Teller Bakery: The crux of the Jerusalem bread renaissance

Israel is filled with bakeries and patisseries, all providing fresh, delicious options. In Jerusalem, one stands out at the crux of it all: Teller Bakery.

 ‘SOURDOUGH IN Jerusalem started with Teller.’  (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)
‘SOURDOUGH IN Jerusalem started with Teller.’
(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)

At Shabbat dinners around the world, there may be some constants – soup, salad and a main course, though prepared differently – but one item is certain: challah. Everywhere in the world, that is, except for one place, Jerusalem. 

In Jerusalem, something is different. Sitting at a Shabbat dinner, you are just as likely to find a freshly baked sourdough or baguette as you are the traditional braided challah

This phenomenon, unique to Israel and Jerusalem specifically, fits in the larger context of what it means to be a Jew living in the modern state. 

The Zionist dream to redefine Judaism, the “new Jew,” is ever present in Israel today. The tough demeanor of Israelis, alongside the melting pot of the country, has created a society that has broken barriers and positioned itself as a leader in most facets of life. Baked goods are no different. 

Bread aside, the country is filled with bakeries and patisseries, all providing fresh, delicious options.

 RINGING UP final purchases during the daily end-of-day sale. (credit: Troy O. Fritzhand) RINGING UP final purchases during the daily end-of-day sale. (credit: Troy O. Fritzhand)

In Jerusalem, one bakery stands out as the crux of it all: Teller Bakery.

Opened 14 years ago on Agrippas Street near Mahaneh Yehuda, Teller has become a staple in homes, restaurants and hotels around the city and country. If you have eaten at hotels like the King David or Waldorf Astoria, or restaurants such as Cafe Nadi, then you have tasted its creations.

Founder Michel Sultan recalls his journey from a career air force soldier to kneading the best bread in the city. “Sourdough in Jerusalem started with Teller,” he tells In Jerusalem. “There was a global issue that the yeast was too strong, so we decided to play around with different flours to create the perfect bread.” The Teller bakery solved the problem by using spelt flour and has been rolling out fresh breads daily ever since.

One noticeable feature of the bread – be it on a Tuesday or a Friday – is that the taste and quality are exactly the same. Sultan boasts about this. “The bread game is about having the same bread every day, with the same quality.”

Sultan is not shy about where the quality comes from – his team. Bread-making is a true artisanal skill, one that must be honed through intensive practice and failure. He says that people come from all over the world to learn at his bakery – and he pays them hi-tech equivalent salaries due to the level of work required. The key to good bread, he says, is the people. “The most important thing is to have a great team. With the best team, we make the best bread.”

“The most important thing is to have a great team. With the best team, we make the best bread.”

Michel Sultan

Starting at 5 a.m. until 2 p.m. six days a week, the bakery produces thousands of breads per day, approximately 2,500 of those being baguettes, its specialty. It also makes challah. Sultan says that Teller is the only bakery in Israel that uses sourdough starter in its challah – and it is the best seller on Fridays in the lead-up to Shabbat.

The bakery, which is kosher, has a separate area for parve goods such as breads, and a dairy section where the pastries are made.

And the demand keeps growing. A favorite among locals is Teller’s 50% off all bread after 7 p.m. (the bakery close at 8 p.m.). This deal is earlier on Friday, typically right as it is closing. An insider tip is that you can buy the bread, slice it and freeze it. Whenever you are ready to eat it, take it out and put it in the oven or toaster, and it will taste fresh. The bread must be pre-cut into individual servings prior to freezing, as it will be next to impossible to cut when frozen.

Sultan, despite owning a bread empire, can still be found at the shop every morning, though not always working the bread himself. It is under his watchful eye, though, that the baguettes are formed, the sourdough starters are fed, and the team is keeping up with the ever-growing demand.

Teller is not the only bakery making its mark on the city. Other local favorites in and around the Mahaneh Yehuda include Lehem Beri; Habia; and Bukharian Bakery.

SULTAN, WHO was born and raised in Morocco, did not start his career as a baker. In fact, he was an engineer in the Israel Air Force, serving for 25 years and working on satellites and drones after moving to Israel at age 16. After a long and distinguished service, he decided it was enough and looked for something different. 

He first went to France to train with some of the best bread makers in the world, honing his skills and bringing them back to Jerusalem.

“I always wanted to be the best in whatever I did,” he says. “Bread is no different.”

On the culture of bread, Sultan says that it all started with Teller Bakery. “It was a learning process; people did not know this type of bread. And now today, I really believe we have the best bread in the world.”

He laments about the cost of ingredients due to the war in Ukraine, especially wheat prices. This difficulty, though, has not stopped them. “More than quality, maintaining price is important.” Today, a baguette at Teller costs NIS 11 (the top bakeries in Europe sells them for 6-8 euros, or NIS 23-30) and has the features of a great bread – crunchy on the outside and soft on the inside.

Sultan recalls his mindset in the earlier days. “In the beginning, we tried to think like French bakers, but it was a mistake – because we are better.” This in itself is very much indicative of Israeli cuisine. Whereas a French or Italian chefs are judged by how well they make traditional French or Italian dishes, Israeli chefs and restaurants are judged by how well they can take the traditional and put their own unique twist on it.

Examples of this are chefs such as Eyal Shani, Assaf Granit and Yisrael Aharoni. The three, along with many others, have become internationally recognized for their style of cuisine. It is neither one type of food or the other; it is theirs. That in itself is Israeli food.

Today, Teller Bakery has five locations in Israel, with the main one operating in Jerusalem – home for Sultan. Its expansion has allowed it to give Israelis across the country a taste of real quality bread.

Sultan speaks proudly of the people he has served, including former US presidents Barack Obama and Donald Trump. Rumor has it that Obama said it was the best bread he ever had, and specially requested it throughout his stay in the Holy Land.

Legends aside, it is clear that the work that Sultan is doing is changing the face of bakeries in Israel. All along, he has helped to establish a thriving bread culture in Jerusalem, redefining what it means to serve bread on Shabbat – and on the weekdays – for those born in the country and abroad. ❖