Cafe Scene: Cafe Hillel

Walking along the beach promenade in Eilat some two weeks ago, I came across an oversized banner announcing the opening of a Cafe Hillel in the city.

cafe hillel 88 (photo credit: )
cafe hillel 88
(photo credit: )
Cafe Hillel Hilton Queen of Sheba Mall Eilat Tel (08) 633-1322 Open 7 days Dairy, Not kosher Walking along the beach promenade in Eilat some two weeks ago, I came across an oversized banner announcing the opening of a Cafe Hillel in the city. Curious, I followed the sign into the Hilton Queen of Sheba Mall, and there found the familiar red-black color scheme associated with Hillel coffee shops. The originally Jerusalem-launched coffee house chain's newest branch that opened last week seemed to be welcomed by residents and tourists alike. The place was packed. While coffee-house culture is prevalent in Tel Aviv, Jerusalem and Haifa, it is not a way of life in Eilat. Many residents of the country's southernmost city explain they simply prefer to hang out without tourists. Nearly all the city's eateries are located along the beach boardwalk or in vacationers' districts. In the last few years, however, cafes have reorganized their strategies to attract both tourists and Eilat residents alike. And so, when Hillel opened its doors in late December, patrons included both visitors and inhabitants. "Eilat residents have thanked us for coming," says Yaniv Golan, one of the three owners of Hillel's 16th franchise. Cafe Hillel (that was originally started by Yossi Sherf, 37, and his family) differs from the other cafe options in this city in terms of its interior design and menu. This place has added style and pizzazz to the mall in which it is located. Seating ranges between white wicker chairs, black and red couches, silver bar chairs, or black, white and red plastic seats. While dining in a mall is one of my pet peeves, Golan explained that because summer in Eilat is so hot, he and his partners had to have an air-conditioned location in order to survive. He said they were looking into the option of expanding the coffee shop to the mall's rooftop so as to offer those of us who prefer the outdoors an alternate seating area. In true Hillel style, ordering is done upfront and waiters serve food to the table. During my visit, waiters were still learning the system and service was friendly but a bit slow. While other coffee shops in the area inflate their prices in order to milk tourists, fare at Cafe Hillel costs the same as at the chain's other branches across the country. To attract Eilat residents, Hillel offers them a 12 percent discount. The food is dairy (and kosher, save for the fact the cafe is open on Shabbat). It's a light-meal menu offering including sandwiches, salads, quiches, desserts, and, of course, drinks. The flavorsome coffee is Hillel's private label. While in Eilat I was staying on a half-board basis at what is considered to be one of the city's more exclusive hotels. I was wholly disappointed with the food there, and found the salads to be less than fresh. As such, I was super excited to be served a crisp and delicious salad at Hillel. This little cafe that could, that first opened in Jerusalem's Hillel Street in 1998, has slowly climbed up - and now down - the length of this country.