By Deborah Fineblum/JNS.org
Omelet sandwich: 5 shekels. Iced coffee: 5 shekels. Tuna sandwich: 5 shekels. Fresh-squeezed orange juice: 5 shekels. Cheese bureka: 5 shekels.
There’s plenty more on the Cofizz menu, but you get the idea.
Dani Mizrahi and Amir Amshalm, two Israeli men in their early 30s, asked themselves: Why not launch a take-out food joint in busy neighborhoods around Jerusalem where everything—and that means everything—goes for five shekels, or about $1.50. They’d seen the concept take off in Tel Aviv, where those running a chain called Cofix keep busy feeding the local populace with all kinds of equally inexpensive fare.
“It worked there, so we thought, why not here?” says Mizrahi. “But here in Jerusalem being kosher is a very important thing.” Appropriately, then, Cofizz adheres to the high Israeli kosher standards of Mahadrin and, in several locations, Badatz.
Visitors to Jerusalem can keep their eyes peeled for the telltale bright red Cofizz signs sprouting up around town this year. In January, the partners rolled out their first Cofizz at 14 Ben Yehuda Street and now have added two more on Jaffa Street, just steps from the light rail.
The emergence of Cofizz’s cheap eats is music to the ears of Jerusalemites, who this year are looking at average rents for three-bedroom apartments—the typical choice for families—of 4,633 shekels ($1,351) outside the city center and 7,332 shekels ($2,135) inside. Average salaries for Jerusalem residents, meanwhile, hover just above the 6,000-shekel ($1,750) per month level.
“We are in this business not only to make money,” Mizrahi says. “We also want to help people make it.”
By July, Mizrahi and Amshalm are planning on opening locations in the Machane Yehuda market (otherwise known as the “shuk”), and other sites are planned for Haifa, Rehovot, and Kfar Saba. “We are projecting a total of nine [stores] by mid-summer,” says Mizrahi. “But 50 is really our [long-term] number.”
Mizrahi, who says he doesn’t “like to see people paying 100 shekels for coffee and a sandwich,” says that “everyone comes to us, lawyers and office workers, everybody.”
Based on a recent visit to the Ben Yehuda Street location, Cofizz customers applaud the idea of 5-shekel dining, but enjoy more than just the price.
“It’s cheap,” says Jane Bizan, who lives and works nearby. “But it’s not just the prices. The fresh orange juice is really good and so is the Bulgarian cheese sandwich.” Standing in line behind Bizan was another Jerusalemite, Eran Karnicli, who after thinking it over for a second or two says, “For your money, you do get good value and the service is very good too.”
Also on the menu—which notes the 5-shekel price in red after each item, despite the lack other prices—is a variety sandwiches, such as the internationally beloved focaccia in a choice of four different flavors. There are no less than 10 different types of coffee, including espresso, frappuccino, and Americano. But of all the coffees, it’s the cappuccino that’s the runaway favorite at the Ben Yehuda site of Cofizz, according to a server there named Lilach. And the most popular lunch fare? The veggie focaccia, she reports, handily beating out the tuna sandwich.
At these prices, how can Mizrahi and Amshalm even hope to turn a profit?
“Oh, we do make money,” Mizrahi says with a laugh. “We serve 3,000 people a day and on Ben Yehuda, 4,000, so we buy everything in bulk.”
The store is also extremely accessible, opening with the birds at 6 a.m., serving until 11 p.m. most nights, and back in business on Saturday night after Shabbat ends—when there are already scores of customers in line.
“I can get a sandwich and an iced coffee for 10 shekels,” Navah Bargeva, one of the self-proclaimed Cofizz regulars, says with a smile. “That’s so much better than anywhere else.”
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