The Atlanta Zoo is going kosher. For the first time in the 129-year history of the zoo, guests in the new Savanna Hall will be able to dine from a dedicated kosher kitchen.
The new kitchen and kosher experience incorporate menus from the zoo’s catering partner, Proof of the Pudding, and are part of a $50 million renovation of what was once the home of the Cyclorama, a Civil War exhibit that moved to the Atlanta History Center. The new Savanna Hall is expected to open in the first quarter of 2020. It joins a small group of special event venues in the Atlanta area that offer kosher dining.
Zoo President and CEO Raymond B. King, who is responsible for significant jumps in attendance and fundraising, acknowledged the unique marketing possibilities for the new facility.
“When we began to consider the possibilities of Savanna Hall, we envisioned a venue that would be an inspiring canvas for a wide variety of special events,” said King, who has frequently been named among the most admired nonprofit CEOs in the city. “We recognized the need for Atlantans to have an exciting new venue with the built-in capacity to execute large scale, high-end kosher events.”
The total renovation of the classic 1921 structure will create 25,000 square feet of meeting space and will include a two-level circular ballroom that will seat more than 600 for a banquet or party or nearly 800 for a reception. As an added incentive, the city is building a new and badly needed parking deck next door to the building.
For those considering a unique bar or bat mitzvah party or other simcha in the next several years, the new space will have a panoramic glass walled view of the new six-acre outdoor African Savanna, a natural habit space for giraffes, zebras, ostriches and other animals.
The ballroom will also feature two outdoor terraces, one covered and one open-air, for an immersive experience of the savanna.
The venue looks out onto a new elephant habitat, which adjoins the savanna. It will include among its facilities a large pool, two waterfalls and an indoor elephant care center. The space will triple the number of animals that can be seen at any one time.
The zoo, which already has bookings for the building’s inaugural year in 2020, sees the kosher facility and the wildlife experience as a major advance in its effort to position the zoo as an important competitor for local special event dollars.
Jennifer Smith, the zoo’s senior director of events and catering sales, was hired last year to help market the new facility. She stressed what she sees as the distinct qualities of the new space.
“It is a very unique space. It is certainly unlike anything you can see really anywhere in the city of Atlanta or outside the city of Atlanta because of the ballroom overlooking the African savanna habitat and the wildlife that we will have there.”
But just a 20-minute drive from the zoo, the Georgia Aquarium broke ground this fall for a new $100 million addition. The new project will create a million-gallon shark exhibit with floor-to-ceiling acrylic windows and interactive features that will put visitors nose-to-nose with some of the most fascinating creatures in the sea.
Just like the zoo, the aquarium features a kosher kitchen and catering for its Oceans Ballroom, which seats 1,000 guests. The kitchen has been a part of Bernie Marcus’ plans for the aquarium since its opening in 2005.
The new emphasis on kosher dining is part of the rapid expansion of the kosher food market at the retail level, which is now worth nearly $25 billion annually, and growing. The acceptance of kosher catering and kosher food service in public facilities may even be outstripping retail, according to Kosher Today, an industry source.
For enterprising event planners, the kosher facilities at two of the biggest attractions in the region offer attractive new possibilities. We might just see in the next few years an elegant kosher evening dinner amidst African wildlife followed by a kosher dessert, just a few miles away – among the sharks.