When you step into Cafe Xoho in the heart of Tel Aviv, you might be forgiven for
thinking you had entered a trendy coffee shop in the heart of Manhattan, or even
central London. English is the primary language in this cute little cafe, and
everyone who walks through the door ends up speaking it, even the
Xoli Ormut Durbin, the brains behind the cafe – which has been
open for nearly two years – explains that she never intended for the place to
become an Anglo hangout, “it just kind of happened.”
Durbin, who grew up in Hong Kong, is a graphic designer by profession, but
decided that working with people excited her more.
She studied in
Australia, where she worked as a bartender and waitress while not in class, and
soon realized that developing relationships with people and pursuing her passion
for food was the direction in which she wanted to go.
“I was going to
open a coffee shop in Australia,” she says, “but places like this exist
everywhere there. Then when my parents told me they would be making aliya, I
decided that I would open my coffee shop in Tel Aviv so I could be closer to
Tel Aviv is famed for its distinct cafe culture, with nearly every
street corner housing a coffee shop. Most are filled day and night with locals
catching up on the weekly gossip or latest news. While most of these coffee
shops have a “Tel Aviv atmosphere” – whether that means serving all-day Israeli
breakfasts or staying open until the early hours of the morning – Cafe Xoho,
located on Mapu Street, near the corner with Ben-Yehuda Street, bucks the trend.
The menu is heavily influenced by American tastes, and Xoho provides a warm
environment for those who miss a good old New York sandwich. The
atmosphere is very relaxed, reminiscent of coffee shops found throughout
“I can see how people compare it to somewhere other than Israel,
but I think what makes it work is the fact that we are bringing those outside
elements to Tel Aviv,” says Durbin. “There are thousands of coffee shops
in Tel Aviv that serve Israeli breakfasts, but we have salmon bagels
What makes Xoho unique is the fact that at any particular time,
over 80 percent of the people sitting in the place will be English speakers,
catching up on the latest English-speaking gossip.
“It really has become
an Anglo hub. It’s not what I specifically planned for the place, but that’s
what has happened because of the menu, the atmosphere, the art and the
Since opening a year and a half ago, the menu has changed more
than six times; something that characterizes the dynamic and inventive vibe of
the place. However, there are four dishes which have stayed on the menu since
day one: salmon bagels, buffalo mozzarella sandwiches, homemade granola and tuna
melts. All are dishes with a very strong American influence.
the cafe to create a home away from home,” Durbin explains. “I left a very good
situation in Australia and it was very hard to make aliya. I have created this place that a lot of new olim
have found, and [for them] it’s like being back home.”
Xoli is proud of
the fact that people come to relax, work, sit and meet people. And a number of
customers have become her friends. It’s reached the stage where there are
customers who come in every day.
“If [the regulars] don’t come in one
day, then they are sick,” she explains. “I know everyone’s order by heart.
People come in the door and they don’t even need to order – and if for any
reason they do change their order, we always go and confirm it.
it here, and I really do feel at home” says Adam, 28, a regular customer at Xoho
who immigrated from the US. “It’s hard moving to a different country, and
although I want to integrate into Israeli society, I do miss my home
He says it’s nice to feel a sense of community, especially
when he is so far away from old friends and family.
She is quick to point
out that she does speak Hebrew, and loves it when Israelis come in.
of the Israelis, however, just don’t get it,” she says. “They ask questions
like, ‘Where is the tehina, and why don’t you have humous?’ They just don’t
Even though there are the odd few who can’t come to terms
with a meal without humous, many Israelis do understand about the cafe, and
these are some of Durbin’s favorite customers.
“The Israelis end up
speaking English when they are here,” she says. Even though all the staff speak
enough Hebrew to communicate with the Israeli customers, the customers just find
themselves naturally speaking English, almost like switching over into a
“I can give them Hebrew menus, and they will still order
in English,” she smiles.
The feeling of an Anglo bubble is reinforced by
the mostly English-speaking staff.
“I never put up an ad saying I want
only Anglos to work here; I think they come because they find a place where they
belong, and also it’s fun,” she explains.
“My head chef doesn’t speak
Hebrew and all the back-of-the-house system is in English, so if an Israeli
works here, then their English has to be good.”
A few Israelis have
worked at the cafe, but they clashed with other members of staff and didn’t fit
into the general functioning of the place.
“There is something about the
work environment; there are just different attitudes here. For example, telling
your boss how she should run the place – that’s a very Israeli trait I have
discovered,” she says.
Xoho is not just a place where Anglos can gather
to sit and chat about the trials and tribulations of a new life in Israel. It
was also opened to create a platform for art and music. There is always a
display of art on the walls, changing every two months or so.
is mainly students who take advantage of it, she invites people from all walks
of life to display their work, free of charge. A self-confessed “repressed
artist,” she is excited by the fact that she is able to put up other people’s
She is proud of what she has achieved, and of the creative
atmosphere that stems from a young, vibrant customer base and
“Most things here are very spontaneous and unplanned; I let
everyone be as creative as possible,” she says. “In the kitchen, I don’t tell
them what to do. I just provide the ingredients; they create the most amazing
Looking to the future, she is very optimistic, but is not
interested in creating a cafe chain. She wants to maintain Xoho’s individual
character that has made it so popular over the short time it has been open. She
is, however, open to the idea of creating a new brand with a different name and
a different concept using the skills and contacts she has collected from being
in the business.Cafe Xoho, 18 Mapu Street, corner Ben-Yehuda Street, Tel
Aviv. Kosher. Tel. 057-942-8318, 072- 249-5497.