Pizza and politics

Isaac Azencot has created a slice of America in his Derech Hebron Pizzeria.

pizza obama 248.88 louie (photo credit: Louie Lazar)
pizza obama 248.88 louie
(photo credit: Louie Lazar)
Step into Isaac Azencot's new Jerusalem eatery, observe the décor, and you just might think you've stumbled into the dorm room of an ardent young Barack Obama volunteer. Newspaper and magazine clippings of the US president are scattered about the walls: Obama on the cover of Time magazine, Obama posing with former prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu, Obama getting a group hug from supporters. In fact, aside from a kosher certificate, a photo of actress Angelina Jolie and a silver mezuza, the restaurant - located on Derech Hebron across from the Old Railway Station - is a veritable shrine to the new US president. "The first time I saw Obama on TV, I liked him," says Azencot, an Israeli entrepreneur who opened Pizza Obama just days after the former Illinois senator's electoral victory in November. "I liked his attitude. The way he spoke, the way he sees things. I think he's a clever man and I believed in him. So I named the place after Barack Obama!" A black menu board, featuring an American flag and Obama's name in bright red letters, informs patrons of their ingredient options in English and Hebrew. Slices with plain cheese are NIS 10. Add a topping - choices include pineapples, olives, mushrooms, tuna, and peppers - and pay NIS 12. Azencot says a vast majority of customers "love" the name of his restaurant, although every so often a patron will complain. ("The pizza is good, but change the name," he's reportedly been instructed). In addition to thin-crust pizza by the slice and by the pie, Pizza Obama also sells gum, ice cream bars, cigarettes, beer, Red Bull and vodka. The store remains open until 1 a.m., but Azencot intends to soon push that forward to 5 a.m. to accommodate late nightclubbers seeking a post-party bite. Azencot, a veteran of the Jerusalem nightclub industry who once owned a sneaker shop in Los Angeles called Shoe Freak, says plans are also in the works to open up a sandwich cafe nearby. The name of that restaurant? "Sandwich Obama!" he shouts. Of course. The proprietor also claims a personal connection to Obama. Their grandmothers were once classmates in Kenya, he says. "My parents told me that," he says, adding that "People also tell me I look like Obama." If the new leader of the free world were to ever stroll into his restaurant, Azencot says he'd offer Obama some advice. "I'd tell him to be strong and that if he's going to be a good president, he must make peace here in Jerusalem," says Azencot, who acts as though an Obama visit were entirely plausible. "And the second thing I'd tell him is to change all the cars in the world from gas to electricity." In the event of a long-shot Obama appearance, however, the US commander-in-chief might find his preferred pizza topping absent from the menu. According to high-level Chicago culinary sources, Obama's favorite restaurant, Italian Fiesta Pizzeria, specializes in sausage and cheese pies - not exactly the kosher type. But whether or not Obama and his security entourage ever step into Azencot's pizza parlor, the Israeli owner nonetheless has high expectations for the new administration. "I just hope Obama's as good a president as the taste of my pizza," he says.