How veteran businesses are surviving the coronavirus pandemic

"The secret to our family-run hotel is to stay strong during difficult times, to always have a smile on our face and to remain optimistic no matter what.”

Jaffa bed and breakfast: Long-term room rentals and rooftop events help it stay afloat (photo credit: Courtesy)
Jaffa bed and breakfast: Long-term room rentals and rooftop events help it stay afloat
(photo credit: Courtesy)
Beit Ha’esek Falafel first opened its doors in 1948 just across the street from Haifa’s legendary Oriyon Movie Theater. It was founded by two friends: Hasan Bastuni, a former soccer player for Maccabi Haifa, and Shlomo Sofinson, a Holocaust survivor who at some point sold his share in the business to the Bastuni family. 
“My father was a professional soccer player, but because you couldn’t really make a living as a professional athlete in those days, he started a business together with Shlomo,” explains Hasan Bastuni Jr., who is currently one of the co-owners of the falafel shop.
“Shlomo and my dad built the place up from scratch, and they slowly grew the business, which quickly became a household name in Haifa. For many years, the business was considered a symbol of coexistence in the city, an institution that fed both Jews and Arabs.”
What makes your falafel restaurant business stand out?
“’We’ve been using my family’s secret recipe for making falafel balls that has been passed down from generation to generation for 72 years now. We never compromise when it comes to the quality of our ingredients, we throw out all the leftovers at the end of the day and start afresh every morning. Many others have tried to replicate our falafel, but so far no one has succeeded.”
According to Bastuni, when the coronavirus outbreak began, their falafel business faced hard times just like every other business, even though thankfully their regular customer base remains loyal to this day. “We offer warm and friendly service to our customers, and our courteous service gives our product excellent added value,” continues Bastuni.
“As a result, our customers love coming back to us consistently and eating at our falafel stand. We use only the freshest and highest quality raw materials and of course we insist on excellent hygiene. Even during the lockdowns, our customers continue to order take-out falafel and hamburgers from us. We understand that for a food-related business to survive, you always have to be figuring out how to reinvent yourself, so we recently opened a bakery and are selling all sorts of tasty baked goods. This is helping us to survive the crisis. Our loyal customer base is what’s giving us the strength to survive.”
ROKACHMAN, a cookie and wafer manufacturer that markets its products under the trade name Man was founded in Bnei Brak in 1954, which was during the tzena (austerity) years in Israel. The factory was built by Menachem and Penina Rokach, and they produced wafers manually with the help of machinery. Over the years, they upgraded and grew their business and then finally built a large factory in the Ramle Industrial Zone. 
“Our story is woven into the history of the State of Israel,” claims CEO Avi Packer, Menachem and Penina’s grandson. “We’ve survived all the good times, as well as all the hard times Israel has gone through. We’ve faced and overcome many challenges, but to tell the truth, the coronavirus has caught us off guard. Even though it may not have been an economically sound decision, we decided to keep using only locally-sourced products. Thankfully, we’ve been able to continue production as usual throughout the past year despite all the restrictions.”
According to Packer, they’ve managed to survive the current economic crisis while complying with the new health regulations by splitting the workforce into a number of separate shifts and thoroughly cleaning the surfaces of the machinery. 
“It’s not been easy though, since many people prefer to sit at home and receive unemployment benefits instead of working,” continues Packer. “When all of a sudden a number of employees need to quarantine at home, this throws a wrench into our shift schedule and sometimes the production line gets bottlenecked. But somehow we’ve managed and have always been able to find people to fill in when emergency situations arise. The work always ends up getting done. We’ve spent a lot of time and effort preparing strategies for these types of situations.”
THIRTY YEARS ago, Sharon Amid and her husband, Arnon (Zalman) decided to open a bed and breakfast in Jaffa. “It was my late husband’s dream,” explains Amid.
“He loved traveling, meeting new people and hosting friends. So, in 1989, we took an old run-down building and spent an entire year fixing it up. Finally, it was ready to open and we were so excited to finally be able to host tourists and friends. Unfortunately, not long afterwards the Gulf War broke out, which threw us for a loop and it was extremely difficult to keep our heads above water. Luckily, we were successful and survived the hardships – maybe because we had such an optimistic attitude towards everything.”
Amid goes on to talk about all the times when business suffered due to terrorist attacks and other periods when few tourists were visiting Israel, and yet still nothing prepared her for the difficulties she’s been facing recently as a result of the coronavirus. “Over the years, we’ve had to use savings to get us through difficult times, but having to close down for three months during the first lockdown was really hard.”
What have you done to keep the business alive?
“Well, after the first lockdown [when] we realized that tourists would not be allowed back into Israel anytime soon, we decided to rebrand ourselves for Israelis. We had a few bookings, but then the second lockdown came and we had to close again.”
What did you do?
“I didn’t give up. We have a great rooftop, so I began promoting this space, which is perfect to hold a small wedding. For a while we got a little business from the rooftop, and then I decided to let the rooms for long-term rental, and all the rooms are now being rented out. This isn’t nearly as profitable, but it’s enough to help me keep the business afloat. I’ve held a few fantastic jazz and blues concerts on the roof for the residents that were held according to health regulations. I’ve had to cut down on staff, but I’m always coming up with new and creative ideas how to make the best of the situation. That’s the only way to survive a crisis.”
IN THE 1930s, Dr Alois Shtarkman purchased a plot of land near the seashore in Nahariya for the price of what was then the equivalent of three monthly salaries. Then, in 1959, the Shtarkmans opened the Shtarkman Erna Hotel, which currently is run by the founders’ granddaughters. “Our hotel was an important establishment in Nahariya and was known for its special character,” explains Orna Shtarkman, who co-owns the hotel with her three sisters. 
“Add to that the fact that the hotel was near the seashore and had a wonderful warm feeling as a family-run establishment. The hotel has endured a number of economic crises, and every time we’ve managed to come out unscathed at the end. In 2001, after my father Michael, who’d run the hotel for many years, passed away, my sisters and I decided to continue the legacy our parents had left us. So we completely renovated the hotel, while holding on to a few precious family traditions, such as serving our famous apple strudel that my Great Aunt Erna used to prepare for guests.”
And then the coronavirus outbreak struck…
“Yep, and it has not been an easy time at all. Our clientele is mainly made up of people traveling for business, most of whom are now holding meetings by Zoom. So we sat down together for a family brainstorming session and decided to put together a plan to change directions. We’ve held on to our older employees and have not furloughed any of them. We also have remained in constant contact with our employees that were put on furlough in the hope that we can bring them back in as soon as things go back to normal. We’re like a big family. 
“We took advantage of the first lockdown to do some renovations. The secret to our family-run hotel is to stay strong during difficult times, to always have a smile on our face and to remain optimistic no matter what.”
“WE BEGAN our business by producing the hottest titles in Israel’s music industry. Later on, we also started representing musicians,” recalls Pedi Yitav, who founded the Pedi Group in Tel Aviv in 1983. “The first musician we signed was Dana International, when she came out with her hit Saida Sultana. From that time on, we’ve been working with Israel’s leading musicians, including Yigal Bashan, Uzi Fox, Ruthi Navon, Sherry, Sharon Haziz, Haim Moshe and Tararam.”
What kind of challenges have you faced over the years? 
“The hardest periods were definitely during wartime, terrorist attacks and the intifadas,” continues Yitav. “We would always have lots of cancellations during these periods. The best way to get through the difficult times is to figure out how to adjust your business to the current times. For example, during wartime, we took advantage of the time to work on new concepts for shows in underground bomb shelters or in hospitals. You need to adapt yourself to the situation at hand and create content that is fitting for the current economic situation. You make cuts where it’s necessary.”
Have you been able to make these types of adjustments during the coronavirus?
“It’s true this recent crisis has been like no other, but there’s always room for change. It’s impossible to know how long it will last, so we’re trying to work accordingly. For example, in addition to holding concerts virtually, we’ve also been organizing small venues in people’s yards as well as concerts on trucks. We’ve done our best to cut down on expenses and keep morale up. Of course, we’re not bringing in nearly as much money as we normally would, but we’re managing to keep the business alive and doing our best to provide work for the artists we work with. Most of them are managing with a little work here and there. I predict that by September 2021 things might begin to go back to normal. Until then, we need to continue behaving like a chameleon and keep updating our strategy to the changing situation. 
“Our motto is: bend with the wind and remain flexible.”
Translated by Hannah Hochner.