Florida Kosher Villas is already a household name in the frum world when it comes to planning a vacation. With their main office located in the ever-growing North Miami Beach community in South Florida, they have access to not only the higher end private villas in their own neighborhood but also have expanded into other areas around the country as well.
Shaya Weinberger, co-owner with his wife Shifra, was gracious enough to give this interviewer some time to discuss the unique role they play in the world of “kosher travel.”
Q. Shaya, tell us about your company and what makes you stand out in the area of kosher travel companies.
A. In 2009, together with my wife, we opened our business and with Hashem’s help we were able to see tremendous success in our endeavors right from the start. Prior to renting vacation homes in a frum community, there were years where the kosher consumer could book a stay at a kosher hotel. With those days long gone, there was an unfulfilled need for accommodating a family that wanted to vacation in a warm climate but in a neighborhood where kosher products could be found and a minyan could be had.
We decided to fill this need and began our business as a small management and booking company for a few homes in the North Miami Beach community that we felt were of a standard that would meet the needs of the kosher consumer. Over the years, we took on more homes and expanded our responsibilities.
In addition, we have expanded our inventory of homes in other areas around the country as well as abroad. We also offer concierge service in many of these communities to complement the rental aspect of the business.
Our ultimate goal is to become a “one-stop shop” for the kosher consumer, providing accommodations, travel arrangements, destination activities, and much more, in locations all around the world.
Q. As there are a lot of luxury hotels located worldwide and especially in the Miami area, how do you rise “above the bar”?
A. You know the saying “you get what you pay for”? In today’s world, unfortunately, sometimes you pay a premium for a product but in terms of the service you get from the company backing the product, you get way less than the value of what you paid.
What makes our company stand out is both the product that we market as well as the level of customer service that we provide to each and every guest who reserves a property through our company. From the initial contact we have with a potential guest, our amazing team works hard to find them the home that “fits” their family’s personality.
Keeping in mind that everyone works within their own specific budget, we offer homes that have a sliding scale of pricing. However, our level of customer care begins and ends at only the highest level. We are not just providing a rental property for a few nights or a few weeks. We are entering into a relationship with a client that will be ongoing for many years, and we want to make sure it will be one that they will value and, as a result, recommend us to their family and friends for their vacation needs.
In addition, we have an amazing concierge team and for a minimal fee, they will work with anyone who would like to plan the vacation or family trip they have always dreamed of. We can assist with airline tickets, car services, extra housekeeping, event tickets, planning of activities for the adults as well as the children, and the list continues…
Q. Why would someone choose to stay in a private home vs. a room in a name brand hotel that is known for nice accommodations?
A. That’s an easy one and I can sum it up in two words – privacy and space.
When you pay for a room in a hotel, no matter how upscale the name brand is, all you are getting is… a room in a hotel. Compare that to renting an entire house for the same price as just one room in a hotel, and certainly way less than when you pay for two or more rooms if you are coming with your children or your married couple.
You might get a room that is spacious and luxurious with every amenity you could think of, down to the marble bathroom. At the end of the day, your “private space” is still limited to the square footage of that one room. You do have the option to spend time in the lobby but that is public space and, especially on Shabbos and Yom Tov, are you going to feel comfortable or appropriately dressed if you are sitting with your hat and jacket and your wife is in her Shabbos robe? How about the atmosphere in that lobby? Hotels these days attract all sorts of clientele from around the world. Chances are there will be guests whose level of modesty and speech are far from what you would want yourself or your children exposed to.
In addition, where will you eat your meals? Whether during the week or over a Shabbos, do you really want to spend your hard earned money to eat while sitting on your bed?
More importantly is the fact that renting a vacation home translates into having a pool that you can actually use. All our homes offer heated pools and the majority has hot tubs as well. They are exclusively for your use with a mechitza surrounding them, ensuring that you feel comfortable swimming at any time of night or day. In a hotel, there may be a beautiful pool area but the frum traveler is paying for something they simply cannot use.
There are many more reasons I can enumerate why choosing to stay in a private home is more advantageous than taking a room or two in a hotel but I think the above pretty much makes the point crystal clear – when taking a vacation, the wisest choice for a heimishe family is the one that offers them their own private “living space,” a private pool with a mechitza, and a kosher kitchen.
Q. So if I decided to take your advice and book a vacation for myself and my wife in a private home as opposed to a hotel room, why should I book through Florida Kosher Villas?
A. From the many reviews posted on our site and on the individual “page” of each of our properties, you can see that we strive to provide excellent customer care to each of our guests.
We put our hearts into our business and the homes that we manage are the caliber of homes that we would ourselves want to stay in. The bedding and towels are of the highest quality, the homes are outfitted with beautiful furnishings and up to date appliances, and we do a thorough inspection of each property, checking both the inside as well as the outside to make sure they look attractive and clean before each guest checks in. Our homes are receiving a higher level of personalized care than a hotel, where there are generally hundreds of rooms and there is no one person who is in charge of checking over each detail.
Also, as opposed to a hotel that is trying to attract any type of traveler who comes to their area, our whole business is geared toward satisfying the needs of the frum clientele. We are local and we know which restaurants to direct you to, which attractions are suitable for heimishe families, and when it comes to last minute items before a Shabbos, a hotel is simply not equipped or knowledgeable enough to have tea lights or havdalah candles on hand for the frum guest who forgot to bring his own from home.
Q. What about all of the necessary items a frum family needs to have when they are away from home for a Yom Tov or a Shabbos? Do you supply anything in that regard?
A. As we enumerate in the FAQ section of our website, we realize that packing up a family for a vacation is stressful enough, between the clothing and the toiletries, special things for this one and that one, etc. With this in mind, we outfit our vacation homes with all of the necessary items that one would need for Shabbos and Yomtov.
In addition, each home has a starter kit of cleaning and laundry supplies, toilet paper and paper towels, soap and shampoo, etc. so that upon arrival our guests can unpack and head straight for the pool without first having to run to the nearest supermarket for basic essentials.
Q. There are so many places in the world to travel to today. Why Florida?
A. Today the world has gotten “smaller” so it is easy to hop on a plane and travel overseas. However, we have found that families who have the budget to travel to another country are still opting for a vacation within the United States, where they simply feel safer. Although we have clientele who travel thousands of miles to our homes, over half are living in the NYC/NJ tri-state area. That said, traveling from these locations to Florida is a wonderful option as the flight is never longer than two and a half hours, no matter which airport you are departing from. So if you want to work half a day at the office, you can still fly out that afternoon and be in your rental property by nightfall. No one wants to be in the air for hours on end when they can be spending those precious vacation hours in their private pool instead.
Florida has sunshine nearly all year round. It has the ocean within miles, especially if you choose the southern tip. Top notch doctors and hospitals are here and many people come to this area for health reasons as well.
Q. Why would someone coming to Florida choose North Miami Beach over Miami Beach proper as “the beach” offers a boardwalk and is right on the ocean?
A. Miami Beach used to be the only choice of locale for anyone frum looking to vacation in Florida, with its wide variety of kosher hotels. The boardwalk was filled with “heimishe yidden” strolling up and down at any time of night or day. As that changed over the years and the kosher hotels closed up, the atmosphere emerged into one that is not conducive to the comfort level of the frum traveler. The boardwalk is shared by both “heimishe” folk and local residents and tourists whose style of dress and conduct are not in accordance with our traditions. As a result, many families have chosen to forego the convenience of being within walking distance to the ocean in favor of vacationing in an area where the atmosphere is steeped in Torah values. That area is North Miami Beach, home to nearly a dozen shuls and shtieblach, kollels, mikvaos, and many kosher restaurants and supermarkets. In fact, by now, the number of dining options in the North Miami Beach and Aventura areas exceeds those of Miami Beach proper.
Pharmacies and hospitals, clothing boutiques that cater to “our” dress code, sheitel stores, and 24-hour supermarkets are just a few of the many other conveniences that the neighborhood offers.
North Miami Beach is home to over 1,200 frum families of all types. On Shabbos, the streets are a rainbow of Yarmulkes of every style, black hats, streimlech, sheitels, tichels, and snoods. Families fill the sidewalks and lawns and welcome guests into their community with warmth and hospitality.
We have the services of a local Hatzalah, Chaveirim, Bikur Cholim, various gemachs, and lending libraries of thousands of books. There are many good reasons why a vacation in North Miami Beach is the best choice for a frum family.
And while we do not offer a beach within walking distance, our neighborhood boasts a beautiful “canal” that is a lake surrounding a 2¼ mile walking/exercise fitness path, offering residents and guests alike a daily opportunity to see many of Hashem’s unique creations such as iguanas, manatees, and exotic tropical birds. And for those who want to see the sun rise over the ocean, they can hop in the car for the short four mile drive or continue traveling for another fifteen minutes until they reach either of the boardwalks of Miami Beach or Hollywood Beach.
Q. What type of clientele to you cater to and is there a specific age range that you find you deal with most often?
A.Our clients come from all walks of life. The people who call us to book a stay are chassidish, litvish, yeshivish, and just plain “frum.” To us, there is no difference. We cater to anyone who wants to take a vacation and we do our utmost to accommodate their needs, no matter the type of “yid” they are. Many of our guests are coming to Florida to recuperate after surgery, to seek specific medical advice, for a large family reunion, or just a quick “couple’s escape.”
We have entire families coming, sometimes multi-generational, and sometimes just a group of friends who need a break, and other times married children down to Florida for a getaway sponsored by their parents. However, we derive the greatest satisfaction when a couple who is celebrating a second marriage reserves a “honeymoon” vacation with us. We provide them with restaurant suggestions and direct them to fun activities, so we feel like we are partnering with them as they start a wonderful new life together. We have also been witnessing a new trend where grown children are arranging a well-deserved vacation for their parents down in Florida for a few weeks. We enjoy finding just the right property for each guest who is booking with our company.
Recently, we had the honor of hosting a very prominent Rav from Monsey who came to recuperate after surgery. He initially came against his will as, prior to his medical condition necessitating that he recuperate in a warm climate, he had withheld his haskama for his kehilla to vacation in Florida, even for health reasons. However, after staying in North Miami Beach and observing the uncompromising values and the high standards of yiddishkeit evident in our community, he did a complete turnaround.
Q. How do you assure that the guests renting your homes are strictly observant and will comply with your required level of kashrus once they are in the homes and using the kosher equipment you are providing?
A. Knowing that our business centered on the Orthodox community, we realized that we would have to take certain measures to ensure that the level of kashrus in our homes would not be compromised. With that goal in mind, we made the decision to handle all of our bookings over the phone instead of allowing guests to book online. Although this is counterproductive in terms of how many calls we can handle at a time, we felt that our reputation was more important than the number of bookings we could make in one day. We speak with each potential renter before allowing a reservation to be confirmed, so that we feel comfortable that we are dealing with a “heimishe” traveler. Nevertheless, as we are not inside the homes once our guests have arrived, we do state that our kitchens and the utensils provided are “chezkas kashrus” only, nor do we offer “hashgacha” on our homes. Every family that comes can make their own decision as to whether they want to use the dishes and cutlery that are provided for them, or use paper and plastic instead.
Q. If guests do not want to cook while on vacation nor do they want to go out every night to restaurants, do they need to bring their food from home? Do you have a lot of restaurant choices and kosher grocery stores?
A. These are both excellent points you are bringing up. To begin with, one of the benefits of living in a large community is that it offers so many different services. There are a number of local individuals, connected with either the kollel or any of the other local shuls, who offer private catering. We are happy to recommend them to our clients.
As the community grew over the years and its population became so diversified, the need for food of varying hashgachas did as well. We have three kosher supermarkets within a five mile radius. They all carry meats and chickens with many different certifying agencies, as well as a wide variety of Cholov Yisroel products that are trucked in several times each week.
The guestbook that we prepare for each home contains a list of the kosher establishments within a thirty mile radius of our neighborhood as well as other specific points of interest to the kosher consumer.
Q. You mentioned that you offer kosher rental properties in other locations. Where are they located?
A. Over the past two years we began to branch out and can now book a vacation for you and your family in Orlando, Ormond Beach, Boynton Beach, Boca Raton (all of these locations are in Florida), Woodridge, NY, and Scottsdale, Arizona, and we are expanding our portfolio nationwide and overseas, as well. In the not too distant future we will be able to book a vacation for your family in the Florida Keys and various points in the Caribbean islands, as well as more cities in the USA, Israel and Europe.
Even more exciting, however, is that we now many options in the Lakewood, NJ, area under the company name Lakewood Hosts.
Due to continuous requests from our current client base to help them find accommodations when coming to visit their married children or when attending a simcha, we made the decision to expand our business into the extended Lakewood area. We are also booking memorable family reunions for many of our clientele who would like to bring their large kn”h extended family together and enjoy being surrounded by their “nachas” but simply cannot accommodate them on their own. Our inventory of beautiful private villas and suites expands each month and we have properties near many of the simcha halls and in many of the new “sub-communities” that keep popping up. In addition, we offer mansions on huge lots of land as well as brand new suites and private homes that are located closer to the center of town near BMG.
Q. Where do you see yourselves in the next five to ten years?
A. Everything, of course, is Min Hashamayim. Our goal is to become a “one stop vacation agency” catering to the kosher consumer, booking accommodations anywhere around the globe. With Hashem’s help and the assistance of our amazing and loyal team, we hope to reach our goal within the next few years.
Much Hatzlacha to you and your wife. It seems like you are on the right track and b’ezras Hashem your goal will be realized!