Inon Tzadok, CEO and visionary of Shuk Shuka, is on a mission to bring his culture, heritage and experience in hospitality in Jerusalem to the Bay Area where he can share his passion for Middle Eastern cuisine, as well as Hebrew and Arabic culture, with others.
Tzadok has been in the food industry since he was very young and living in Israel. From roles in the kitchen to managing to working with food brands in marketing and advertising, his wealth of expertise is vast. Shuk Shuka particularly highlights his creativity in the kitchen with his authentic dips.
“Shuk Shuka dips are my creations and each dish is one that has been part of my day to day cooking for most of my life or been a dish that was part of our Shuk Shuka menu at our community events and catering,” says Tzadok. “My role is to bring all of my life experience, my passion for food, people, and the dedication for details to connect all Shuk Shuka aspects into one clear mission.”
Shuk means the market in both Hebrew and Arabic. A Shuk is a lively place with numerous stalls selling fresh produce, mounds of fragrant spices, and anything else you can think of, Tzadok explains. Another important component? A Shuk is commonly also a social hub where people come to connect.
This is the model for Shuk Shuka: a place to connect passionate people with delicious, quality food in a lively, enriching, and innovative environment where meaningful relationships and memorable moments can flourish.
“We envision Shuk Shuka as a marketplace that integrates a variety of Middle Eastern cultures including the different, unique products of those cultures. We hope to educate our customers about the origins, story and cultural emergence of all of our food no matter where in the Middle East it hails from. This includes where each ingredient is from, where each product is sourced, how it has developed up till now and more.”
“My mission with Shuk Shuka is to deliver our delicious cultural dishes in a high quality, healthy, modern, and sustainable way. We wish to inspire people using our food along with their cooking and products they use on a daily basis,” Tzadok continues.
“To encourage creativity by using our products on their day to day meals is our goal. Great food and a healthy enjoyable meal shouldn’t be complicated and you do not need to be an expert to create a dish if you are inspired by specific flavors. It’s about using high-quality ingredients and knowing how to connect them into one dish.”
Since the pandemic struck, Tzadok has pivoted from the convivial, lively pop-up events that garnered Shuk Shuka popularity in 2019 to a conceptualized online marketplace featuring a group of chefs showcasing their creations in 2020. He has plans to eventually serve as an incubator for talented culinary professionals, in addition to resuming catering options and pop-up events when it’s safe to return after the pandemic.
We chatted with Tzadok on menu inspiration, COVID challenges, his talented culinary team, and more. Here’s what he had to say.
Shuk Shuka began by hosting pop-ups in SF—what were those events like? How have you had to pivot when COVID hit? What were some unforeseen challenges?
Our pop-ups were more event than pop-up. Our first event started with hosting 40-50 friends for a 7 course family-style dinner accompanied by live middle eastern jazz music. Instantly there was a unique energy in the room and people just wanted to connect with each other, no one felt like a stranger.
For our following events, we found a larger venue and hired the Bay Area’s best musicians. We filled each event with almost 100 people. The event begins with people mingling around, Middle Eastern wine and beer flowing, and everyone connecting with each other. Then we talk about our story, our culture, and then educate people about our food and how we believe food brings people together.
Then our guests enjoy a short musician performance, a 7 course family-style meal, and end with more live music and dancing. Each of our events got sold out in a few days, people just wanted to come back and bring their friends. People didn’t want to leave, so much so that we had to ask them with a lot of love to please leave as we had a limited time with the venue rental.
Along with our events, our catering grew more popular, along with the music and cultural experience. Since our biggest power was the ability to connect all these aspects in real life, COVID has basically put us to sleep. The in-person connection is our main mission, this is our strongest skill and my personality.
Our original goal was to open a restaurant where on Saturday nights we host “Saturday Shuk” turning it into a differing experience like our events.
COVID made me think a lot. How do I see Shuk Shuka sharing our quality fresh food with our community? How can we keep interacting with them, educate them and inspire them? How can we reach more people than those who attend our events and private catering? I spent a few months consistently thinking about how Shuk Shuka’s future would look like and how I want my personal life and quality of life to look like in this new global world.
But don’t get me wrong, once we go back to almost normal, our community events will come back as part of our activity and our mission of bringing people together, and hopefully, they will come back globally.
How do you hope the marketplace serves as an incubator for talented culinary professionals?
Shuk is also often a social hub where people come to connect – we envision our Shuk to be the same. We wish and welcome creative, talented chefs with middle eastern backgrounds to join our team. As many chefs are only mostly familiar and experienced with the art of inventing new products but have more limitations on the business, marketing, and branding aspects we hope our marketplace can be an incubator for them.
We hope to develop more Middle Eastern, high-quality products in different categories and we believe that different talented sheds can add more value to our marketplace as well to our customers that will have more variety of exciting, delicious, and healthy products.
COVID has taught us that our power as a community of professionals is bigger than each one of us as individuals and that as a business that part of our mission is to connect between people and cultures. We wish those talented chefs, us and our customers can highly benefit from this kind of collaboration.
Talk about your current team and how each one adds something special to the table.
Each one of our team members is responsible for a different category of products.
I’ll start with my sister Yael, which she is the beauty and our baker. Yael is one of the best cooks I know. The amount of love and detail she put in her cooking is something that people have always been inspired by. Her challah and babkas are well known in our community and started as a project of mother and daughter along with my beautiful niece Odelia called Spread and Bread.
At our past pop-ups, we used to serve her baked goods and people were always craving them and asking us to sell them. As much as it’s sometimes challenging to work with family I asked my sister to join our team as I know her baked goods are the best I can find, related to our culture, and will bring much joy to our customers.
Daniella has been part of our community and her experience and her Moroccan backgrounds also add spices to our menu. Though Shakshuka today is a common middle eastern brunch dish the origin of the dish is from morocco and this category is something Daniella is really connected to. We are lucky to have her and she’s been very helpful for us whenever we needed her experience.
Odai our co-founder has been with me since day one, the mission of bringing people together is really close to his heart and though he’s currently not much involved, his spirit and mission are part of the Shuk Shuka DNA.
Talk about the menu at Shuk Shuka. Will it be seasonal or are these dips and spreads going to be around all year?
We choose and develop a menu that offers different items that people can use in their day to day life along with the food they are preparing at home. We want our customers to be inspired to cook and using those products to create more creative meals, while also be able to host share this food with others around their table.
We wanted to create a menu that will be available all year long and therefore the ingredients we use are available around the year. We wanted our food, fresh, healthy, and sustainable but at the same time products that our customers have the option to consume daily, weekly, or whenever they wish.
For Thanksgiving, for example, we’re currently selling a package of three dips (of your choice) and two spices: Cured Sumac Spice and SunFlower Za’atar Spice; and On Everything Tahini; The Greenest Tahini; Spicy Kick Zhug; or Goat Cheese Labneh.
Talk about the inspiration for the menu.
The current menu of Shuk Shuka is a collection of products, dishes, and ingredients which common in different middle eastern cuisine. Each product root either originally inspired by different countries in the missile east or either very common in the middle eastern kitchen.
Few products, for example, the Spicy Kick Zhug is the Yemenite salsa that my father used to make regularly but I slightly changed ut to be more herby, less spicy, and fresher so it will be a better fit for the local California market.
If the middle east had one national I would say tahini is our national dish, it’s something I can eat for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, it’s super healthy and can be added on everything and thus called Tahini On Everything.
Labneh is a thick, creamy yogurt style cheese (we make it from goat milk for the special flavor and to be more available for those who sensitive to dairy), it is the Middle Eastern version of the classic French Crème fraîche, the Mediterranean version of the plain sour cream.
Challah is the most Jewish bread which we eat every Friday, and babka is our yeast cake, it’s our Israeli/Jewish yeast bread and I couldn’t think about a more delicious and suitable dessert to have on our menu where people can share with each other.
The Yalla Chocolate Babka is INSANELY DELICIOUS! Is this your own recipe and is it something Nutella-lovers can make at home with (relative) ease?
As I said, my sister is extremely talented and this babka is her creation. It is so good that when I ask people for feedback about this babka the only problems they say are that they had planned to share it with others but they couldn’t stop eating it. It is that good and I’m familiar with the challenge.
Nutella lovers can definitely try to bake their own babka, but the secret is the combination of the Nutella and more importantly in the dough and the baking – this secret we wish to keep in our kitchen. Yalla!