Voices of Jerusalem: Spaghetti king

Loren Minsky speaks to Binyamin Hudja, 35, co-owner of a number of successful Jerusalem restaurants.

Binyamin Hudja (photo credit: Courtesy)
Binyamin Hudja
(photo credit: Courtesy)
"I always wanted to be in the restaurant business," says quietly spoken Binyamin Hudja, one of the owners of Kedma and the Spaghettis restaurants, who is known by almost everyone as Benny. "I loved entertaining and hosting even when I was a teenager."
Benny's parents worked in governmental roles while Benny was growing up but supported their son's ambition.
After the army, Benny travelled around South America and then lived and worked in the United States as a waiter and bartender. Impressed by the professional, highly equipped kitchens in New York, Benny resolved that the kitchen and front end of his future restaurant would be of the same high standard.
When Benny returned to Israel in 2003, he looked around for a business to buy with high-school friend Moshik Cohen and settled on a restaurant on Rabbi Akiva Street in central Jerusalem. They later sold the restaurant in 2006 and opened Spaghettim on Hillel Street.
At the time Benny was studying law in Rishon Lezion although he never had plans to work as a lawyer.  "What I learned is a good tool for business and management," says Benny.
"Learning helps build you as a person, even if ultimately you don’t land up working in that career."
In 2009, Benny and Moshik opened up another Italian restaurant The Spaghettis in the upmarket Mamilla Alrov Avenue. The restaurant offers home-made pasta and fine Italian ingredients adapted for the Kosher Mehadrin market. Then, a month and a half later, an amazing space opened up next door with a huge outdoor terrace overlooking the Old City walls, Jaffa Gate and the Dormition Abbey. Benny and Moshik saw the venue's potential and opened up Kedma Brasserie.
"We knew it would be difficult to attract people as we're not located downstairs on the avenue with people passing by all day," says Benny. "We thought there'd be more chance of people finding us with both a meat and dairy offering (separate kitchens of course)."
Kedma offers meat dishes with an Israeli, American and French influence, and the restaurant is known for its laid-back outdoor lounge parties, particularly in summer.
Benny spends most of his day making sure everything flows smoothly, and compares the restaurant business to a machine – with people instead of screws. "You have to wind people in the right way to make sure they do their job," reflects Benny. "It's low-tech and all about people." Benny enjoys the non-stop motion of working in a restaurant and the noise, bustle, and excitement.
Benny admits that his job can be stressful but loves what he does. "The best part is getting great feedback and seeing people take pleasure in good food and service," says Benny. He unwinds by exercising, cycling and reading and makes sure to take breaks at quieter times of the year. Benny enjoys travelling and is ardent about Sinai, Italy, the South of France and San Diego.
Benny grew up in Kiryat Hayovel and now lives in the suburb Beit Hakerem in Jerusalem. "Jerusalem is a lot deeper than any other city. I love the air here and its particular beauty," shares Benny. "The city is filled with diverse and unique people and attracts so many Israeli and international tourists. You can't live in a box here as not everyone is the same.
Patrons can be relaxing on our balcony on a Sunday when suddenly the church bells ring and remind them of the uniqueness of the location."
Benny is not involved with the cooking aspect of the business, but loves tasting and eating.
"One of my favorite dishes is sweet potato ravioli," says Benny, "But some days I just get by on chips as they’re the easiest to grab on the run."
Benny and Moshik complement each other and are involved in very different aspects of the business. "A good partner is one that completes the other, and we are lucky in that we do that very well," admits Benny. "The differences in any partnership can be challenging, but I believe they are what make a relationship most successful and rewarding."
Benny got married a year ago and has a two month old son. His plans for the future include building a family, and developing the business.
"Short-term, we are currently changing the menus over to winter ones with heavier foods and slow cooking methods," shares Benny. Benny sees customers becoming increasingly aware of the quality of ingredients and good value, and aims to continue to offer both and even further improve their culinary standards.
"What would I be in another lifetime? I've never considered that question," admits Benny. "I think I would go into architecture as I am passionate about the details behind buildings."
Despite the fast-paced nature of the restaurant business, Benny exudes a sense of calm and centeredness. "My secret is that I love what I do, and so everything comes naturally."
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