Jonathan Wornick, sole owner of Amba Grill in Oakland for the past 3 1⁄2 years, is looking to sell his glatt kosher restaurant.
But as of midweek, all Wornick would say is, “I don’t want to confirm or deny anything. I don’t want to go public yet.”
Amba launched in late 2009 as a vegetarian, kosher restaurant featuring Israeli cuisine such as hummus bowls, falafel sandwiches and salads. It was owned by a small group of Jewish men, including Wornick, all with kids at Oakland Hebrew Day School and all active in the East Bay Jewish community. A J. cover story about its debut trumpeted: “Serving hummus, building community: Group holds high hopes for new Oakland kosher restaurant.”
But the business didn’t take off. So in April 2014, a couple of years after buying out his partners, Wornick, an ethical vegan, made a difficult personal choice and decided to add meat to the menu in an attempt to generate more business.
Adding chicken shwarma and beef kabobs to the menu and a full-time mashgiach (kosher supervisor) to the premises increased Wornick’s costs but didn’t make a positive impact on the business, he said.
“We’ve never had the success that we hoped it would, that I’d hoped it would,” Wornick told me a few months ago. “I’m getting frustrated. Even with the community. We’re the only kosher restaurant in the East Bay. I mean, I don’t know what it is — if there’s not enough people who care about Israeli food, or not enough people who care about kosher food.”
Wornick, a devoted leader in the Bay Area Jewish community who serves as AIPAC’s Northern California campaign chair, often said he was keeping Amba open because he wanted to serve the kosher community and be a hub for Jews in general. But in January, he was hired to lead a San Francisco capital management firm, and apparently his patience with keeping Amba open has worn out.
“I’ve been paying for it for five years now, and it turns out it’s been very expensive to do that,” he told me in an earlier conversation. “I’m at a point where it’s not worth my time and money. If [Amba] is not important to the community, then so be it. I was wrong.”
I’m hearing that a group within the Jewish community is being put together to buy Amba, and that a couple of people with restaurant experience will run the 45-seat spot in Oakland’s Montclair neighborhood. But that’s just hearsay at this point. Stay tuned.
PEAS AND LOVE: A new pop-up hummus stand called Peas and Love (think chickpeas) is scheduled to make an appearance at First Friday in Oakland from 5 to 9:30 p.m. on Aug. 7.
The stand and its signature item — hummus bowls topped with warm ingredients and served with pita, but meant to be eaten with fork or spoon — are the brainchild of Noam Eshel, a filmmaker and video journalist who recently moved to Berkeley so his wife, Yael, could attend graduate school at Cal.
Born in Jerusalem, Eshel spent his formative years in northern Israel, where he developed a love of hummus, be it made by friends or relatives or purchased at a stand in an Arab village. After arriving in the Bay Area, he quickly became chagrined not only with the bland hummus Americans eat, but how they eat it.
“It’s like a spread people put on bread, or have as an appetizer when friends come over for dinner,” he said. “That’s not what we do. [Peas and Love] is doing hummus as it is in the Middle East, in Israel, with warm toppings on it, and we serve it as a full dish.”
So far, the stand has had three outings, including a July 12 vegan event at the SoMa StrEat Food Park in San Francisco. Eshel said the people loved his food and he sold out in four hours.
His most popular warm topping, he said, is made with two kinds of mushrooms, turmeric and onion; another option is carrots, sweet potatoes, chili, garlic and rosemary. “We’re working on some different ones, too,” said Eshel, who whips it all up in a commissary kitchen in downtown Oakland.
Eshel loves to cook and grew up eating the Balkan, Polish and Russian food of his heritage “cooked in a Sephardic kitchen.” Moreover, he has lived all over Israel, giving him a practiced hummus palate. “Hummus is one way in the Galilee and another way in Jerusalem,” he said.
Here, Eshel is getting his zatar from Jordan, his tahini from Nazareth, his olive oil from Beirut and his pitas from his favorite bakery in Jerusalem. “I have access to the best ingredients and can mix all kinds of stuff together,” he said.
And that’s why he calls it Peas and Love. Having flavors from different countries in one dish can be a conversation starter, he said. “It may be a bit cheesy, but with food like this you can connect people in new ways. In one bite, everything is together in one dish. It’s amazing.”
Peas and Love
Hours, locations vary
www.peasandlove.co (not “.com”)
EXPANDED ABC: After starting on the project some 18 months ago, Authentic Bagel Co. in Oakland finally has expanded into the space next door. The new place feels more like an East Coast bagel spot, with about 16 indoor seats in addition to the outdoor tables, plus a big display case.
The menu is expanded as well, with items such as matzah ball soup and salads in addition to standbys such as house-made corned beef, house-smoked whitefish salad, lox and bagel dogs made with Hebrew National beef franks. There are 12 types of bagels ($1.75 each), with discounts for a dozen or half-dozen. The menu also includes bacon.
A public expansion party was held July 11, nearly three years to the day after Jason (pictured above)â€ˆand Mark Scott, Jewish brothers from Rhode Island, opened shop. Mark has since left to pursue a career as a chef, but Jason is still at it, and has other plans going forward — more menu items, longer hours and a central baking location elsewhere in the East Bay.
Authentic Bagel Co. is located at 463 2nd St., Oakland, open 9 a.m to 3 p.m daily. Visit www.abagelcompany.com.
KOSHER IRE: Rabbi Simcha Green of Berkeley, a tireless advocate for getting kosher food stands into Bay Area sports stadiums and arenas, is suggesting that people boycott Oakland A’s Jewish Heritage Night on Aug. 4 because the team isn’t offering any kosher food that night (not to mention the rest of the season).
While Green’s main aim is for each of our professional sports teams to have a kosher food stand or cart at all home games — none do! — he at least expects them to offer kosher food for sale at their Jewish heritage games. The Warriors and Giants do.
The A’s don’t. And therein lies Green’s frustration.
But he’s also happy to report that he has a “commitment” from local planners that a kosher food cart will be on the premises of Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara when Super Bowl 50 is played there in seven months. Kosher Sports Inc., a New Jersey–based outfit run by Jonathan Katz that operates at a handful of U.S. sports venues, will run the stand at the Super Bowl on Feb. 7, 2016, Green said.
Green, a non-pulpit rabbi who attends Congregation Beth Israel in Berkeley, has spent countless hours over the past five years lobbying team officials via phone calls, messages and meetings. He even attempted to visit A’s co-owner Lew Wolff in his Los Angeles office. If you’d like to help, contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The film “Famous Nathan” will be screened three times in the upcoming San Francisco Jewish Film Festival (see my review on page 16). That got me thinking about the hot dogs I loved at a Nathan’s Famous that used to be at Tanforan Mall in San Bruno about 30 years ago. Or am I imagining it? When I checked, officials at Nathan’s Famous in New York told me they have no record of that location. If you can confirm it for me, please let me know at email@example.com. Nowadays, the closest Nathan’s to the Bay Area by car is in Twentynine Palms (San Bernardino County); by air, it’s the one at the Las Vegas airport … Up until last week, Mardini’s Restaurant in Menlo Park had the “OK” kosher symbol (for OK Kosher Certification, based in New York) on its menu web page. That seemed odd, considering the restaurant sells not only falafel and hummus, but also ham sandwiches and a club sandwich with turkey, bacon, avocado and cheese. Someone in the Jewish community spotted it and alerted a rabbi, who in turn alerted Sunrise Kosher, aka Vaad Hakashrus of Northern California. By the weekend, the symbol had been removed … The Hazon Jewish Food Festival Bay Area was a springtime event in its first two years, but the third annual edition has been scheduled for Oct. 18 at the Oshman Family JCC in Palo Alto. So far, there are only scant details at www.tinyurl.com/hazon-food-ba … The 28th Jewish Food Festival in Carmel, a popular event for day-trippers and Monterey Bay locals alike, hosted by Congregation Beth Israel, is set for Aug. 23. Details at www.carmelbethisrael.org/food-festival-2015 … As of late last week, Wise Sons Deli in San Francisco was still looking to sign a lease for a new bakery. The deli’s bakery and production kitchen, four blocks from its 24th Street location, was gutted in a January fire … Miller’s East Coast Deli shut down its San Rafael location on June 17 (www.jweekly.com/article/full/75047), while at the same time launching a new menu at its still-open location in San Francisco. With hot dogs, pizza, hoagies, Chicago-style Italian beef sandwiches, Nashville fried chicken and Cincinnati chili now on the menu, owner Robby Morgenstein boasts in a blog posting, “You can’t get more American than this!” Foods items that have been discontinued include tongue, liverwurst, belly lox, sable, whole whitefish, turkey pastrami and mushroom barley soup. Here’s one of the comments posted at www.millerseastcoastdeli.com: “The new menu is a grave disappointment. It was my favorite deli in S.F. If you don’t serve traditional deli items like lox, eggs and onions and smoked fish daily, you should remove the words ‘East Coast’ from your name. You may still be deli, but no longer kosher-style” … An iconic restaurant with longtime Jewish ownership, Tommy’s Joynt in San Francisco, is set to change hands at the end of this month. In June, Susie Katzman announced that Tommy’s, a family business for 68 years, had been sold to Chris Henry, who won’t change a thing, the San Francisco Chronicle reported. Katzman has been running the restaurant with her sons, Sam and Zack, since 2000; her father, Billy Veprin, ran the place for many years with founder Tommy Harris (Susie’s uncle), and after Harris sold his share, Veprin’s old pal Al Pollack came on board. “It’s a piece of San Francisco history,” Susie Katzman told the Chronicle. “It is a landmark in San Francisco. The Golden Gate Bridge, Alcatraz, Tommy’s Joynt.” It also routinely showed up on numerous “best sandwich” lists for its brisket and pastrami … After some 40 years as a trendsetter in California cuisine, Bay Wolf restaurant in Oakland will shut down at the end of August. The menu wasn’t Jewish, but founder Michael Wild and ownership partner Larry Goldman, both Jewish, had been offering special items at Passover time the past few years … On Sunday, July 19, Congregation Beth Ami in Santa Rosa is having a Matzah Brei Fry, using about 50 to 60 boxes of matzah still left over from a big donation the synagogue received from a local supermarket after Passover. “We’ll have all your favorite toppings,” the flier notes. The event, from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m., is $8 for adults, $4 for kids, and most of the money raised will benefit the temple’s preschool. For information, visit www.bethamisr.org.