For the Oppenheims, food is their passion, but their family is their strength. Bodega American Kitchen in Tel Aviv is a little burger joint run by a big family – nine brothers and sisters actually, as well as their parents.
A popular eatery especially known for its kosher bacon cheeseburgers (made with beef bacon and vegan cheese) Bodega has become a staple since it opened some four years ago. Along with the American delicacies, patrons also are treated to the energy of the Oppenheims, who fill nearly every position at the restaurant.
“I always get, ‘Wow, isn’t it so hard to work with your siblings? Isn’t it a pain in the ass?’ And my first response every time is, ‘It’s exactly the opposite.’” said Feivel Oppenheim, Bodega’s chief revenue officer, and second eldest of the Oppenheim kids. “My family is a really special thing. We’re all really close. And what’s really cool is, in my family, we’re all very different.”
Feivel explains that this allows each family member to be able to take on the role that best suits their strengths. Feivel’s elder brother, Mendel, is CEO; his sister Rivka is chief operating officer, his brothers Ya’akov and Mordechai are line cooks, and his sister Bryna is the front seller.
They all served in IDF combat units, with some of them in commander positions.
“Like many start-up founders, we apply our military training to entrepreneurship, and we see our discipline and experience in combat units as a critical key to success,” explained Feivel, adding that even the younger siblings who have not yet entered the army, such as Zusha, who is nine, are welcome members of the family effort.
Father James was one of the founders of the American-centric Jerusalem Mahaneh Yehuda culinary institution Crave, one of the first eateries in Israel that features kosher bacon and vegan cheese offerings. Inspired by its success, and a visit in the US to the fabled Shake Shack burger franchise, Oppenheim’s kids told him they wanted to venture down the path he forged, but in Tel Aviv.
However, the Oppenheims’ affinity for serving quality food predates both Crave and Bodega by roughly 90 years.
In 1929, Feivel’s great-grandfather, Victor Rosen, immigrated from Poland to New York’s SoHo neighborhood, and opened up a small restaurant, The Grand Luncheonette on Grand and Greene Streets. As a new immigrant, Victor did not have many options, money or community. But, he did have his food.
“When you’re a new immigrant, you don’t speak the language... What’s the one thing that brings people together? Food,” Feivel said.
THE OPPENHEIM family business has grander ambitions than would have been possible for Victor Rosen. They describe their overarching company that encompasses Bodega – named Grand & Greene, after the location of their great-grandfather’s store in SoHo – as “a data, technology-driven [start-up] company,” and they want to expand to new markets and share their food with broader demographics.
How? Ghost kitchens.
These are kitchens that operate without a storefront and are designed to produce food for delivery orders. This eliminates the need for a restaurant to dedicate space for a storefront, pay waitstaff, clean dishes, etc.
Additionally, for the Oppenheim family, it allows them to operate different restaurant businesses out of the same kitchen. “There’s one kitchen, and from one kitchen you have multiple different brands,” Feivel explains. “From here I have Bodega; I have Dirty Dogs, which is a hot dog brand; and Wing Hub, which is a [chicken] wing brand.”
These brands are all part of Grand & Greene. While Bodega, the fan-favorite burger joint, is what you see from the street, there are actually an additional two food brands operating out of the kitchen.
The ghost kitchen model enables this, eliminating the time, manpower and overhead of a traditional restaurant, enabling the Oppenheims to dedicate all their energy and resources to preparing the additional food.
As a tech-driven start-up company, they’re oriented to look to the future. They want to be at the forefront of new food technologies, be in step with dietary trends, and pioneer new approaches to traditional ideas.
“We’re the new kosher,” Feivel says. “We believe that everyone deserves fantastic food. Enough of this old-school, (kosher)-food-having-to-taste-not-good, compromising-on-different-things, always hearing non-religious people say how much better non-kosher food is. That’s where we come in.”
Feivel freely admits that he himself doesn’t keep kosher, but explains that it’s a large part of why they’ve been able to perfect a kosher bacon cheeseburger.
“We know the flavors. We know what needs to be there so that it’ll taste like a bacon cheeseburger.”
But, why bother opening a kosher burger joint in Tel Aviv? It’s a highly secular city and many businesses don’t bother with kosher certification. Why would a secular family like the Oppenheims even attempt to serve an iteration of a food that is famously non-kosher?
“Because [we] respect [Judaism]. I respect the culture – that doesn’t come from a religious place.” Besides, after “2,000 years of exile, what, I’m gonna open a non-kosher place in a Jewish state? Really?” Feivel added.
THE OPPENHEIMS apply the same forward-thinking mindset to their dreams of expansion.
“Actually, I want to be all over the world,” including the Arab world, Feivel said. And, although that would bring with it its own set of challenges, the Oppenheims remain undeterred.
In fact, Feivel sees the food that his family offers as particularly well-suited to bridging historic Israeli-Arab divides.
“A lot of times we [Israelis and Arabs] just want things to be normal. Again, food brings people together. It doesn’t matter who you are. That’s what we want; we want to make the world a better place.”
The second eldest Oppenheim noted that the kosher food is both compatible with halal guidelines and good enough to compete in a crowded market. But bridging social conflicts is not the only way in which Grand & Greene is looking to the future.
“We believe in sustainability. We believe in the environment,” Feivel said. “That’s where also our vegan concept comes in.”
Feivel emphasized that veganism is the future of food. For this reason, the family is working on projects such as NextBurger, a new brand that Grand & Greene is initiating. “It’s our challenge to make [a vegan burger] as delicious and attractive as any meat alternative.” Although Feivel admitted that vegan alternatives are not yet on par with real meat, he seemed unbothered, citing strides in the vegan industry in recent years.
Furthermore, as a tech-driven start-up company, they’re well positioned to take advantage of some of the latest food innovations that make their vegan options as tasty as possible. Improving and building on what they already have, however, is a project that will continue indefinitely.
Just as 93 years ago Victor Rosen was poised to take on New York, the Oppenheims today are poised to take on all of Israel. Building on Bodega’s undeniable success in Tel Aviv, there’s no telling how far the Oppenheims will go. But it’s safe to assume that wherever they end up, it will be together, as a family.