Israeli owners of local eateries breathing sighs of relief

As a native of Israel, South Bay resident Michal Laor was concerned, of course, when the Israeli army started its operation in Gaza last month. As the owner of a falafel restaurant in Sunnyvale, she also worried in another way.

“I didn’t want anybody to come in and do anything [anti-Israeli] in this place. I was a little bit concerned,” said Laor, who owns Falafel Stop with her husband, Jonathan Laor. “But it’s been business as usual. Nothing out of the ordinary.”

Falafel Stop’s decor isn’t outwardly Israeli — no blue-and-white flags, no posters of the Western Wall — but “people know we are Israelis. I just don’t want anything to happen to my business.”

Proprietors of other Israeli-owned restaurants, such as Sabra Grill in San Francisco, Holy Land in Oakland, Shish Kabab Show in Moraga and Oren’s Hummus Shop in Palo Alto and Mountain View, probably felt similar trepidation when the war started.

“We had a bit of concern about that, but we really did not feel any resentment at all,” said Avi Ben-Ari, who owns Kabab Burger in Lafayette with his wife, Michaella. “In fact, people were very positive, and the support from the community has been amazing.”

Amba Grill in Oakland

“One effect,” Michaella added, “is that we haven’t seen as many Israelis [during the war]. They are emotionally more upset, so they aren’t going out. They are hooked to TV and watching the news.”

Aside from a brief argument with a nearby store owner of Jordanian heritage — “I told him he was ignorant, that he did not have the correct information,” Avi said — “so far, we have not encountered anyone who would say anything [anti-Israeli] to us.” Part of the reason, perhaps: “I kind of try to avoid conversations about the situation, unless in private,” Avi noted.

Jonathan Wornick employs a similar strategy at Amba Grill, his kosher Israeli restaurant in Oakland. That’s not always easy, since he is very involved in the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, as a regional board member and Northern California campaign chair. Plus, he sometimes takes strong public stands on Israeli and Palestinian issues.

“I try to separate me from the restaurant as much as possible,” Wornick said, noting that his restaurant no longer hosts Israel-related events, such as a speaker from Israel.

Falafel Stop in Sunnyvale

During one Israel-Gaza flare-up a few years ago, Wornick said, he switched Amba’s television to Fox News for coverage he considered less biased against Israel. Bad idea in the Oakland-Berkeley area? Some customers were “horrified” to see Fox on the screen, he said, and a few got up and left. “And I didn’t even have the sound on,” Wornick added.

After the big pro-Israel rally in San Francisco on Aug. 3, it was a different story. “That Sunday evening was one of our best days ever,” Wornick said. “People coming from the rally wanted to keep the good feelings going and said, ‘Let’s go eat out.’”

At the Jerusalem Grill and Bar in Campbell, Israeli owner Erez Knobler noticed one big change as soon as the Gaza operation began last month. “I’m not seeing any Muslim people come in, and they definitely used to,” he said.

Erez Knobler

That being said, he reported no negative incidents — such as vandalism or graffiti — even though a kosher, Israeli-owned restaurant bearing the name “Jerusalem” might be a target. “I was thinking about that, hoping that nothing was going to happen,” Knobler said. “It does happen in other parts of the world.”

One anti-Israel situation did occur in the South Bay shortly after the war started, when Nadiah Mshasha “shared” a Facebook posting of war photos allegedly taken in Gaza. Mshasha is the human resources manager and marketing director at Dishdash, a Middle Eastern restaurant in Sunnyvale she co-owns with her husband, Emad Ibrahim, who is of Palestinian descent.

She added her own comment to the posting: “None of the kids in these images are terrorists obviously. Israel’s killing and oppression of the Palestinian people has occurred since its inception in 1948, long before Hamas existed. The current situation in Gaza is the tip of the iceberg of the conflict. Please be vocal about Israel’s atrocities and do your part to bring it to an end. Start by boycotting Israeli products.”

Responding to the posting, Israelis living in the South Bay shared and debated it through emails, suggesting that people get their Middle East food fixes at the Falafel Stop and Oren’s Hummus. Many vowed to avoid patronizing Dishdash or its sister restaurant, Dish n Dash, also in Sunnyvale.

“She is making strong, unjust allegations about Israel,” wrote Hilla Wahnishe-Jacobs of Mountain View. “It was enough to have me, an Israeli that used to really like Dishdash, not want to step my foot in there again.”

THE THICK OF IT: My first visit to the Rye Project — the new Back East–style Jewish deli from Cleveland native Adam Mesnick — created an instant dilemma: Should I order my corned beef on the deli’s dense and tasty Detroit-imported rye, or on an onion roll?

Corned beef on challah onion roll at Rye Project

Ordering dilemmas at Jewish delis are the story of my life. I want everything! However, for the most part — and maybe this is a good thing — there isn’t a ton of choices at the Rye Project, a 10-seat, mostly takeout spot that opened July 7 in a former hoagie shop that Mesnick ran.

The menu is small but sturdy: corned beef, pastrami and a few other sandwiches ($12-$14), matzah ball or another soup ($5), and a good selection of smoked fish (nova lox, whitefish salad, trout) served on a bagel with cream cheese ($12) or together on a megaplatter ($28).

I really like the place: overstuffed sandwiches, maybe the best corned beef this side of Cleveland (even though the also-delicious Romanian pastrami outsells it 4-to-1), rye with a stiff cornmeal crust, half-sour pickles. Even the challah onion roll from House of Bagels was good, if a bit too puffy.

Rye Project does come with three caveats: 1) It’s a tad expensive, but at least with the meat so thickly stacked, you feel you’re getting your money’s worth. 2) It’s open only during lunch hours. 3) Because Mesnick can get his hands on only five or six loaves of rye per day — he’s thankful that Miller’s East Coast Deli owner Robby Morgenstein, who imports them from Detroit, has graciously agreed to sell him any at all — sometimes the rye runs out around 1:30 or 2 p.m.

Rye Project

180 Seventh St., San Francisco

Monday to Friday 11 a.m. to 3 p.m., @ryeprojectsf on Twitter

(415) 552-8984

KOSHER CREAM PUFFS: “This is not a ‘kosher bakery.’ This is a French bakery that happens to be kosher,” said Laura Athuil, 27, proprietor of Choux, a soon-to-open patisserie in San Francisco.

Laura Athuil photo/facebook-natalie schrik photography

Choux will serve 13 different flavors of cream puffs from a little shop at 247 Fillmore St., near the corner of Haight Street. Athuil, a native of France who moved from Paris to San Francisco a year and a half ago, hopes to open before the end of the month, pending two final inspections.

Athuil is a member of the Chabad of North Beach community, and not only is her bakery certified kosher by Vaad Hakashrus of Northern California, but it also adheres to Chabad-friendly stricter forms of kosher for dairy (cholev yisroel) and  baking (pas yisroel).

“I will be the person on-site to turn on the oven,” she said, explaining one of the rules of pas yisroel, that a Jew must turn on the oven. “But, really, this is a French cream puff bakery, and kosher is just something I did to have it accessible to everybody. There is no kosher bakery in the city.”

Athuil says each variety of her ornately decorated cream puffs has “its own personality” as well as a name, usually after one of her friends. For more information about the opening date, Athuil’s baking credentials and the shop, visit or follow ChouxSF on Facebook and Twitter.

SUCH A NUDNIK: Dena Ehrlich, 29, has started a pop-up restaurant, Nudnik Foods, on Wednesday nights in Linea Caffe, an espresso bar and coffee roaster in the Mission District.

Deana Ehrlich

“I grew up with my dad always saying ‘Don’t be a nudnik’ or just using the word ‘nudnik’ in various situations,” Ehrlich explained of her name choice. “There’s something endearing about it even if it’s used to describe a person who’s obnoxious, and I love the way Yiddish sounds.”

Ehrlich, who was raised in Cupertino by two Israeli-born parents and now lives in Oakland, has been a private chef and caterer. She describes Nudnik Foods as Israeli cuisine, although it does not have staples like falafel, shwarma, shnitzel or sabich.

Rather, it features fresh items one might find at a modern Israeli cafe, such as grain salads, vegan soups and an Israeli favorite called brik (a fried hand pie of Tunisian heritage), or a dish from a recipe in “Jerusalem: A Cookbook” by Yotam Ottolenghi and Sami Timimi.

“Israel is not just about shwarma and falafel,” Ehrlich said. “It’s about fresh and fulfilling food, with great variety.”

Nudnik Foods

At Linea Caffe, 3417 18th St., S.F.

Wednesday 6 to 9 p.m. (or until items are sold out); NudnikFoods on Twitter

No phone


Lex Gopnik-Lewinski of Berkeley has quit his job as a sound technician at the Bay Area’s sports cable channel, Comcast SportsNet, to focus on his pop-up, Augie’s Montreal Smoke Meat, which I detailed a year ago ( “Smoke meat” is a brisket delicacy made famous by Schwartz’s deli in Montreal and by Brooklyn’s Mile End Deli in recent years. His next pop-up will be at Beauty’s Bagel Shop in Oakland from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Sept. 1 (Labor Day). His plan is to do two pop-ups a month there and add one in San Francisco. Stay tuned at @augiessmokemeat on Twitter … Two longtime community traditions are coming up. First, there’s the 27th annual Jewish Food Festival hosted by Congregation Beth Israel in Carmel Valley from 10:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Sunday, Aug. 24. A superwide array of food favorites will be for sale; admission is free. For information, visit or call (831) 624-2015 … In Sacramento, Congregation Beth Shalom’s 37th annual Jewish Food Faire is set for 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Sept. 14. Breakfast, lunch, specialty and imported deli foods are on the menu. Visit or call (916) 485-4478. Both festivals also feature entertainment, vendors, etc. … The kosher sandwich program at U.C. Berkeley that I wrote about last month ( will start on Monday, Aug. 25, according to the organizers. The sandwiches will be available at the Bear Market, the Golden Bear Café, the Den and Ramona’s Café, all public spots … Odd Bagels, the delicious and well-textured gluten-free bagels that I wrote about back in January (, are no longer at Saul’s Deli in Berkeley, as owner Brent Woodard of Oakland has had a lull in production. But he says he’s in a new kitchen ramping things back up, and is selling his bagels on Saturdays at Miglet’s Gluten Free Bakery in Danville, with bigger things to come. For information, visit … More gluten-free bagel news: The Grease Box in Oakland has morphed from a fried-chicken joint into a gluten-free bakery, and one of its main offerings is bagels. The owner makes them with brown rice flour, tapioca flour and psyllium husks, according to the East Bay Express … On Aug. 10, the rotating Sunday Supper series at Marla Bakery, a new restaurant in San Francisco’s Outer Richmond District, was titled “Essen & Fressen: An Ode to Jewish Grandmothers.” Unfortunately, organizers let us know too late to promote the event, which included modern spins on pastrami, kreplach, noodle kugel, and pickled and smoked salmon and sable. Maybe another Jewish dinner will roll around at some point; stay tuned at … The Guardian newspaper in the United Kingdom recently published “How to make the perfect bagel” (, and one of the people quoted was Berkeley-based Dan Graf, owner of 2-year-old Baron Baking, whose bagels are featured at Saul’s Deli in Berkeley. Graf, by the way, now has several employees and is making more than 800 bagels per day; one new spot at which they are available is Driver’s Market in Sausalito, and a meeting with Whole Foods folks occurred recently.


Andy Altman-Ohr

Andy Altman-Ohr was J.’s managing editor and Hardly Strictly Bagels columnist until he retired in 2016 to travel and live abroad. He and his wife have a home base in Mexico, where he continues his dalliance with Jewish journalism.