The entrance to Shazif (Plum) Street in Jerusalem's Mahane Yehuda market is bewildering: On one side is a big butcher shop and a couple of nuts-and-dried-fruit stands, as one would find in any self-respecting, open-air market. Yet across the way is a somewhat out-of-place, trendy terrace with a few tables, a redolent smell of excellent coffee emanating from within, and a large coffee machine - signs that Italian coffee and chocolate biscotti have arrived in the market.
As if that were not enough, next to the Italian coffee and the meticulously rolled large pitas, or laffas, sold as "wraps" with an assortment of fillings, is also a section of the shop devoted to baking and other kitchen equipment. Now it develops that the establishment called Everything for the Baker and Coffee, Too, which Eli Mizrahi opened over two years ago in the heart of Mahane Yehuda, was only the beginning. Right across the alley, a shiny delicatessen called Mazeitim opened not long ago, and Mizrahi himself has opened Tzachko in a neighboring alley - a proper Mediterranean bistro in the heart of the market, which serves cold gazpacho with bruschetta and fish sashimi all day long.
Sashimi? In Mahane Yehuda? Eli Mizrahi laughs when the contrasts are pointed out to him, but then turns serious: "I am interested in drawing a diverse crowd to the market. I want to make it a shopping area for fresh food that will be a fitting competitor to every other shopping center in the city."
Mizrahi's words should not be taken lightly. He is chairman of the market's council, and has been doing business in Mahane Yehuda for nearly 20 years.
Now a grandfather, Mizrahi is the scion of a family that has two shops selling nuts and dried fruit in Mahane Yehuda. Of the four brothers, one opted to specialize in wholesale and import, two stayed in the retail stalls, and Eli went into the restaurant business. "Opening a place of my own is an old dream," he relates. There are very few tables at his baking and coffee shop, and at any given moment somebody is waiting for a table to become free. Even when Mizrahi is himself hosting a guest at a corner table, he has to contend with nudging from annoyed people who want to sit down and will not take no for an answer.
"For years, I wanted to open a place that would look exactly like this," he explains. "I went to food shows, I ate at countless restaurants, and I learned on my own. This is the result."
His shop is clearly the sort of establishment that could only exist in Jerusalem: a menu with a wide variety of appetizing offerings, waiters who look as if they are on their day off from the Bezalel Academy of Art and Design, and a diverse clientele that includes old-time Jerusalemite ladies doing their Thursday shopping alongside the sort of folks who would, if possible, keep the place a secret to themselves.
The kitchen equipment section at the entrance sells Le Creuset pots at discount prices, plus knives and silicon molds and Valrhona chocolate to pastry chefs. Eli Mizrahi's two daughters, Moran and Ya'ara, advised him. Moran, 28, studied pastry baking in Paris, "and the two of them gave me the push," he says.
Personally imported Brie Four months ago, Mizrahi's vision expanded to include Itzik Sananes, who opened the Mazeitim kosher delicatessen across the way. Sananes is a former high-tech professional who got tired of carpeted offices and fluorescent lights, and one day decided to make a change. "A relative of mine has a delicatessen on Shamai Street. I started to work with him and I fell in love with the profession. I bought the Abu Daoud delicatessen in the market, and four months ago I moved here," he explains.
At Mazeitim, Sananes sells cheeses produced by the boutique dairies Hanoked, Ein Kamonim, Hameiri (in Safed), Barkanit and Jacobs' Farm. He also sells Brie and Chambrie that he himself imports, boutique wines of all sorts and "Tomer's bread" - baked by a young Jerusalemite who runs a boutique bakery in Talpiot.
"I am very wary about prices," says Sananes. "I want to bring a new, young crowd to the market, and I don't mind holding down the profit margins in order to inculcate an awareness of the products."
And the crowd? "It's growing. I'm optimistic."
"The market was going through a bad time," Mizrahi joins in. "It isn't only the terrorist attacks. It was the attraction to convenient, air-conditioned places, with fast food - places where mothers take their children and make do with that," he says, seemingly incapable of even expressly mentioning that foul term, "shopping center."
"I want to bring new people here. There are Tel Avivians, too, who know how nice it is to spend time in Jerusalem," Mizrahi continues, animatedly. "They get treated hospitably here, with a warmth that is hard to find in Tel Aviv."
Seven months ago, Mizrahi opened Tzachko, a restaurant, in the next alley over from his coffee and baking goods shop, in an area of Mahane Yehuda known as the Iraqi market.
Mizrahi: "My daughter Moran ran a restaurant in the Galilee, in Mitzpeh Abirim, with a boyfriend. She closed the restaurant, but I could see her talent. The coffee house was already pretty full, so we looked for a place for a restaurant. After looking in all sorts of other places, a friend of mine said to me: 'Your stronghold is the market. Why are you going elsewhere?' And we opened Tzachko."
The restaurant is named after Mizrahi's father, Yitzhak, "who taught me how to cook marvelously." Mizrahi and his daughter composed the menu, and the restaurant employs a team of seven workers.
Aside from sashimi, Tzachko offers a "hamburger Tzachko" from aged entrecote, with potatoes, as well as artichoke ravioli and sirloin steak. "It is a simple line, with French and Italian touches here and there," Mizrahi explains. "It is a bistro located in the heart of the market, and the dishes du jour are decided on based on the fish, vegetables, fruits and meat available in the market." The restaurant is open from noon until midnight, but the nearby coffee house is closed in the evenings, "because I am interested in only one nightlife place."
Is the Mahane Yehuda market on its way to becoming a yuppie stronghold? It depends who you ask. Mizrahi speaks in positive terms about the phenomenon, even if it spoils for the politicians the market's role as a "center of the common people" - the last such center still remaining.
"Still, there are lots of politicians that don't want to come here, each for his or her own reasons. Some are afraid of being given a hard time here, and some take for granted that this is not their crowd here. Maybe now they will be mistaken."
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