(JTA) — Like many Individuals, Ari Augenbaum, Trey Owens and Narine Hovnanian intently watched the protest motion that adopted the demise of George Floyd through the summer season of 2020. Floyd’s demise sparked acquainted discussions among the many buddies in regards to the historical past of race and oppression in the US.
The three restaurateurs, who run a well-liked Virginia eatery known as Soul Taco, figured they might use meals to serve up therapeutic, historical past and, they hope, a singular eating expertise.
Throughout a late-night dialog at their Richmond restaurant, they determined to launch JewFro, a pop-up-style spot that fuses Jewish and African cuisines. (Richmond eating places are open for in-person eating, though JewFro affords takeout service as effectively.)
“JewFro,” Augenbaum mentioned, “was born out of a dialog that I’m positive many Individuals had been having in regards to the Black Lives Matter protests.”
Augenbaum, Owens and Hovnanian already had expertise melding cuisines: Soul Taco combines Latin American flavors and Southern meals. Since its October 2018 opening, Soul Taco has loved a meteoric rise, together with being featured on a January 2020 episode of Meals Community’s “Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives.”
JewFro by day is a Jewish deli that makes a speciality of house-cured meats and artisanal sandwiches with African spices. By night time, the eatery affords up basic Jewish and Israeli dishes with African flare, in addition to fashionable takes on African dishes with Jewish flavors: grilled rooster marinated in South African Peri-Peri sauce over Israeli couscous, or Zigni (an Eritrean beef stew) brisket over matzah polenta with braised kale and stewed tomatoes.
A current Sunday brunch featured contemporary baked challah with home cured gravlax and Dukkah, the Egyptian nut and house mix. Diners might wash it down with a harissa mimosa, flavored with the Tunisian sizzling chile pepper paste.
Whereas creating the menu, the three buddies made an attention-grabbing discovery.
“Once we began researching among the dishes for this idea, we realized that a number of the components and cooking strategies had been nearly an identical,” Augenbaum mentioned. The truth is, “the similarities had been extra outstanding than the variations.”
Augenbaum, a Jew from Maryland, credit Owens, an African-American from Richmond, with the concept that ultimately gave delivery to JewFro.
“Trey proposed that we pay homage to each of our cultures as a present of unity by meals,” Augenbaum recalled.
He and Hovnanian, an Armenian American, immediately thought it was an ideal concept. The similarities, they agreed, went past delicacies.
“Whereas two-thirds of our possession is white, all three of us come from a spot the place our folks had been persecuted,” Augenbaum mentioned.
All of them have years of expertise within the restaurant and hospitality trade.
Hovnanian, whose mother and father had been born and raised in Iraq and Jordan, isn’t any stranger to Center Japanese delicacies. From her mother and father she inherited a love for labneh, halvah and hummus, and he or she credit her Southern California upbringing with exposing her to numerous cuisines. Along with her work as CEO at JewFro and Soul Taco, she runs two different eating places and has each actual property funding and occasion manufacturing corporations.
Owens, JewFro’s director of operations, factors to his work on each naval provide ships and worldwide cruise strains in fostering an curiosity in different cultures. He has spent the previous 15 years working within the restaurant trade. Owens additionally serves on Richmond Mayor Levar Stoney’s COVID-19 restaurant activity pressure. Alongside along with his two enterprise companions, he participated in Black Lives Matter marches final summer season.
Augenbaum was raised in an Orthodox Jewish family the place his household stored kosher and he ate basic Ashkenazi fare like potato kugel and gefilte fish. A gig with a kosher caterer on the age of 13 ultimately led to many years of labor within the foodservice trade, together with operating eating places for celeb chef Bobby Flay and Hollywood actor Ashton Kutcher. Alongside the best way he picked up a number of awards from the Restaurant Affiliation of Metropolitan Washington, D.C.
Augenbaum serves as JewFro’s senior culinary director, a place that permits him to bask in his favourite pastime: experimenting with previous cuisines and new recipes. He calls the choice to mix Jewish and African fare “daring.” The 2 cuisines, he says, are hardly ever fused.
“We haven’t seen every other eating places doing this. I feel that the primary purpose for that’s that African meals shouldn’t be very outstanding in American delicacies general,” mentioned Augenbaum, who skilled with Morou Outarra, an American chef who hails from the Ivory Coast.
Against this, “Jewish delis are well-liked and Israeli delicacies has turn out to be extremely popular in the previous few years with Michael Solomonov on the forefront of that motion,” he mentioned, referring to the award-winning Philadelphia chef.
Nevertheless, “in the case of Jewish meals on a refined high-quality eating stage, outdoors of the kosher world, there actually is lots much less.”