Julie Melnick and Jennie Kuperstein didn’t know each other growing up, yet they led parallel lives. Both are from Cherry Hill, New Jersey. They went to the same high school (one year apart) and the same Hebrew school. Both were involved in theater, and at one point, they were even in the same play. But they didn’t connect until years later when their paths crossed at Congregation B’nai Tzedek in Potomac, Maryland, where both had children in the pre-K program. It was then that they discovered their careers had evolved in the same direction. That was five years ago. Now Melnick and Kuperstein are partners in a successful PR company for the restaurant industry, Standout Public Relations.
Standout specializes in public relations for restaurants in DC, Maryland and Virginia. Among their many clients is the kosher-certified Shouk.
While the partners’ religious upbringings differed, Judaism and Jewish culture set the stage for their careers in food.
Melnick attended Hebrew School and JCC camp, had a bat mitzvah and took a life-changing trip to Israel as a teenager. Her family’s connection to Judaism centered on the holidays. “I think Jewish food is the heart of tradition,” she emphasizes. “It’s such a big part of who we are, and it really does tie everyone together. I don’t live near my family now, so when we do get together, even if we don’t intend for it, it’s all about food.”
Kuperstein’s family observance included Shabbat dinners and Havdalah. After spending a summer at Camp Ramah, she asked her parents to switch from a Reform to a Conservative synagogue and encouraged them to keep kosher. They obliged. Kuperstein spent a semester of her junior year in college in Israel, which led to subsequent visits over the years. “My parents are definitely foodies,” she says. “We would try all different kinds of food growing up. We had family friends who were Holocaust survivors from Poland. They would make kreplach and Eastern European food, so that became part of my upbringing.”
Both women lived in New York after they graduated college. Melnick moved to California with her husband and created a startup called Nanny in the Clouds, which matched parents flying with children with fellow passengers who could offer a helping hand for a fee. The business didn’t take off, but her public relations efforts were a hit. Nanny in the Clouds was featured in the New York Times, The London Times, Good Morning America and 20/20. She may try to revive it someday.
Kuperstein pursued a career in public relations, starting in New York City and continuing when she moved to DC in 2004. She worked for KB Network News, a boutique firm that specialized in food and hospitality, OYA Restaurant and Lounge in DC and The Eat Good Food Group as a publicist for Chef Cathal Armstrong’s cookbook, My Irish Table.
Once Melnick and Kuperstein connected at B’nai Tzedek, the entrepreneurs sought opportunities to collaborate and ultimately to create a lasting partnership. “It just worked out—things were changing for Jennie, and I was ready to start something new,” recalls Melnick. “I had been working on my own, and I didn’t want to do that anymore,” Kuperstein adds.
Standout Public Relations clients represent a diverse mix of cuisines and concepts, including Poké Papa, Akira Ramen and Izakaya, The Spot (Asian food hall), Detour Coffee, Honeysuckle, Bombay Street Food and Susheria.
Their relationship with Shouk has special meaning, Kuperstein explains. “Shouk plays a mix of Israeli music. I was at the restaurant, and I recognized a song from a record my dad would play, because he loves Israeli music. Plus there’s all the Israeli products they sell. It transports me and brings a piece of Israel here.”
When asked what they love about public relations and working together, the friends and colleagues are effusive. Melnick says, “I love public relations because of the day-to-day fun factor. Each day is an adventure, whether we are trying a new restaurant, meeting with social media influencers or filming a TV segment. Working with Jennie has shown me that having a partner is so valuable. We help each other in so many ways, and work is so much more fun because we get to do it together.”
Kuperstein adds, “I have been working in food/restaurant PR for almost 20 years, starting in an agency, then in-house and now on my own, with my partner Julie. Having a partner like her has really brought our business to the next level. I love the creative collaboration, and our strengths complement each other. It’s always thrilling to be a part of the launching of a new restaurant concept and collaborating on new ideas. DC has such a tight-knit group of chefs, restaurateurs and writers. It has been great to ‘grow up’ in my career in this area.”
Julie Melnick and Jennie Kuperstein traversed parallel paths that took them from Cherry Hill, New Jersey, to the DC area. They could not have foreseen how their lives and careers would become so intertwined, but clearly this is a partnership that was bashert (meant to be) from the very beginning.