By Zach Mandeville
“Nosh. It means to snack. Like, let’s nosh on some appetizers until dinners ready.”
I’m sitting next to Hava Aviv as she translates Yiddish phrases to me in the old Cielo Blu location. My dinner plate had been filled with Challah, hummus, tabbouleh, and casserole, but I’d quickly consumed all of it and was eying the food table again, looking for something else to nosh.
Hava is the co-owner of Kitzel’s Deli along with Irina Gendelmann. Kitzel’s is a Jewish delicatessen slated to open at the end of this year in the spot next to Batdorf and Bronson. Though the grand opening is still a few months away, Hava and Irina threw a potluck and Shabbat dinner last Friday, to bring folks together and update them on the deli’s progress. Kitzel’s, from its first spark, has been about serving and building the community, and they want to get started as quickly as possible.
“Shabbat is about cleansing yourself of the stress of the week and preparing for contemplation. The sun is setting, with it goes the worries of the week, and the candles invite reflection.”
The Shabbat meal starts with the lighting of candles and the breaking of Challah. Since a lot of the diners tonight are not Jewish, just friends of the deli or dashing reporters, Hava quickly and eloquently explains the symbolism of the candles and the prayers being said by the other half of the group. The idea for Kitzel’s formed a year ago, when Hava and Irina met at a Jewish peace dialogue following the Co-op’s Israeli products boycott. They wanted to create a space downtown with a positive Jewish identity that reached out to the entire community, and they wanted to feed people some kick-ass food.
“Our smoked herring is to-die-for,” Irina tells me, running through the menu they’ve currently planned, “There’s just no place downtown for good salted and smoked fish.” They are still in the exciting formation phase, and it’s hard to tell how many of the ideas will make it to opening day, but the base idea of Kitzel’s is solid and promising. Freshly made boiled and baked bagels, Challah, and Rye bread. Sandwiches, locally harvested salads, and seasonal specials. Blintzes, knishes, piroshkis, smoked meats, and delicious Eastern European cuisine.
Hava and Irina come from different cultural and culinary backgrounds. Hava is a practicing Jew whose life has revolved around cooking–from growing up in a family restaurant, to working in various diners and cafes, to living in a collective house where she cooked the house meals. Irina is an atheist originally from Saint Petersburg. She explains to me that in the Russia of her youth, the Jewish community had to practice their faith in secret, or internalize it as family traditions.
“A lot of the food I grew up with and family traditions I practiced, I didn’t realize until coming here that they were Jewish foods and Jewish customs.”
The menu of Kitzel’s is a melding of Hava’s and Irina’s backgrounds and the broad spectrum of Jewish identity, with traditional Jewish, Russian, and Eastern European food mixed with stuff Hava and Irina just like serving to their friends. If the samplings at the dinner are any indication, the quality will be stellar. A remarkably textured and flavored couscous featured delicious Chantrelle mushrooms Irina had harvested. Hava’s Challah was beautifully knotted and wonderfully soft, but more savory than other Challah I’ve tried, with sesame seeds, garlic, and onions mixed in with the poppy seeds on top.
Hava laughs, “Yeah, traditional Challah is usually poppy seeds only. I make an everything Challah!”
Friends, family, and community are incredibly important to both of them, and a guiding principle for the deli. Or, as Hava puts it, “We feed the community and the community feeds us.” They’ve been very open and personal during this entire process, updating friends and fans on Facebook and their blog, accepting donations and suggestions from the community, and running booths during Arts Walk and Capital Pride. They’ve worked to hard to make Kitzel’s feel like a shared Olympia experience.
When I first arrived I staked a solitary spot at a far table, to revel in my role as the awkward, outcast reporter. But the table quickly filled with other folk. A girl to my right was complaining to her politely-listening older friend, “Sometimes people call me a SIXTH grader.” A group to my left was speaking in the intimate, hand-on-forearm manner I assume of old friends, until I realized (with some writerly eavesdropping) that they were asking each other where they were from. Remnants of the old restaurant were still up, glass blown chandeliers and curvy tables and a chalkboard promoting pink martinis, but the room had filled with an easy, cozy warmth and I scooted my chair over to join in the conversation.
Though the deli is still a few months away, the space already feels like it’s theirs.