A fusion of food and geography

Andres Gonzalez, with his creative flair for South American cuisine, and Silvia Liplewski, with her business acumen, like their restaurant, are a fascinating fusion.

ANDRES GONZALEZ, 30, AND SILVIA LIPLEWSKI, 31 (photo credit: Courtesy)
(photo credit: Courtesy)
Andres Gonzalez, 30, and Silvia Liplewski, 31, natives of South America, grew up in Colombia and Venezuela, respectively, and met and married in Israel. Their tale combines tragedy and romance, numbers and nourishment.
Sitting with the lunchtime diners at Pepito’s, the popular Mahaneh Yehuda eatery that he founded and operates, Gonzales exclaims, “I love to be in the kitchen!” He wears an infectious smile as he recounts his journey from the rain forests and coffee plantations of his Colombian upbringing, to the bedroom community of Tzur Hadassah, about 10 km. southwest of Jerusalem, where he lives today with his wife, Silvia and baby daughter, Shira.
Gonzalez grew up with his parents and three brothers in Medellín, Colombia’s second-largest city, which was once known as one of the world’s most dangerous cities during Pablo Escobar’s drug cartel wars of the 1980s. Gonzalez, whose father is Catholic, did not receive a Jewish education as a child. Tragically, his mother died when he was nine, and after her passing, relatives from his mother’s side of the family took him to visit Bogotá periodically, where he learned and studied Jewish practice and customs.
Just a two-hour flight from Medellín, but with an upbringing light-years apart, Silvia Liplewski grew up as a key member of the then-vibrant Jewish community of Caracas. Silvia’s mother’s family came from Morocco, and moved to Caracas in the 1960s. Her father, who was born in Poland in 1950, lived in Israel as a toddler, but times were difficult in 1950s Israel, and his family, upon the recommendation of a relative living in Caracas, followed soon after.
“I was the most involved kid in the Jewish community. I was in the youth movement, Israeli folk dancing, the theater group of the Jewish community, I sang in every single ceremony, I was super-involved,” she says. “Everybody knew I was going to end up in Israel.”
After high school, Silvia spent a year in Israel on a World Maccabi program. She returned to Venezuela, studied for two years in university, but “my heart belonged here,” and made aliya in 2007. “I am a victim of the Jewish Agency,” she jokes. “After that program, all I wanted to do was come back to Israel.” Liplewski studied at Hebrew University, where she received her BA in statistics and sociology, and continued her studies at Bar Ilan, where she earned an MBA degree.
Meanwhile, Andres, who had always enjoyed cooking, was still in Colombia, studying to be a chef at a polytechnical university. His late mother’s family was much more observant of the Jewish faith, and encouraged him to move to Israel. In 2007, bolstered by their support, Andres and his younger brother, Eitan, moved to Israel. The brothers first lived in the northern kibbutz of Sde Eliyahu for six months, and then moved to Elazar, in Gush Etzion. Gonzalez studied Hebrew in an ulpan, attended Hebrew University, and eventually moved to Jerusalem’s Kiryat Menachem neighborhood. He supported himself by cleaning houses, but his first love was cooking, and he worked as a chef in an Old City eatery. In 2010, he opened a dairy restaurant in Jerusalem, in partnership with his brother. After six months, they sold the restaurant. Their inexperience in the restaurant business, coupled with Eitan’s marriage, made it too difficult to continue.
In 2014, Andres and Silvia, part of the community of Spanish-speaking South Americans living in Israel, finally met. “I came up with an idea of having a theater group in Spanish, and looked for people to join the theater group, and he was one of the people who wanted to join,” Silvia explains.
Three years later, in May 2016, Pepito’s opened in Mahaneh Yehuda. Silvia explains that “pepito” is the term used for Latin street food – chicken and beef sandwiches sold in Venezuela. The restaurant’s menu, with its wide array of sandwiches, tortillas and pitas, reflects the culinary traditions of Colombia, Venezuela, Cuba and Argentina. In August 2016, Andres and Silvia were married.
Andres is the creative leader of Pepito’s and the chef. “There is nothing like this in Jerusalem,” he says proudly. The Mahaneh Yehuda market houses many upscale and imaginative eateries like Pepito’s, and Andres says “Americans – especially those that keep kosher – are the best customers,” since kosher Latin American food is not widely available in the US.
Silvia, who works in the Central Bureau of Statistics, helps manage the business, and promotes it via their Facebook page. Andres admits that running a restaurant is difficult, and that “you have to give all that you have to succeed,” but he is happy.
Andres misses his friends and family in Colombia, and the stunning scenery of the La Guajira beaches, but appreciates the safety of living in Israel. “You can walk around at two in the morning with your phone or your laptop, and nothing happens.”
Silvia, though she has lived here for 11 years, has a hard time confronting the chutzpah of some of the country’s residents, but concedes that despite the occasional rudeness they are “really caring.” She hopes that their 10-month old, Shira, will be able to handle brash residents better than she. She speaks wistfully about the unity and love within the Jewish community of Caracas, whose numbers have shrunk in recent years due to antisemitism and the country’s economic crisis.
The couple enjoys living in Tzur Hadassah. “We love it, it’s a growing community with amazing people, lots of young families with small kids, great air and a breathtaking view.”
Andres Gonzalez, with his creative flair for South American cuisine, and Silvia Liplewski, with her business acumen, like their restaurant, are a fascinating fusion of Morocco, Poland, South America and Israel.
“I think we make a pretty nice team,” she says.