Israeli restaurants in London are suffering a 50 to 60 per cent drop in business, four months after October 7.
Owners told the JC that the reasons included boycotts by pro-Palestinian activists and fears of going to an Israeli establishment while antisemitic attacks were at a high.
In the immediate aftermath of the Hamas attack, Israeli restaurateurs lost 95 per cent of their customers, and recovery is still a long way off.
Yekutiel Oz Sabbo, who owns Balady, a chain of falafel restaurants in Camden, High Barnet and Temple Fortune in north-west London, and in the City, reported a loss of Jewish and Muslim customers, both coming into the restaurants and ordering online.
He said: “Unfortunately, we lost a lot of customers. I think that Jewish people are scared to go out, and a lot of Muslims don’t feel comfortable to eat in our restaurants because of what’s going on in Israel. It leaves us very sad. Every day, we gather all the power that we have to go to work.”
The chain’s name, written in Arabic and Hebrew on the storefronts, means “my country” or “local” in Arabic.
In December, Balady’s Camden branch was vandalised with “Free Palestine” graffitied on its shutters. The attention from police and media prompted an influx of customers wanting to show support. However, Sabbo said it remained “a struggle” in their other branches. “Our income is definitely not what we’d expect it to be if antisemitism all around London wasn’t a factor. We founded our business to be a bridge between cultures, religions and traditions and as a Mediterranean culinary heaven for Jews, Muslims and Christians, and we are very disappointed to see that some people are not visiting us like they used to.”
We founded our business to be a bridge between cultures, religions and traditions
Since opening in June in Camden, Israeli restaurant Mazal had been used to receiving up to 600 customers a day. This shrank to 20 after October 7. Co-founder Neta Segev said: “We couldn’t believe it. No one came. It’s picking up, but we still suffer.”
They too had Muslim customers there for the meat, which is halal as well as kosher, and for the hummus and falafel. After the war started, they noticed people reading “Israeli salad” on the menu and walking away. “It’s called ‘Israeli salad’ not because we invented it, but because I grew up in Tel Aviv, and that’s what we call chopped salad,” said Segev.
“People sit down, they see customers wearing a yarmulke, and in two minutes, they leave. They read the menu and say: ‘Israeli salad? Dude, where do you come from? You are Jewish? We don’t want to support you. Israel is an apartheid [state].’ It’s very aggressive. Every day, we hear these comments.”
The owner of another Israeli restaurant in Camden had a nasty shock when someone began making multiple bookings under different names and then didn’t show up. He later discovered it had been a trick to damage his business.
He said: “At first, we had 15 or 20 per cent cancellations and then, one night, we had 120 covers booked and were left with less than 30.”
By the time this huge no-show had occurred, the restaurateur had started taking deposits from customers, getting their card details when they made bookings. He was able to trace all the no-shows back to one person. The offender ended up paying £2,500.
“They are acting stupidly. If they’re trying to represent what’s going on in Israel and what’s happening to the Palestinian people, this isn’t the way to do that.”
He added: “I feed people and I give people a good time. It doesn’t matter where they’re from. We’re making food to bring people together. I’m in London because it’s one of the most cosmopolitan cities in the world and the best place to connect people through something so beautiful like food.”