A culinary shopping experience

A new food store in Ra'anana caters to the refined palate with extensive collections of kosher cheeses, wines, hard-to-find spices and cookingware.

fish or cheese 88 (photo credit: )
fish or cheese 88
(photo credit: )
When you enter Zaafran, you'll usually find Michel Tuito at the coffee, tea and wine section. As the section manager, he'll be making sure that all the large fresh tea jars and wine shelves are stocked; and if you're lucky, he'll be on hand to offer a free taste of the freshly ground coffee or Israeli produced boutique wines. That's because Zaafran, a new spacious food market in Ra'anana's industrial center, is more than just a health food store, delicatessen or specialty supermarket. The owners of Zaafran, which is Hebrew for "saffron," envisioned an interactive culinary center where anyone - particularly those who keep kosher - interested in improving their cooking skills or hosting talents can find exactly what they need, be it spices, cheeses, kitchenware or cookbooks. "I think a store that sells the hosting experience should give the customer an experience," says Eytan Day, co-owner of Zaafran. Day was inspired by similar markets around the world, such as Dean & DeLuca in New York and Kadewe in Berlin. "As lovers of food and wine, we asked ourselves why we don't have markets like these in Israel and came to the conclusion that no one took up the mantle." More than a year and a half and about $1 million have gone into building Zaafran, which started out as a conversation between Day and a chef friend of his. While not a professional chef, Day loves to cook and bake. As a CPA and business consultant, he worked on business plans for many other entrepreneurs and decided it was time to realize his own soul-felt business idea. The investment can be felt immediately upon entry. Unlike many Israeli shops and stores, Zaafran has not skimped on space or design. The products are artfully spread out over 500 square meters of space. Facilities include a cooking corner where customers can taste dishes created by chefs on site, and a state-of-the-art classroom for cooking workshops. "One of the aims of Zaafran is to make food items and techniques commonly sought out by professional chefs or food connoisseurs more accessible to the general public, particularly observant food lovers looking for fine kosher ingredients. People think if something is kosher, it's not tasty," says Zaafran manager Noah Izman. "People don't know that there are very tasty kosher foods, especially wine and cheeses whose makers don't want to miss the kosher market." The store is divided into seven sections: spices, tea, coffee, wine, international, baking and cooking, and the fromagerie. "The idea is to provide the envelope to the main dishes - from spices to ideas on how to present and prepare the dishes," explains Day. "We don't sell meat or fish, rather the cooking and hosting experience." The tea section includes more than 40 blends by the Israeli specialty tea company Calisto, placed in attractive, clear jars to give the customers the opportunity to smell the aromas. Coffee blends by the Caholi coffee company are ground on the spot and also sold by the gram. As a kosher market, Za'afran carries only boutique wines and limited edition wines from Israeli wineries. A wide array of gadgets and accessories for these beverages is also sold. The international shelf includes the often hard-to-find ingredients for Asian, Indian, Italian and Mexican dishes, as well as unique jams and sauces and organic and natural foods. However, if you want to buy the fresh produce, meat, or poultry for these dishes, you'll have to go to your local supermarket. A point of pride of Zaafran is the fromagerie, or cheese room, which features a large open refrigerator stocked with local and imported rare kosher cheeses. The section also includes a frozen food section with home-made frozen pastas, pastries, cakes and desserts (both dairy and parve) prepared at boutique shops throughout Israel. Ma'ayan Tavor, manager of the fromagerie, is on hand to answer questions and offer cheese samples. The baking and cooking corner, which can pass for a culinary gift shop, includes high-end kitchenware and cutlery, as the owners believe that the way food is prepared influences its outcome. "Many people like to use professional tools in the kitchen," says Day. "It gives you a better feeling and makes the food taste different, so to speak." The cooking classroom upstairs, however, will probably be one of the biggest draws for amateur cooks. Four large cooking platforms are spread throughout the large, temperature-controlled kosher kitchen so that small groups can prepare the dishes simultaneously with the chef. A large plasma screen will soon be installed to transmit the instructor's every move for all the students to see. Zaafran sees itself as a mini-cooking school and will offer one-time only workshops and series of classes. With all the amenities, design and nature of most of the items - natural and kosher - some customers may find the store pricey. "It's very expensive," said one customer who had just finished paying for chocolate for baking and Belgian waffles. "The chocolate was expensive; but it was quality chocolate, so the price is high everywhere. I looked around the store and it wasn't cheap - but they do have very special products." His wife agreed. "There are things here connected to sushi, cakes, baking and chocolate that are hard to find in other places." While impressed with the selection and spaciousness of the store, the concept, the husband said, was not new to him. It was when Taste, a professional kosher shop, first opened in the Ra'anana city center that he felt a certain void in the gourmet kosher world was filled. But Taste, he says, doesn't offer such a selection of wine, cheeses and workshops. Day, the CPA that he is, claims to have done his homework and is certain that his prices are reasonable. "People might think that since we stock quality products we are expensive, but we checked ourselves very well in the market. Just because you use quality ingredients doesn't mean it's expensive." Another first-time customer remarked, "I found pasta for lasagna that's hard to find in supermarkets." She didn't seem bothered by the prices. Ra'anana, as home to many upper-middle class observant Jews, may be the right location for the first branch of Zaafran. Day is hoping to expand around the country. And how is business so far? "We've been open for one month, and I can tell you that the demand is increasing. The number of people who enter the store increases every week. I think there is a demand, otherwise I wouldn't have invested so much money."