One Man's Meat

Michal Palti
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Michal Palti

Bashara Hinawi says he used to be one of the "Jaffa boys": he drove a black car with the windows down, music at full volume and had drag races in the streets. He would have been ready to spend his days like that for all eternity had it not been for one thing: He is the grandson of Najib Hinawi, who came to Jaffa at the beginning of the 20th century and opened a butcher shop, which is operating to this day. The good family ties came into play and he has become a third-generation entrepreneur - expanding and promoting the business beyond the traditional outlook of the founding family.

About a week ago Bashara Hinawi presided over the opening of the family's logistical center and expanded delicatessen at 180 Yefet Street in Jaffa. Inside the deli there are four cold rooms, TV screens above the counters that show cooking programs and cartoons and refrigerators with every kind of meat. There is also a long list of suppliers who want their products sold alongside the chilled meats. On Independence Day, there will not be a busier shopping site anywhere in the central region.

About two years ago Bashara Hinawi was behind the opening of the branch of the butcher shop in New Ramat Aviv, which caters to a clientele that does not usually get to Jaffa. It is there, in the cafe next to the delicatessen where Hinawi has established an improvised office, that the interview takes place. It is quite early in the morning, moments before the opening of the new logistical center in Jaffa and Bashara finds it quite hard to complete a sentence without his mobile phone ringing.

Divided entrepreneur

Bashara Hinawi, 30, is a divided yuppie entrepreneur: He has advanced the family business and opened new branches, but he acquired his extensive knowledge from his father in traditional ways. He knows nearly every chef in Tel Aviv and develops recipes with them, but as an Arab Christian born in Jaffa he continues to suffer at the airport when he travels abroad. The most important business turning point for him occurred after the October 2000 incidents in Jaffa, but he defines himself as a non-political person. He loves the good life and defines himself as tolerant, yet he met his wife in a traditional way and he finds beauty in this.

He is the son of Nikola and the brother of Roger and Najib. "Nearly everyone works in the family business and therefore the business can't miss even a single day, because there is no one to fire." Some members of the family have chosen other branches of trade: His grandfather Najib's brother is a beverage importer; Bashara's brother Roger ("He was born in the 1970s and named after Roger Moore") left a position as an accountant and joined a client of his in a trade in plumbing items.

Bashara has worked in the butcher trade since he was 10 years old: cleaning refrigerators, storing meat, hauling crates and scrubbing floors. His father, he says, did not exempt him from anything. On the wall of his father's home in Jaffa hangs a picture of the family tree and pictures of members of the family: a Jordanian branch, a Canadian branch and a Jaffa branch. "At family gatherings like weddings or betrothal ceremonies, we're easily 500," he says. When Bashara was 4 years old, his father Nikola packed up his belongings and immigrated with his family to Canada to try his luck. The six years there gave Bashara foreign citizenship and, he says, "tolerance and openness to all religions, customs and ways of life, which have made me a tolerant Tel Aviv-Jaffa person." When he returned to Israel at the age of 10, the family's economic situation had improved and he was enrolled in the Scottish School in Jaffa, "where there were mostly diplomat's children and me."

Rebellious child

He says of himself that he was "a wild and disorderly child, and to this day my father does not believe I'm holding the business together. He [My father] had a method that in retrospect is better than any business management school: Every time I did something that displeased him, he would yell at me and throw me out and promise that until I improved I would not be able to come back. He used to say that `work in the family business is only for those who know how to work.'"

He remembers the work at the butcher shop as the only framework they set for him in his childhood, and it was not always easy to deal with it. "Because we are Christians, our busiest workday was always Saturday, and so I had to clean refrigerators, clean floors and pluck chickens when all my friends went to the beach. I had moments when I cracked and every time I played hooky, my father would throw me out of the business and send me to work for the friends with whom I played hooky. And thus at the age of 10 I sold sunflower and watermelon seeds, I installed jalousies, I painted and I whitewashed. It was impossible not to work, and I found myself doing every odd job, and my father would ask me, `So, are you happy now?'"

Fortunately the rebellious child grew up into a young man very practiced in the meat business. He agreed to study at the Management College ("The whole Hinawi family is very good at mathematics. This is our great good luck") and also had a brief series of supplementary lessons from the menu planner the Tadmor Culinary and Hotel School. "They threw me out because I dismembered the chickens even before the class began. It took me just one look to know everything there is to know about meat. I was simply bored."

Life changes

The change in his life occurred following the incidents of October, 2000, when 13 Israeli Arabs were killed by police while dispersing demonstrations. Jaffa and other Arab cities in Israel became the arena of street fighting: stones where thrown, roads were blocked and Yefet Street was paralyzed along its entire length. "Then for the first time I encountered customers who were punishing me for being an Arab from Jaffa. Customers who said to themselves, `If they dared to throw stones in Jaffa, we're not going near there now.' This was very hard. I felt I was being judged because of a few bored kids who threw stones in the street. It didn't matter that they had bought from me for years - there were customers who were simply afraid to come near and disappeared."

After two years of particularly slow business activity, Bashara Hinawi looked for a solution in the only way he knows: In the summer of 2003 he opened a delicatessen in the Ramat Aviv neighborhood because "if the customers aren't coming to me - I'll go to them." People in his family raised an eyebrow: What connection is there between Hinawi and Ramat Aviv, and why leave Jaffa? "But I didn't ask. I bought a store and we began to work on the opening. Here my father, who had been short with me in every other area, gave me an absolutely free hand." The delicatessen in Ramat Aviv proved to be a success from the very first day - "Even I was surprised," says Bashara Hinawi, "way beyond my expectations."

He is opening the new center in Jaffa "to provide more merchandise for Ramat Aviv." The family purchases the meat from exclusive suppliers, according to him, "and therefore we are the only ones who don't sell mutton from the Australian breed of sheep, which is difficult to cook. Our leg of lamb is different, without the smell, and we always, always have it available, even when it can't be found elsewhere."

The years of work at the butcher shop and the delicatessen have endowed Bashara and his brothers with habits that may look a bit strange to an outsider. "During a work day I can eat portions of raw, spiced meat because I taste all the mixtures," he explains. "And if you've tasted and got accustomed to uncooked meat, you don't understand why you need to grill it because it is tastier raw."

Respect for tradition

Bashara is married to Nadai and is the father of Chantal and Nikola, 4 and 1. He met his wife in the traditional way: "For us to go out - my parents had to ask for her from her parents. On every date we had to be back by midnight, and we went out for two years before we got married, without going abroad together and without spending more than a few hours at a time together. At that time this annoyed me, because I had already seen how others live. Today I say that perhaps this wasn't so terrible, to respect tradition, maybe there's something beautiful in this." His wife Nadia works in the family business in Ramat Aviv and Bashara says he is "a father who invests, who spends time with his children and not just at work, and is pleased that his wife works."

In his extended family he is unusual not only in his sense of entrepreneurship (at the delicatessen they also offer grill services for events, recipes and frozen meat delicacies) and his appeal to a different clientele: It is hard to ignore Bashara Hinawi's weakness for fashion labels, from the Prada glasses, his Hugo Boss shirt, the Mephisto shoes and his stylish haircut. "I've always been like that," he says. "Even as a boy in Jaffa, I was attracted to nice clothes and I spared no expense. I worked at cleaning refrigerators in the most expensive clothes, and I don't have any clothes in my closet that I don't love. In my family they couldn't understand why a boy needs to buy pants to work in at store in Tel Aviv. But I love it and I'm not prepared to compromise and I always look for something that nobody else will have.

"I don't have much time to go out shopping," he says, "but when I shop at the Ramat Aviv Mall or Kikar Hamedina, they are on the alert," he laughs. "I'm a good customer. And maybe I should have studied fashion design? It's not too late, is it?"