Voices of Jerusalem: Bohemian baristas

Loren Minsky speaks to Amit Shechter, the warm, down-to-earth owner of coffee house Nocturno in the city center.

DESIGNERS (photo credit: itraveljerusalem.com)
(photo credit: itraveljerusalem.com)
"Nocturno is a very special place," says Amit Shechter, owner of the homey coffee house that acts as a gathering place for a creative and eclectic crowd from the surrounding neighborhoods of Nahlaot and town. "Many people sit here every day all day with their laptops. We're like a small family," Amit adds.
Amit grew up in Tel Aviv but as a teenager lived in Switzerland for two years before moving to Jerusalem where he worked at Nocturno as a barista while taking his final school exams. Later, Nocturno changed ownership and Amit became manager and then five years ago he became a co-partner in the business. In the process, Amit studied Psychology and Musicology for five years at the Open University.
"I never wanted to be a psychologist or professional musician," says Amit. "I was simply interested and wanted to learn more." Though Amit is a passionate academic and plans to spend his life studying, it is at the café that he really shines and is most at home. "I am a people's person and a natural host. I've always enjoyed entertaining – preparing and serving food and drinks to friends – and I get to do that here."
Although there are an abundance of coffee shops in Jerusalem town center, Amit claims that not many grasp the feeling of community like Nocturno. "When we see someone walking through the door, we know immediately what they'll drink." Amit believes the secret also lies in the amazing house blend of coffee and in the people that work at the cafe.
Nocturno used to be a lot smaller but now more and more tables sprawl onto the Bezalel sidewalk. The business is continuing to burgeon and toward the end of December is moving to a space in the adjacent Designers in the City compound, which serves as a working and selling space for over 20 talented designers. "The compound has always relied on us for a boost," shares Amit, who is looking forward to co-operating even further.
The new space promises to be a kind of bohemian haven and will offer an expanded dairy menu as well as intimate live music and art exhibitions. The current premises will serve as a boutique store selling a unique blend of coffee and other branded items. "Nocturno has become a product," explains Amit. "Our repertoire is funky and homely at the same time, and I believe that's something that people like to buy." "Nocturno is one of the last places that haven’t really changed," says Amit. "It's not about chasing a trend; rather it's about living day by day and evolving slowly." Amit compares the café to something out of Paris or Amsterdam, and emphasizes that it's not “Tel Aviv-ish,” which according to him is "all about chasing something that doesn’t exist.”
Nocturno do not have kosher certification but offer a thorough list of all the ingredients used and their kashrut status. Most ingredients are kosher but at the moment they also have two products from abroad without certification. "We believe kosher is about a relationship built on trust between a place and a customer, and a lot of people respond enthusiastically when we show them the list," says Amit.
"The café is my second home, or my first, depending on who you ask," grins Amit. "Often I don’t have to work shifts, but I do it anyway as I love it so much." Amit admits he's not so good at delegating, though he tries to let go and take one annual holiday a year. Last year, Amit escaped to the Dead Sea, which he regards as "so close and yet so magical.”
"I believe that if you're a whole person you can be better at everything that you do," says Amit. He used to sing acapella in a small ensemble, is working on improving his German and has plans to study law. "I am privileged to learn what I want, and to earn my living from something else," says Amit. But time is one resource that Amit feels he is lacking in.
Amit feels more at home in Jerusalem than in any other place. He is optimistic about the city and salutes Mayor Nir Barkat's efforts at encouraging arts and culture in Jerusalem. "The fast train to Tel Aviv would be a real enhancement to Jerusalem," says Amit. "It's a disgrace that the two largest cities in Israel are connected by a train that was built by the Turks.”
"Regarding the current situation, I just want to live in peace," sighs Amit. "I'm all for the ceasefire, and hope it will last. I also hope that one day a long-term solution will be found. It's important to work together with Abu Mazen [Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas} and non-violent leaders."
Amit reflects that a lot of people are nervous about Nocturno's transformation to a large space, and fear the place will lose its trademark cozy style. "But I'm sure that if there is one thing that we will take with us, it's the feeling," shares Amit. "It's all about the people."
Nocturno's grand opening at Designers in the City will take place on December 20.ITravelJerusalem.com is a new online international travel portal offering all the latest information on things to do, places to eat and places to stay in Jerusalem.