From Urban to Urbun

One of Mahaneh Yehuda’s newest eateries undergoes a menu makeover

Among the buns offered: The blueberry cheesecake with blueberry espresso sauce and the peanut butter cup with warm peanut butter sauce and bittersweet chocolate chips. (photo credit: JOSH ADMON)
Among the buns offered: The blueberry cheesecake with blueberry espresso sauce and the peanut butter cup with warm peanut butter sauce and bittersweet chocolate chips.
(photo credit: JOSH ADMON)
Josh Admon, owner of the new-to-the-shuk Urban Cafe, always knew that he wanted to be a chef.
The 37-year-old grew up in Los Angeles, and from a very young age, always loved cooking and serving people. Admon’s aunt owns a bakery and a restaurant, so it runs in his family. He continued cooking as a hobby, but eventually gave up on the idea of being a chef and went to college. Admon began washing dishes to earn money as a student, which eventually led to him cooking again.
Once the spark was reignited, his passion burned to the extent that a crazy idea popped into his head and wouldn’t go away; to drop out of college and go to culinary school.
“I don’t know if I regret it, but I did it,” Admon shares. “My mother was not so happy. I went back to LA and enrolled in a small culinary school. I was there for two and a half years, also working as a caterer.
After I graduated from culinary school, I started working at a cafe in Hollywood. From there, I decided that I wanted to go abroad.”
Admon found a company that helps people who want to work and live abroad; with their assistance, he secured a job and a place to live in Holland. He worked in a hotel for a year. Then he began applying to Michelin starred restaurants all over Europe. He received some responses and went on a few interviews in various countries. Eventually, Admon chose a restaurant in London called Monsieur Max.
“It’s a nice place,” he recalls. “The chef had just gotten his first star. I was very excited about it and was there for a year and a half. From there, I wanted to go for more, so I sent my resumé to two- and three-star restaurants.”
As Admon worked his way up the Michelin star ladder, he found himself in France, working for a renowned chef and learning classic French culinary techniques.
Unfortunately, his stay in France was cut short due to losing his working visa. He went back home to LA and was directionless for a time. He didn’t know what the next chapter of life would bring him. So he decided to take some time off and go on a vacation to Israel, like so many young people do, through Birthright. He had been to Israel many times before, as his father is Israeli.
“I grew up in a more traditional home. My family went to a Conservative synagogue,” he relates. “But I was always connected to Israel because it was a Zionist home. I wanted to come here, see family, travel around, and just spend time here. Long story short, I ended up in Aish HaTorah.”
Once Admon settled into the learning environment with other newly religious men, he met his wife and got married. He then gave up cooking and sat in kollel (yeshiva for married men) for the next 10 years. During that time, he would cook on the side; working as a personal chef or cooking for the yeshiva, but it was no longer in the forefront. About a year and a half ago, he decided it was time to leave kollel and get back into the culinary world.
“It was a big part of me that I let go of and something that I really missed,” Admon says. “It could have been brewing for a while internally, but it wasn’t something I was so conscious of until I couldn’t ignore it anymore. It wasn’t just a part of my life; it was my life and I had kind of kicked it to the curb. One day it just hit me like I got run over by a truck, and I realized that I wasn’t taking care of that part of me.”
Making the leap from learning in a kollel for 10 years to getting back into the culinary world was not an easy one. Admon began looking for work, but didn’t find any options that were particularly exciting. So he did what any entrepreneurial spirit would do – he decided to open something on his own. He wasn’t sure what he wanted to do exactly, but there were hundreds of ideas swirling around in his head. The first plan that he settled on was to open a high-end meat restaurant in the classic French style with a high standard of kashrut.
“In my circles, I see that it’s something that’s really missing,” Admon adds. “There’s no mehadrin fine dining here in Jerusalem. I built a menu, did a lot of research and was looking for a place, but I came to the conclusion that it was going to be too much to jump into; such a huge investment and risk.”
He decided to focus on something a bit more prudent and practical for his first culinary venture. He thought that the Mahaneh Yehuda market was the safest place to open up a restaurant in Jerusalem. He saw that it is a place where people really appreciate good food.
“Ishtabach, for example, is not the most sophisticated dining experience, but it’s very good,” he states.
“People who are putting out a good product are doing well here.”
He briefly thought of a Mexican restaurant, but then learned that both Burrito Chai and Crave offer Mexican fare in the same vicinity. Not wanting to over-saturate the market, he decided to focus on light food that didn’t compromise on taste; salads, sandwiches and pizzas with a twist. Admon went for what he thought was missing.
Things started out well when Urban Cafe first opened in June; dishes like the Asian cabbage salad and the tuna melt had customers coming back again and again. But Urban Cafe’s menu recently went through a dramatic change. While Admon had been receiving excellent feedback on the food and saw the clientele base building, the decision to completely alter the menu was a mixture of many factors. One was personal: he has a family and the number of hours required to keep Urban Cafe going was starting to take their toll. Admon began to resent the 16-hour days, even though they could also be very rewarding.
“I have a family and I was a little bit over my head,” he says.
“I wasn’t giving enough of the appropriate attention. Instead of focusing in on one or two items or a particular concept, I was very wide and shallow, as opposed to narrow and deep. I have tremendous overhead and a lot of workers. So I decided to try and figure out what I could do on my own; something a lot more focused and clear.”
Admon saw that Urban Cafe’s desserts were going well. So he decided to home in on that as a concept to build upon, in the hopes that eventually it would be strong enough to serve as a base for even more menu items. Being grounded and focused were the two main goals. Urban Cafe is now serving coffee, smoothies and an array of cinnamon buns. In fact, the whole menu is various kinds of creative takes on cinnamon buns.
“The idea was to take a cinnamon bun and beef it up with all different things that I’m making, like syrups and jams,” Admon explains. “It’s an amazing product. I believe in it. It’s very far from where I started, from my original idea, to where I am today, but I came into this open. You have to be open-minded, see what’s working, and make adjustments.”
Urban Cafe’s new menu officially launched the first week of September.
Featured items include the classic cinnamon roll, the breakfast bun topped with all-natural yogurt and homemade granola, the blueberry cheesecake with blueberry espresso sauce, the peanut butter cup with warm peanut butter sauce and bittersweet chocolate chips, the strawberry blonde with rich cream cheese frosting and a savory strawberry preserve, and the peach cobbler with peach jam infused with fresh ginger and crushed lotus cookies.
Time will tell if Admon’s menu makeover proves to be a hit with customers, but for now, he has the peace of mind to know he changed courses with integrity and purpose.
“It was a big change and emotionally it was hard, but on the other hand, at the end of the day, the business is very important and my health is important, too,” Admon states.
“You look around the shuk and you see that the people who are doing well are focusing on one product. The shuk is like one giant food court. Most people are offering one thing that they do really well.”
Urban Cafe 5 Hashikma Street, Mahaneh Yehuda For more information: Among the buns offered: The blueberry cheesecake with blueberry espresso sauce and the peanut butter cup with warm peanut butter sauce and bittersweet chocolate chips.