Operations

Restaurants wade in on both sides of Israel-Palestine conflict

Amid calls for peace, fundraising efforts offered an outlet for solidarity and action.
Hummus for a Cause
Alon Shaya's Pomegranate Hospitality is raising money for aid to Israel with each order of hummus. |Photo by Mike Thurk.

In the second week after a brutal attack on Israel by Hamas and the ongoing violent response in Gaza, there were protests, prayers and solidarity demonstrations across the U.S.

Restaurant operators across the country took to social media to express their views and raise money for aid organizations on both sides of the conflict.

Unlike the war in Ukraine, chain restaurants have largely remained silent on the outbreak of violence in Israel and Gaza— with the exception of Starbucks.

The Seattle-based coffee chain last week expressed sympathy for “those who have been killed, wounded, displaced and impacted following the heinous and unacceptable acts of terror, escalating violence and hate against the innocent in Israel and Gaza.”

The chain also countered what it described as misinformation from union groups organizing coffeehouse workers that had reportedly expressed solidarity with Palestine, though the social media posts have since been deleted.

Starbucks said the views expressed by a group calling itself Starbucks Workers United and its members “belong to them and them alone.”

The conflict has also reportedly divided some McDonald’s franchisees operating in the region, according to Insider. Last week, McDonald’s Israel announced plans to give away free meals to members of the Israeli Defense Forces, while McDonald’s Oman, also known as Al Daud Restaurants LLC, said it donated $100,000 toward relief efforts in Gaza.

Meanwhile, independent restaurant operators across the U.S. were more vocal on the conflict, promoting fundraisers and generally calling for peace.

The Philadelphia restaurant group CookNSolo, for example, co-founded by Israeli chef Michael Solomonov, last week dedicated 100% of proceeds on Oct. 12 from the group’s Philadelphia restaurants to United Hatzalah, a non-profit civilian-led organization that provides emergency and medical assistance in Israel.

 

On Instagram, Solomonov posted that that $100,565 was sent to the organization. Reports indicated there were lines at the group’s restaurants, which include the James Beard Award-winning Zahav, Laser Wolf and Lilah, as well as the more casual K’Far, Goldie and Dizengoff.

Alon Shaya, whose Pomegranate Hospitality operates the restaurants Saba in New Orleans and Safta in Denver, holds a monthly fundraiser called Hummus for a Cause, in which proceeds from each order of Tahini Hummus is donated to a cause close to Shaya’s heart, which in the past has included issues like gun safety, reproductive rights and the Anti-Defamation League.

This month, the hummus donation will help support Magen David Adom, which is like the Israeli Red Cross, the group said.

In a post on Instagram, Shaya expressed his “heartbreak, disgust, empathy, weariness and sadness” since the Hamas attack, saying it evoked the atrocities of the Holocaust, and that he stands with, and prays for, the people of Israel.

Shaya, however, also wrote that “It’s imperative that we draw a line between terrorists like Hamas, who murder innocent people and commit war crimes, and the Palestinian community. We also mourn the loss of Palestinian lives, of children, families—civilians who want nothing more than to live in peace.”

People are confused about whether it’s possible to feel empathy for both Israelis and Palestinians, he added.

“The answer is yes,” writes Shaya. “We pray for peace but know our path to peace will not be easy.”

Over the weekend, the new shawarma concept Döner Döner Kebab Kitchen opened in the Mission + Garnet Food Hall in San Diego.

A portion of opening day proceeds on Oct. 15 were donated to the United Israel Appeal’s Emergency Aid Fund, said Scott Slater, president of Apex Brand Collection behind the new food hall.

Slater, who is Jewish, said he hadn’t done much in the way of marketing for the fast-casual concept’s launch but he was shocked to see the turnout.

“We had a lot of Jews come in yesterday,” Slater said. “We had a lot of people come in who were impressed with us not being afraid to say we stand with Israel and the people of Israel. I got a little emotional myself.”

In Boca Raton, Fla., Way Beyond Bagels was selling blue-and-white bagels to raise money for the JDC, a Jewish global relief fund.

In Houston, New York Deli and sister concept Bagel Shop Bakery were also offering blue-and-white bagels, with all proceeds going to Israel’s Hadassah Medical Center, where a Houstonian was being treated after being wounded in the attack.

In Seattle, the restaurant Yalla is also raising money for the Palestinian Children’s Relief Fund, which supports humanitarian and medical aid. Since the Oct. 7 attack on Israel, the restaurant posted that it had raised about $3,600.

Operated by Taylor Cheney, who is not Palestinian but has been cooking food from the region for years, Yalla offers a menu of saj wraps, meze and atayef, a dessert that’s described as a sort of pancake around a pistachio filling.

On Instagram, the restaurant posted, “We do this because Gaza unlike other countries, will not receive the same kind of support, so it is up to us here to help.”

In other posts, however, the restaurant indicated that publicity for the fundraising efforts had ennobled some haters, who posted negative reviews, causing Yalla’s Yelp score to drop a few points.

“This is what happens when you speak any kind of truth on this situation,” Yalla posted.

In Brooklyn, the Palestinian restaurant Ayat has also experienced a wave of one-star reviews after the Hamas attack and again when The New York Times wrote about it.

But on Instagram, Ayat also posted that many have also expressed support.

“This has shown me there are truly kind-hearted people out here who understand a simple word called ‘be human,'” the restaurant posted.

UPDATE: This article was updated to clarify that Pomegranate Hospitality has yet to determine how much will be donated with its Hummus for a Cause fundraising effort.

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