A popular restaurant in Rishon Letzion has been accused of racism after an Arab couple claimed last week they had been denied reservations when using their real names, but were able to book after calling back and using Jewish names.
Mahmoud Safouri and his wife, Sama, said that on two different occasions, they had recorded calls made to the Soho restaurant in Rishon Letzion, where they had often eaten without making reservations first.
According to Mahmoud, from Jaffa, they first encountered suspicious behavior in May. Restaurant staff took down all of Sama's particulars but then refused to accept her reservation because "the computer was down." Suspecting that there might be discrimination involved, the couple decided to record subsequent conversations.
Sama called back and once again tried to make a reservation under her own name, but was refused. Mahmoud immediately called the restaurant and was able to make a reservation for "Tamir," for the exact same time and date. Sama then called back and once again tried to make a reservation under her own name. She succeeded in doing so only after reprimanding the restaurant hostess and revealing the trick they had played.
The couple then tried again earlier this month. Mahmoud called Soho and asked to make a reservation for two under the name Walid. The restaurant took his name and phone number, and transferred him to another representative, who asked for his particulars again. "Walid" was told there was no room for the day and time he was requesting: "It's all full, you can maybe try again later to see if something opens up."
Sama called the restaurant minutes later, and succeeded in making a reservation for two, for "Michal," at the same time and date. Sama says she later learned the same thing had happened to other acquaintances.
Maisa Grabali, a resident of Jaffa, said that after her sister, Manar, had tried to make a reservation at Soho for two under her own name and was told there was no room, she called back and succeeded in making reservations for two, at the same time, for "Anat."
Safouri posted the story on his Facebook page Thursday and received numerous responses as friends shared his story across the social media network. "This is the first time we've reached a level of disappointment that forces us to share this with all of you," he wrote. "It's important for us to note that the food in the restaurant is terrific, but their racist attitude is shameful."
Bar Cohen, a Holon resident who trained to be a hostess at the restaurant, told Haaretz there were specific instructions to politely refuse reservations from Arabs. "They said, 'OK, when someone calls and you have to answer the phone, what do you say?' And I answered, 'Hi, you've reached Soho, this is Bar.' And they said, 'No. First you have to ask, 'To whom do I have the pleasure of speaking?'"
Cohen said her trainer made it clear what that question was for. "'You're asking because you want his name, to hear if he's an Arab or not,' she said. And I looked at her and asked, 'Why is that relevant?' And she said, 'What do you mean, why is it relevant? You know we're one of the most successful restaurants in the country, and we don't want to ruin our good name. If people see Arabs here, they will leave the restaurant. It's happened to us more than once.'
"At the end of the day, they called me to assign shifts and I told the shift manager that this was a racist restaurant, that they should be ashamed of themselves and I didn't want to work there," said Cohen.
Many users posted comments on Soho's own Facebook page, where the page administrator wrote on Saturday, "Since the issue is indeed important to us, both as a company and in order to maintain the great relationship we have with our guests of all nationalities, we will respond later on and things will come to light. Meanwhile, we are enjoying the exposure and the interaction on our page."
Despite two calls to Soho by Haaretz Saturday, there was no response from the restaurant's management.