
February 29, 2012

Washington Jewish Week“It takes a tough man to make a tender …”

No, that’s been used already.

“We answer to a higher authority …”

That one’s taken as well.

So what do you do if you’re Greg Rosenbaum, you’re a Reform Jew, and yet you’re the CEO and chairman of the board of Empire Kosher Poultry.

Orthodox ritual slaughterers or shochets are in your employ and answer to you.

Here you are at 57, the memories of your grandparents, who kept kosher and loved Empire acting almost as your spiritual guide through what has become more than a job for this Bethesda resident, and more of well, not to steal a catchphrase from any other kosher company, a higher calling.

One thing is probably for sure. Greg Rosenbaum, who earned his law degree, a master’s and undergraduate degrees, all at Harvard, and founded the Carlyle Group, an internationally known private equity firm, would never have guessed that he’d make his bubbe and zayde proud by owning Empire. But in 2006, he took a financially foundering Empire company and turned it around into a success story. The company became profitable in June 2007 and has seen jumps in profit of more than 25 percent each year. And he doesn’t even keep kosher himself.

But recently Empire Kosher announced that Rosenbaum was named to the National Chicken Council Board, which is a prestigious national nonprofit trade association representing the entire American chicken industry. We’re talking more than coops and feathers here. The NCCB, which is based here in Washington, D.C., represents the industry in front of Congress and federal government agencies to promote and protect the interests of the chicken industry.

“I am honored to take a leading role in the single most influential organization in the U.S. chicken industry,” he said. “Empire has always been a highly regarded producer of kosher poultry products. Now we’re being recognized for our leadership in socially and environmentally conscious, truly natural production as well.”

Indeed, go on the Empire website, and you are likely to see images of Amish folk walking through farmland with words like “sustainability” and “green” and animal rights and workers’ rights. So, yes the chicken is still your grandmother’s chicken, but it’s also the chicken for a younger generation as well.

“We control the entire process,” he said. “From the egg laying to the transport by truck to breeding our own hens and raising our own chicks.”

Empire offers a variety of all-natural, free-roaming, antibiotic-free and 100 percent vegetarian-fed poultry. Also, Empire treats its employees, who are unionized with a string of well-documented benefits. Rosenbaum wants his employees to be part of the company family. Indeed, he was cited with a human rights award in 2007 by the Jewish Labor Committee.

The company started in 1938 under original owner Joseph N. Katz, naming it after the Empire State, New York. In the 1960s, Empire relocated to its current location in Mifflintown, Pa. It is today the nation’s largest kosher poultry producer.

“Chicken,” he says, “is an efficient way of turning grain into protein.”

But when the price of a bushel of grain goes up, the price of chicken increase, and the consumer is likely to purchase less. Plus, the protein delivery system we call chicken is in competition for cheaper corn prices with other businesses such as ethanol for fuel and even popcorn. So it very much is a market that fluctuates.

Meanwhile Rosenbaum enjoys tasting and watching the research and development process of new products. Recently Empire introduced a microwavable seasoned chicken in a microwavable bag. More seasonings could be coming in the future, said Rosenbaum, whose family worships at Temple Beth Ami in Bethesda.

Kosher foods is projected to be a $17 billion industry by the year 2013. Yet, only 15 percent of consumers purchase kosher food for religious reasons. Many buy foods with kosher certification because they feel it is cleaner or safer or of a higher quality.

Rosenbaum said that at one point, to see Empire chickens in a mainline grocery store, such as Giant, was not common. Now, however, he says, “we’re no longer special, because we got bigger. We’re like everyone else.”

He said that now Empire is competing for business with nonkosher poultry companies. He added with a smile that on Super Bowl Sunday this year, chicken wings outsold pizza.

What does he like to do when he’s not working with chicken?

He follows his daughter’s softball games closely. She is a player on the Harvard University NCAA women’s team. He’s got another son who is a singer and a son who is an attorney.

So does it take a tough man to make a tender chicken?

Well, Greg Rosenbaum may or may not be tough.

But one thing is for sure, it is a nice guy who is making Empire Chicken crow.