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

joseph essas

Courtesy of Jew in the City

Joseph Essas, CTO of OpenTable.

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.Advertisement

"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)

Associated Press

OpenTable announced in July that the app would allow food delivery in addition to restaurant reservations.

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 meal

Kyodo News Stills via Getty Images

Kosher airline meals come sealed in layers of plastic. The airtight packaging makes them easy to heat and serve in non-kosher settings.

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

"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."Advertisement

chef restaurant cooking fire

Alessandra Tarantino/AP

Chef Ilan Dabush of Ba'Ghetto, a renowned Italian-Jewish restaurant in Rome and one of many kosher restaurants around the world.

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."Advertisement