Israeli chef, restaurant owner and cookbook author Einat Admony ― the powerhouse behind famous New York falafel chain Taïm, Middle Eastern restaurant Balaboosta and New York’s first couscous bar Kish-Kash ― is hopeful about the year ahead. “Change is coming,” she says in this Voices in Food story, as told to Anna Rahmanan. Although forced to permanently shutter Kish-Kash during the pandemic, Admony is still operating her other eateries, albeit offering different menus to fewer diners. Here, she discusses her role as a woman inside a restaurant, the difference between American and Israeli patrons and the changes she hopes to see in the near future.
On being a woman in a male-dominated industry
I want to say that maybe I’m a better boss, because as a woman, I have more compassion and I’m sensitive ― but I don’t know if that’s true. I met some men that are super sensitive and they’re great. I do think that when women succeed, it’s more grounded. Especially since I’m a mom as well, I’m a bit more grounded and any success won’t change me. I will treat people the same.
I think that a lot of my cooks and my employees love that I’m a woman because I make sure they eat lunch and if they are sick, I am more nurturing. I treat them like my kids. Have I been treated differently because I’m a woman? I’ve been asked this question many times. I don’t think so. There is one thing I have: I’m Israeli and I grew up in the military with a lot of alpha men, and so I developed thick skin.
If you had asked me 10 years ago about how I did it all, I would have said it’s not hard, that you can make it. But I was the owner of a business from the beginning ― I opened my own place, it’s not like I worked for somebody. I had a leverage that most humans never have, so it’s not fair to say it’s easy.
On how the business has changed since her first restaurant opened
When I opened my first place, Taïm, in 2005, it was a different story. I opened that place with 10% of what I opened my last restaurant with ― a fraction of the cost. Fifteen years have passed and all industries have changed ― the rent, payroll, minimum wage — everything. It became almost impossible to have a restaurant and I think we were very lucky to open a fast-casual spot in 2005. All my colleagues back then were surprised because I came from a fine dining background. Then, a few years later, they were looking to open a burger chain or a hot dog joint because they realized, especially after the 2008 recession, that all the restaurants were closing and nobody had money to spend at these fancy places. The industry changed a lot.
On being a Jewish restaurant owner
I try to never take comments personally unless someone means them purposely. I was never the kind of person that thought that because I’m a Jew or I’m dark, I am treated differently. Never, ever. I think it’s a little bit different for Black people here because there is so much history and so much bitterness and so many more things that it is always personal for them.
Advice for up-and-coming women chefs
If a woman is passionate about the kitchen, there are many ways to get into the industry. The food industry is so wide now that you don’t have to work in restaurants to be in it.
“You have to put boundaries when you want a family life.”
I also put up boundaries. I am not religious at all, but I grew up in a very religious family. I married a non-Jew, a French guy, and the one thing I kept very strongly is Shabbat dinners on Friday nights. Even my husband would never work on a Friday night, there is no way. I will close the restaurant before I’d work then. I have challah and light the candles and I enjoy having that tradition with my kids, and it’s a feast that I prepare from Thursday or Friday morning. You have to put boundaries when you want a family life.
On the difference between Israeli and American diners
Dining out is much more trendy in the United States, especially in New York. I think Kish-Kash had that problem: people loved it, packed it for three months and then something new and cool came up and people forgot about it. Americans have a short attention span and need to go to the new hip place.
Israelis are also tougher clients. They are much harder for the good and the bad, so if they don’t like it, they’ll tell you in your face, which is a good thing because then you can improve. Americans stay back a bit more ― they will write on Yelp but won’t tell you to your face, so it’s a little bit tougher. When Israelis like something, they will definitely tell everybody about it and support you, and that’s something I really like.
On how the industry will change post-COVID
I really hope that landlords are going to get some help from the government so they don’t need their rents to be so high and people can actually open restaurants and don’t need to charge too much. For me, it was very hard to have so much competition in New York, especially from people that don’t come from the industry. Every Wall Street guy that has a few bucks in his pocket opens a restaurant, so it’s very hard to compete with people who only know how to run a restaurant through social media promotion.
I’m such an optimistic person, though. I want to believe that this is going to end up OK in the end. I hope that by next year, it’s going to go back to normal slowly.
I think this year is great. It may be horrible to say, but this is going to be the change and you are already seeing it. You need somebody crazy like President Donald Trump to wake people up about how we’re not all liberal and open-minded. Half of this country is crazy and thinks that somebody like that needs to be in power, which is a big problem. So I think there is change coming. I’m very hopeful.