Emily Weisberg, owner of the newly opened Moss Cafe in Riverdale, is continuing in her family’s tradition of working in the food industry. Her father has worked as a cook; her mother, a school teacher, has worked as a waitress on the weekends and her sister also works in the food industry. However, Weisberg is the only one who works with kosher food. She is the only one of the four who keeps kosher, because she is the only one who is Jewish.
Weisberg shared that she was a convert who began her spiritual journey in college at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. However, her interest in Judaism began even as a little girl when she told her mother, “I can’t go to church. I’m Jewish.” Weisberg grew up in a small town outside of Milwaukee, where she didn’t know a single Jew, but something sparked her interest in Judaism.
Weisberg took a course on Jewish theology in high school. When she attended the University of Wisconsin-Madison she was excited to meet so many Jewish students on campus who she thought could finally answer all of her questions about Judaism. However, she soon found out that most of her fellow students did not know much about Judaism. This led her to seek answers from Rabbi Mendel and Henya Matusof, the rabbi and rebbetzin from the Chabad at the University of Wisconsin, which eventually led to her conversion.
While at UW-M, she met her husband, Alex, who is Jewish, but was not observant at the time. As Weisberg says, “I pushed him into Judaism.” Her husband had been interested in yoga, meditation and Eastern spirituality. Then he attended a Taglit Birthright trip to Israel and decided that he should start exploring the spirituality in his own religion. He, too, began learning with the Matusofs and eventually became more observant.
Weisberg admits that her journey towards Judaism has been a little hard for her parents and sister, “but they’re accepting. I think they’re very happy with it. They’ve seen how my life has changed with converting, but I still do what I’ve always been passionate about.”
The Moss Cafe is an embodiment of that passion. Consuming organic and sustainable food has been a passion for Weisberg since high school and her cafe serves sustainable food grown (as much as possible) on local organic farms. This sustainability is also evident in the cafe’s use of real dishes and utensils—no paper or plastic—and only paper bags for take-out.
The name for the cafe expresses Weisberg’s passionate devotion to her two young children. She chose to name it after the Moss plant because in Victorian times people sent each other bouquets of flowers or plants as a way to send secret messages. Moss represented motherhood. “I knew that if I pursued my dreams and did what I was truly passionate about,” she said, “I would ultimately be a better mother.”
The Moss Cafe’s menu includes 16 different types of coffee, nine different types of tea and wines and beer in the late afternoon and evening. Its food offerings include yogurt and granola, baked eggs, toast, salads, baguettes and fritatas. However, the menu is subject to change based on the produce that is in season at the local farms. The cafe is kosher under the supervision of the Va’ad HaRabbonim of Riverdale.
“This place is amazing,” said Nicole of Riverdale. “I really love the food. [Weisberg] advised me on what coffee to get. She really seems knowledgable.”
And she is. Weisberg began learning about coffee over 10 years ago at the age of 15 when she got her first job at a local coffee shop. She trained to become a barista soon after. “That coffee shop was in a small town,” she said, “so it was like the town hall.” Weisberg’s dream is for the Moss Cafe to have the same type of community feel.
“I’ve met many community members here, other small business owners and our staff also all live locally. There’s a sense of community that has been built here that is special to me.”
That sense of community also includes the farmers who produce the food for the cafe. Weisberg and her husband meet them at the local farmers markets they visit on the weekend and she is on a first-name basis with most of them.
“My goal is for this to be a place that connects across the diverse divide within Riverdale,” she said.
By Tova Domnitch