Would You Like Kebab With Your Instagram?

Israel’s restaurateurs know that pictures with celebrities are so last century, but some habits are hard to change

Pictures of restaurant owners hugging television personality Rafi Ginat, singer Ofra Haza or some transportation minister were once the default wall decoration of any self-respecting shwarma place. Nowadays, though, social media and the increasing cynicism about celebrities has thrown the photos-with-famous-people phenomenon into a serious crisis. No new restaurant would think of including photos with the famous as part of the décor, and while veteran restaurants leave them there so as not to disappoint their regulars, they’re not being refreshed at the pace of the golden era.

“We thought about cutting back and leaving only some pictures up, because they say it’s no longer ‘in,’ ” said Shimshon Amrani, manager of the Avazi Shekhunat Hatikva restaurant in Tel Aviv. “But Shaikeh Levy [a member of the comedy troupe Hagashash Hahiver] stopped us. He said it made the place unique. So we left them up.”

The people at Avazi say the practice of photographing famous patrons started when the place opened in 1972. “What you see here is only one percent of the pictures we took – half a percent, even,” said Amrani.

But most of the pictures are yellowed with age. The biggest picture is of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. “The pictures are here because this is the most famous restaurant in the world. They know about us in Taiwan,” said Amrani proudly, and indeed, there are many Chinese customers in the restaurant on the day we visited.

Nowadays, however, most of Avazi’s pictures of famous clients are posted on Facebook, where, for example, one can see Yaron London embracing waitress Shiran Avraham. “This is the most media-oriented restaurant in Israel,” boasts Amrani.

Restaurant critic Dan Sessler confirms that the restaurant photograph phenomenon has moved to Facebook and Instagram.

“Food is probably the most photographed subject, maybe after cats,” he said. “Once, the restaurant’s wall was a kind of social network, like Facebook. If you had a picture of Hagashash with your shish kebabs, you were king. It all began after 1967, when the generals would stop by for a kebab. But when elite restaurants began opening, it started receding. Now it’s a bit of an embarrassment.”

At the Raouf and Atina fish restaurant in Tel Aviv, most of the photos are old. The inventory certainly hasn’t been refreshed since the dawn of the cellular age.

“Before people took pictures with cell phones, I would develop pictures on Jerusalem Boulevard and bring them back, but the photo store closed,” said Raouf Salameh, a partner in the restaurant. "Once there were pictures in every restaurant, today it doesn’t go. Now when a famous person comes in, I’m too lazy to approach him. I can’t explain why.”

The top spot for such photos is undoubtedly the Hatzot Steak House, which has been operating in Jerusalem since 1970.

“We have [singer] Rami Kleinstein with hair,” boasts Oren Agami, one of three brothers running the restaurant since their father Avi, who founded it, retired.

Today many images, such as that of Defense Minister Moshe Ya'alon sipping a cocktail, appear on the restaurant’s Facebook page or on Instagram and not on the restaurant’s walls. Agami also sends pictures to the leisure magazine Pnai Plus and to the local paper in Ma'aleh Adumim. “What can we do? We get lots of celebrities here. Celebs like to be in the center of things. Replacing the pictures on the wall would be complicated. We add pictures once a year; we can’t change them every two weeks. But the photos are part of the retro atmosphere.”

According to Agami, “People come specifically to see the pictures. The whole country comes here. I don’t like to toot my own horn, but anyone who has a show in Jerusalem comes here. MKs come every two weeks.”

What happens to the pictures of celebrities who’ve gone sour – former president Moshe Katsav, for example? Raouf of Raouf and Atina remains loyal.

“I liked Katsav as a person,” he said. “I think he’s innocent and I’m not embarrassed to say so. At home I have a picture of Katsav with my daughter. Let bygones be bygones.”

He believes the pictures still have a magical attraction. “Jews and Arabs both love it. Customers from the territories don’t know [everyone], but Dudu Topaz was a hit there, too.”