Voices of Jerusalem: Taste it through the grapevine

Loren Minsky speaks to Tzion Anavim, 59, the man behind legendary restaurant Shipudei Hagefen on Agripas Street.

Tzion Anavim of legendary restaurant Shipudei Hagefen 370 (photo credit: Courtesy)
Tzion Anavim of legendary restaurant Shipudei Hagefen 370
(photo credit: Courtesy)
"The story begins in June 1978 when I was working as an Egged bus driver," says Tzion Anavim, the owner of Shipudei Hagefen restaurant in Jerusalem. Shipudei Hagefen is known by tourist groups and locals for the excellent Oriental-style food, skewered meats, stuffed vegetables and huge variety of salads on offer.
"I was innocently driving my bus (line 12) from Damascus Gate to Bayit Vagan when out of the blue the bus exploded," shares Tzion. The bus was completely destroyed, six people died (four of them children) and approximately 20 people were injured including Tzion.
After a bout in hospital, Tzion was discharged with a cast over his entire torso. It was a challenging time as Tzion and his wife had a son who was a year old. "I wanted to do something productive with my time away from work while I recuperated so I decided to do a year's course at Tadmor culinary school," says Tzion. "I loved it!"
Tzion then did a half-year stage at the Hilton Hotel Jerusalem, now the Crowne Plaza, where he picked up many of the skills that he still uses today.
After a total of two years, Tzion returned to work at Egged. With his new-found cooking experience, he was asked to manage the Egged Restaurant in the old Central Bus Station. Tzion worked in this role for eight years and left in February 1988 to start his own restaurant.
Tzion's new restaurant focused strongly on tour groups. At the time, there were an increasing number of terror attacks meaning that tourists avoided Bethlehem and the Old City, and flocked to Tzion's more centrally-located restaurant instead.
Just before 2000, Tzion opened up another three restaurants: one in Hotel Mount Zion, one in the Jerusalem House of Quality and one near Sacher Park, the fish restaurant Ahavat Hayam). He closed or sold all the restaurants in 2001 due to increased terror attacks and only re-opened Shipudei Hagefen ("grapevine skewers" in English) in its current location. Tzion's full name is Tzion Anavim (Gefen in Hebrew) hence the restaurant's name.
Famous for its stuffed vegetables and vine leaves, the menu is rich and varied and includes excellent falafel, high quality varied meats, kubeh soup and Yemenite pitas. The restaurant is known for its homely atmosphere with Jerusalem-themed wall murals, live music upon request and warm service.
Tzion works an average of 12 hours a day, not only overseeing the management of the business but working as the head chef as well. "Although it's hard work, I love my hours at the restaurant. Like fine wine it gets better with time," beams Tzion. "But thank God for Shabbat and the opportunity to rest."
"I relax with a game of bowls three times a week at Mercaz Tsipori near Yad Vashem. The bowling green is in a spectacular location in the middle of the forest," he explains. Tzion is also an ardent fan of football and is an avid supporter of Betar Yerushalayim and Barcelona.Passionate about Israel, Tzion recounts how he simply is not interested in travelling the world. "I enjoy exploring the North and the South of Israel, and also love the non-stop buzz of Tel Aviv."
"I was born in Jerusalem and view it as the most beautiful city in the world," says Tzion, whose parents are from Kurdistan. "I don't even mind the noise or the traffic on Agripas Street. It's what makes the area as special as it is." But the hustle and bustle of working in the center of things is offset by living in the quiet residential neighborhood of Ramot, where Tzion and his family have lived for the past 35 years.
"2013 is a big year for me and the business. I'll be 60 and the business will be 25 years old. 25 years in the catering industry is worth 50 years as a lawyer or in a governmental position," chuckles Tzion. "The business is like a well-oiled machine and has worked soundly for ten years, but I am tired now," admits Tzion.
Tzion aims to sell the business next year, take a pension and take it easy. "I want to spend time with my wife, three children and two grandchildren."
"My dream is to teach others about the restaurant industry and to help people open their own businesses," says Tzion. "There's no need for people to make stupid mistakes and for businesses to shut down after only a year when there's a lot they can learn from veterans."
"The various intifadas have played a major role in shaping my life and my choices –contributing to my decision to change careers, to open the business initially and to close the other restaurants. But I am happy with the way things have turned out. I would do it all again."
74 Agripas Rd, Mahane Yehuda(02) 624-3030Kosher Mehadrin
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