The interesting concept is that the restaurant is an Israeli-Palestinian cooperation.
Oz Ben David: It’s about Israelis and Palestinians opening something in Berlin. And there is an essence in the idea because we noticed and we didn’t come to Berlin for nothing. We wanted to prove with our own conflict that when we combine things together it’s much better. With the demographic change in Berlin and in Germany in general, we thought that it’s going to be a great example how when we combine a thing it’s an opportunity not a crises. That’s why our workers here are people from Syria and Morocco, Israel and Palestine. You will find here people – just at the table next to you there are Israelis and Italians and Lebanese. They are all sitting together. And as a regular customer we have a diplomat from Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Jordan. They are coming here, and it’s really fun. Everybody is eating and saying, — Oh my God, this is reminding me of my mother!
And many ask us, what makes the hummus the best hummus. For me, when we create hummus – you know, there are many people who are creating hummus, especially the Israeli restaurants. And the question is, what makes the difference? And what is the difference between good and excellent? And you see around here mostly Germans and locals. It’s not really people who are used to this food. But when we make this food for a Lebanese guy and someone from Saudi Arabia and Syria, everyone says, — Oh my God, it reminds me of my mother. I promise you, nobody’s mother is making it the same way.
But when you are making something so pure that the essence of it is so precise and so fresh, and you give enough space to the others to try, they bring their memories inside of it. And then it becomes a food like their mother made. That’s what makes the hummus the best. This is the concept that is making people come here, sometimes waiting half an hour for a table outside in the cold. In Israel it would be crazy: Who will wait outside to get a table to eat hummus? And here you see the people waiting, and people choosing to celebrate their birthday here.
And we build the bridges. We make not just the food. You can see activities for kids. The neighborhood is crazy for us. In the summer you will see after the kita people running here, the kids with pita bread in their hand, their mouths full of hummus. In the background Arabic music is playing. Some classical European music, or electro music with an Arabic twist. And I know that these kids will grow up and will not have any fear of this kind of language and culture. They won’t be prejudiced.
We have here a kid’s project, and it’s four times a month, and it’s in German, English, Hebrew, and Arabic. Refugee kids coming with their mothers, or Prenzlauerberg kids coming with their mothers, and listening to stories, or they can see a puppet show, and they hear different languages, or they sing the same song in different languages. And it’s amazing to see these things. In the end they are even cooking. They make goldfish from sweet potatoes and color them with spices, and they put it in the oven, and everybody eats hummus with sweet potato fish. They love it. It’s healthy and alternative, good food.
So how long have you been here in this place?
One year, a bit more than a year.
An interesting structure. What was it before?
Just before we moved here it was a pizzeria. A great pizzeria by the way. They used to work here only in the summertime. And the owner of this space and the one on the corner, we became so big, and we never planned to open a restaurant. We originally import tahini and basically all the ingredients of the food that we make here, and when we came to the big supermarkets here, nobody agreed to pay the prices we asked. The Germans said: this kind of food, they won’t know what to do with it. And I said, — Listen, it’s going to be the biggest thing on your shelves. We started just by making parties. The first party in August 2015, we were expecting three hundred people – more than one thousand people came. The second one – and everyone started talking about the hummus, the taste and the flavors. And very fast the second party – instead of one thousand came three thousand people. And the owner of the area where we were doing the parties, said listen, we have a place –
Where was that?
In Pankow. This old brewery. And it was a party that I produced with the UDK students, the fashion department. It was all about fusion of cultures, all about being different, and those parties and the line and the DJs, the food and everything hit the right spot at the right time. It was a huge bomb. And then we started doing weekends here, across the road at Kohlenquelle. And this bar is a bar from the days of the East of Berlin. It’s really well known. They built the bar on top of an old train station in East Berlin. You can see from the bridge there. And here was the office building for the train station. So when we were coming here and started to do our thing it was clear that we had to keep the character, the feeling of the thing. At some point, we were booked on weekends so long in advance, and we were so full that it started to bother the bar. Instead of helping him, it was becoming bigger than the bar. So they said, — Okay, we will take out the pizzeria and move it to another place. And you will come here.
So we started here just doing lunch. And just now we won the most popular restaurant in 2016 with Stil in Berlin, and we won the best vegan restaurant with Tip Berlin, and with Zitty, Best Menu. We had a lot of reviews. People are really crazy about the food.
Obviously the hummus is the most famous thing about this place.
The hummus is an Israeli traditional dish. We serve it with malawach, Yemeni style pita bread. We have an evening menu with a variety of dishes from the Israeli and the Palestinian kitchen. We have shushbaraka, a Palestinian dish of filled ravioli with mushrooms, cumin and Arabic spices with a cream sauce and goat cheese.
We have our own hummus, like you have in every city in the Middle East, every family in the Middle East. They have their own way of making hummus.
The city of Berlin is sending journalists here to share our story. So we wanted to make a classic dish for Berlin, which would be the hummus of Berlin, so we took a “Kartoffelpuffer” (potato pancake), instead of eggs and flour we based it on tahini with our own spices. And you get a dish of hummus, the Puffer that people get crazy about and the vegetable salad in the center. And people really, really love it.
Can you tell me a little bit about your story? Where are you from and what brought you to Berlin?
Yeah, well, it’s quite a long story. I’m originally a PR and strategy marketing manager. I had my own company. I moved to Europe four years ago from Israel – now already six years ago. I’ve been here already for two years. First I went to Amsterdam. Our office was the first to notice that there is some demographic changes taking place. And the demand for companies to approach new kinds of alliances which they are not sure about how to bring about. And on the other side, lots of companies that didn’t have a market here till now.
So our plan was to have a company that makes adaptations for both Europe and the Middle East. And to make campaigns, like we did for Aldi and other supermarkets, how to handle Middle Eastern goods. For example, in Amsterdam you have the Moroccan community and the refugees as well from Syria and Lebanon. And we helped companies from the Middle East do some campaigns.
I came to Berlin to do some work with a real-estate company, an Israeli one. And then I learned about the city, and fell in love with the city, and I decided to open here another office.
Could you then cook?
It was always my hobby. But, it was never my plan to open a restaurant. I came to Germany with the idea of importing tahini. Jalil is my partner. Jalil Dabit. He was coming with the idea to go to the main supermarkets – not the Turkish etc., but to go to the supermarkets…and he offered me to be his partner.
Yes, but he has an Israeli passport. His family was living in Jaffa and then moved to Ramallah in ’48. His father had a restaurant and his grandfather had a restaurant. So it’s like a huge legacy. So he came with the idea.
What do you think about being in Prenzlauerberg?
It’s amazing. We have a great opportunity to meet lots of young people. Our main crowd is 24 to 48. And there are a lot of kids. And it’s an amazing opportunity to teach them. The main thing is to create here something that will influence and change society, and what’s better than to start with young people?