Miri Levy, owner of Holy Land, delivering meals during Covid as part of World Central Kitchen.
Miri Levy, owner of Holy Land, delivering meals during Covid as part of World Central Kitchen.

Farewell to two local falafel joints: Holy Land and Flying Falafel

Food coverage is supported by a generous donation from Susan and Moses Libitzky.

While we do our best to keep our readers informed about the Bay Area’s Jewish food scene, “we” are only one person, and sometimes things get by us. Somehow we missed that the Israeli restaurant Holy Land closed after 33 years in Oakland, as reported by Berkeleyside.

Owner Miri Levy was able to survive the early days of the pandemic by working with World Central Kitchen — the nonprofit founded by celebrity chef José Andrés to set up kitchens in disaster zones — and with DoorDash.

But by early 2022, the restaurant needed repairs and shut down for two months. After that, the business never got back on track.

“It was dead, and I was having the same staffing challenges that all restaurants are having now,” Levy said. “I thought, I’m not doing well financially, and I can’t continue like this.”

Last July, she wrote about her decision: “I couldn’t face it or talk about it,” she posted on the restaurant’s Facebook page. “I am so, so proud of being open for 33(!) years, continuing my mother’s dream and passion.”

In 1989, way before there were Israeli celebrity chefs and Israeli food was trendy, her parents, Niso and Haya Mizrachi, opened Holy Land on Rand Avenue, serving reliably good falafel, hummus, shwarma and mint lemonade. They had come to the Bay Area from Israel with Levy’s older sister.

Levy, meanwhile, stayed in Israel and never intended to join her family in the restaurant industry — until one day she got a call from her sister.

“Shortly after they opened [the restaurant], my mother had a stroke, and my older sister said ‘come,’ so I flew the next day” from Israel, she said. Despite not having much cooking experience at the time, she was willing and ready to help out.

After her mother recovered and her parents opened a second location in Berkeley’s Elmwood District in 1997, Levy had gained enough experience to run the Oakland restaurant. Over time, she came to love cooking for people, learning her mother’s recipes and especially having the restaurant serve as a community hub.

My customers became friends.

At first, Holy Land’s Oakland location was kosher. Though Levy wanted to continue serving the kosher community,  as J. reported in 2012, she lacked sufficient kosher clientele to justify the cost, especially since the restaurant had to close on Fridays and Saturdays.

Still, there were plenty of other loyal customers who kept coming back.

Levy said she misses the many friendships she made through the restaurant.

“It was my daily life for so many years,” she noted. “I always felt like I had visitors there, and my customers became friends, so that part is not easy. I totally miss it. Over the years, I made so many connections through it.”

Longtime customers took to the restaurant’s Facebook page to mourn its passing.

Aria Shen wrote: “My family ate dinner at Holy Land the night of the Loma Prieta earthquake in 1989 (I was 13). The Bay Bridge had collapsed, no one had electricity, but you served us the food you had and parked a car with headlights pointed at the restaurant so we had light. To this day I remember that dinner as the single greatest feeling of community in my life. Thank you.”

Levy, who is now paying the bills as a certified dog trainer, still offers catering services, both kosher and nonkosher. She recently catered an event at the new Lent Chabad Center in San Mateo. We heartily endorse her and her food, especially since she’s served the Bay Area for so long; restaurants that stay in business over 30 years are a rarity.

Levy also offers cooking classes and team-building events centered around Israeli food. She can be reached at [email protected].

Through the same Berkeleyside article, we also learned that both Flying Falafel locations, in  San Francisco’s mid-Market area and in downtown Berkeley, quietly closed last year. We wrote about the mini-chain and its owner, Assaf Pashut, and his vision of a vegan fast-food empire when he opened a second location in Berkeley. Later,  that location was certified by East Bay Kosher.

Alix Wall
Alix Wall

Alix Wall is a contributing editor to J. She is also the founder of the Illuminoshi: The Not-So-Secret Society of Bay Area Jewish Food Professionals and is writer/producer of a documentary-in-progress called "The Lonely Child."