Katy’s charm - the story of a small restaurant owner

Katy’s Restaurant & Bar has been dubbed “the best restaurant in Jerusalem” by The New York Times.

Restaurateur Katy Ohana (photo credit: STEVE LINDE)
Restaurateur Katy Ohana
(photo credit: STEVE LINDE)

Katy Ohana laughs as she tells the self-effacing story of not recognizing Eddie Murphy when he visited her famous French bistro in downtown Jerusalem three decades ago – and she mistook him for the driver.
“I thought he was an American senator when the booking was made,” she says. “In those days, I was busy cooking in my bunker and I was not in touch with the world.”
That didn’t stop the charismatic Katy from charming the comedian, who – like most of her well-to-do customers – left with a broad smile after giving a big tip. It’s the kind of humor Katy needs now as she recalls the glorious days of the restaurant she opened in 1975 and ponders what to do during the pandemic.
“What I do is mostly for pleasure. I don’t want to go on TV and cry and say I can’t survive after four months of corona,” she says. “But I don’t know what to do – change the whole concept or make it attractive to everybody by providing the same atmosphere at a reduced price.” For now, Katy has decided on the latter option, offering customers a marvelous meal with a bottle of wine for NIS 150 (about $44) in a restaurant that’s considered expensive. She also provides takeaway à la carte dinners for families or celebrations of up to a dozen people.
Over the years, Katy has hosted many VIPs at her restaurant, from Brooke Shields and Philip Roth, to Ariel Sharon and Shimon Peres. It was the favorite of legendary Jerusalem mayor Teddy Kollek, and his deputy, Meron Benvenisti.
“I am very, very lucky,” Katy tells me. “After being born into a poor Moroccan family and growing up in an orphanage in Morocco, I’ve had an interesting life and met interesting people. I was blessed by God.”
As I sat with Katy and waited for the delectable dishes to arrive – from stuffed eggplant with basil and goat cheese to a beef fillet in a cream sauce that was definitely not kosher – I perused the photographs on the wall of some of the famous people who had dined there, many of them taken by Katy’s late friend, photographer David Rubinger. There is also a spectacular photograph of Katy on the day she opened the restaurant, taken by journalist Uri Avnery.
It has been dubbed “the best restaurant in Jerusalem” by The New York Times, an opinion shared by a recent client. A TripAdvisor member from Boca Raton posted in June that after eating at all of Jerusalem’s best restaurants, “Katy’s is hands down number one.” At Katy’s invitation, I went on Bastille Day for lunch on her. It was my way of supporting the struggling restaurant industry at this difficult time. I sat at the exquisitely set table next to a photograph of her Moroccan grandfather, Yehuda, who made brioche for the restaurant until the age of 100.
When I opened the menu, I read, “This menu is dedicated to the beloved memory of my grandfather, who gave me the love of work and of its perfection. He initiated me to the delicate art of the brioche, trademark of tradition and of the establishment’s continued success.” Under pressure from restaurateurs and the public, Israel has – for now – decided to allow restaurants to stay open, although it has restricted the number of people who can sit inside and outside. Katy’s Restaurant & Bar is the perfect place to celebrate life or turn any meal into a special occasion. When you next visit Jerusalem, I highly recommend you visit Katy’s. If she’s there, I guarantee you will leave with a smile. Just think of Eddie Murphy.