By Julie Shapiro
FINANCIAL DISTRICT — A popular Boston restaurant is opening an international food hall on Wall Street next week.
The Milk Street Cafe, known for its kosher catering and broad array of lunchtime options, is launching a 23,000-square-foot food court June 23 at 40 Wall St., offering everything from sushi to strawberry-banana smoothies.
"What we're creating here is a beautiful space with the greatest quality of food and the highest level of hospitality," said Marc Epstein, founder of Milk Street Cafe. "We want it to be a wonderful oasis for people to come and have a nice lunch."
Epstein said there is no other restaurant in the Financial District where people with diverging tastes or dietary restrictions can dine together. In addition to sandwiches and salads, Milk Street Cafe will offer a grill, a pasta bar, a carving station, homemade soups, Asian cuisine and freshly baked breads and pastries. Lunch prices will range from $12 to $15, while breakfast will cost $6 to $10.
The restaurant will accommodate those who want vegetarian, vegan, lactose-free, gluten-free or kosher food — but Epstein is sensitive about being pigeonholed as a kosher restaurant.
"It's the death knell to a business plan," said Epstein, who added that kosher restaurants are perceived as having "high prices and low quality."
While Milk Street Cafe will have separate meat and dairy kitchens, and all food will come sealed and labeled, Epstein expects that 90 percent of the customers won't realize that the food is kosher.
What the customers will notice are a few technological innovations designed to improve their dining experience.
One comes from Epstein's pet peeve: "I hate wobbly tables," he said. "We got a company from Australia to do a bungee cord system on the bottom of the tables, so they never wobble."
Epstein also wants to prevent long lines from forming at the registers during lunchtime, so in addition to the cafe's nine regular registers, he bought two handheld registers. Managers will circle the floor with the handheld registers, allowing customers to pay on the spot with credit cards.
Finally, to clean the thousands of vegetables that will pass through the 15,000-square-foot kitchen each day, Epstein invested in a special soaking system that he calls a "spa for vegetables." The vibrating sink cleans the vegetables so thoroughly that they have a longer shelf life, he said.
Epstein plans to stay open on weekdays only, assuming the Monday-to-Friday crowd provides enough business to justify the time off.
"I'd like to have a life," he said, adding that it's also easier to higher staff if they can take weekends off.
Epstein opened the first Milk Street Cafe in Boston in 1981 and has been trying to expand to New York for years — but recession gave him the boost he needed.
Dropping rents on Wall Street allowed Epstein to scoop up the vacant former Mangia space in the base of the Trump Building. The financial crisis also helped him to hire executive chef Steven Mettle, who previously ran the kitchen at AIG.
"This deal would never have happened if it weren't for what's going on in the economy," Epstein said.
Milk Street Cafe will open June 23 with free cookies and coffee from 10 a.m. to 11 a.m.