Voices of Jerusalem: Vying for vegetables

Loren Minsky speaks to 60-year-old Barry Sibul, the man behind the popular vegetarian restaurant, Village Green.

Barry Sibul 311 (photo credit: Courtesy)
Barry Sibul 311
(photo credit: Courtesy)
“Vegetarian food can be the opposite of tasteless and boring,” shares Barry Sibul, owner of the famous Village Green Restaurant on Jaffa Street in downtown Jerusalem. ”And it offers the added bonus of good health.”
Village Green is somewhat of a Jerusalem institution with 30 years of history. In addition to hundreds of regulars, the restaurant continues to draw both tourists and Israelis alike with its wholesome hot dishes, fresh salads and scrumptious desserts.
“I originally became a vegetarian for ideological reasons. I wasn’t happy eating animals, and was convinced that I could be well fed and healthy without having to eat meat or fish. It grew from there when the physical and mental benefits became obvious.”
“I left South Africa in 1975 at the age of 24 after studying law. When I arrived in Israel, I studied Hebrew at the Arad institute and soon after met my wife, Nadine, who was born in Morocco and grew up in France. She too is a vegetarian and we share a passion for tasty vegetarian cuisine.”
“I began working in special needs education, but when our second child born was born; we realized we needed more income. Since there was nothing like Village Green in Jerusalem at the time (around 1980), we thought we’d try to fill the niche. We went to Tel Aviv and bought an oven, a few chairs and the basics and opened up shop on Shlomzion Road.”
“The restaurant was a regular a la carte vegetarian restaurant. I did the cooking and my wife handled the baking. In 1985, we decided to sell the business in order to move to England where I studied herbal medicine and naturopathy. We returned to Israel in 1990 and re-opened the restaurant under the name Village Green, this time resembling its current self-service model. My wife and I both prefer the concept of being able to see, choose and be in control of what’s on your plate and what goes into your mouth.”
“When we started out, we were inspired by Moosewood restaurant in America, and Cranks in London, both of which offer imaginative vegetarian food. Over the years we’ve learned what our customers like and we make sure to offer the same staple dishes like baked tofu, baked chips and brown rice. From time to time, we try new recipes and add something innovative and fresh.”
“The best part of my job is being in the kitchen. I love it and look forward to giving both the cook and the baker a break once a week. At home, I like to experiment and enjoy making Indian food, risottos, and banana bread. However, I also enjoy simple food, like brown rice, vegetables and lentils. The best meal I’ve ever had? It was in a tiny vegetarian restaurant in Forest Row in Kent, England. The chef was a woman who prepared a different meal each day. It was outrageously good.”
“The restaurant has a strong family feel. My wife, Nadine, is the bookkeeper and buyer and helps out behind the counter from time to time, and my one son, Omri, is a partner in the business. We also try to create a sense of home and community for our employees and it’s a tremendous feeling to watch them evolve and return as successful doctors and lawyers. We see our customers like family too, and enjoy sharing in their good times. Many couples have got together in these four walls.”
“Operating in central Jerusalem is a rollercoaster ride – one doesn’t know what the next day will bring. We’ve been through intifadas with bombs exploding outside the restaurant, ten years of light rail construction and also many good times. It’s a microcosm of working and operating in the volatile Middle East region.”
“To balance the intensity of working in the center of the city, I unwind on the tranquil moshav where we live by cooking, bicycle riding, and gardening. One day when I retire, I’d like to grow my own herbs and make tinctures.”
“Expanding to the German Colony and downsizing the Jaffa Road branch were good business moves. Where to next? For now, continuing to get the message out there to the broader public that vegetarian food can be exciting and satisfying.”
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