Broke Tycoon Ejected From Tel Aviv Restaurant

Chef at upscale eatery takes to social networks to bemoan ‘unforgivable’ behavior of Nochi Dankner, who has debts of $120 million; in rare interview, the former IDB head admits to living off others' money.

The Italian restaurant Pronto.
David Bachar

Until 2014, Nochi Dankner was the most powerful businessman in Israel, controlling the country’s biggest conglomerate, IDB Holdings. His empire included cellular networks, retail, air travel, insurance and real estate. But because of the debts his holding company accumulated, Dankner lost control of his empire.

It would have been hard to believe two years ago that a chef in a gourmet Tel Aviv restaurant would unceremoniously eject Dankner from the premises – but that is exactly what happened over the weekend. Dankner, whose personal debt is an estimated 500 million shekels ($120m), was kicked out of the Italian restaurant Pronto by chef David Frenkel.

And Frenkel was not satisfied with just kicking Dankner out of his restaurant: He also took to social media to shame the ex-tycoon.

“It is true the customer is always right up to the point where he treats my workers disrespectfully,” Frenkel wrote in a Facebook post after the run-in with Dankner.

The businessman "was kicked out of the restaurant not because he returned a dish or complained about the music. He was kicked out because he humiliated my workers and treated them arrogantly – and that is unforgivable. A waitress is not a servant. And even if he is rich, and she is a woman who earns her living as a waitress, that does not give him the right to treat her disrespectfully."

Nochi Dankner walking down a corridor at Tel Aviv District Court, December 2015.
Ofer Vaknin

Frenkel deleted an Instagram post in which he had boasted he had expelled Dankner after the businessman called the restaurant and asked to apologize to one of the waitresses caught up in the incident.

"It was big of him in my eyes to understand that he should apologize," wrote Frenkel, "so I immediately took down the [Instagram] post. But the media damage has been done.”

Dankner also responded on Facebook: “During a family dinner at Pronto, we asked to exchange a meal that we saw as inedible. To our surprise, the chef refused this innocent request. He came to the table and humiliated us. Despite this, we stood our ground about paying the full bill, including the meal that was returned, as well as gratuities – and that is how it was. Later, I called the chef and asked him to send an apology to the waitress for being caught in a situation that was totally not her fault.”

Haaretz asked Dankner how he could allow himself to eat at an upscale restaurant when he had enormous debts.

“You have to understand,” said Dankner in the rare media interview. “A person who is going to pay tens of millions of shekels to the banks can’t pay 800 shekels for a meal at Pronto? It's ridiculous to think that a man won’t pay 800 shekels to Pronto in order to repay debts and will return 70 million shekels in the coming year.”

Chef David Frenkel.
Daniel Tchetchik

Where does the actual money come from? You have a credit card? They didn’t cancel them? If a man has a 100,000-shekel debt, the bank shuts him down from all directions. How does it work in your case?

“I receive assistance from people who appreciate me, and love me and also believe in my ability to bounce back.”

So you’re living off other people’s money?

“For the moment, to a great degree, yes. Certainly.”

Dankner’s stock manipulation trial is expected to end soon. This relates to the issuing of IDB Holdings shares in February 2012, when 321 million shekels were raised.

Dankner is also negotiating with banks headed by Hapoalim and Leumi to reach a settlement over his 500-million-shekel personal debts. With no deal yet reached, Dankner continues to live in his Herzliya Pituah home, which is valued at 45 million shekels.