Scoop of CookNSolo
CookNSolo is a Philadelphia-based hospitality group by Michael Solomonov and Steve Cook. Together, they have painted Israeli culinary landscape at the forefront of the dining scene in America. Most famously known for Zahav, which became the first Israeli restaurant to receive the James Beard “Outstanding Restaurant” award in 2019, they are one of the nationally beloved food innovators. On top of managing K’Far, Dizengoff, Abe Fisher, Federal Donuts, and many more, they are currently working on the launching of Lilah, a large event hall with their own catering. Here are some of the questions answered by the CookNSolo about how they have been constantly able to mesmerize us with the enchants of the flavors.
1. What were the challenges in running a food business, especially in COVID times?
The challenges have been plenty, but we have been lucky enough to figure out pivots at every step of the way. Our hope is that having made it through the difficulties of the last two years, we have been able to build back better than before. The biggest change that we have implemented since the start of the pandemic is a 20% service charge at all of our sit-down restaurants and a 10% service charge at our fast-casual restaurants, which allows us to pay all of our employees, front and back of house, a minimum of $15/hr.
2. CookNSolo deals with various genres of food- from fine dining American Jewish and Israeli, to casual donuts, to falafel. Where do you get the ideas for branching out new restaurants?
Zahav was our way of bringing Israeli hospitality and the soul of Israeli cooking and dining to the US – a place that hadn’t really ever been exposed to it. When we first opened, our menu was a lot more literal. Many of the dishes you could find in Israel were also being served here. But now we’ve become more comfortable in this conduit role and the relationship that we have for being a culinary tour guide. This is what has motivated most of the restaurant concepts that are a part of our organization.
3. Do you have any sort of research process for the market?
The short answer is yes, but it’s not a cognitive thing – we don’t sit down and look at our target demographic market and say “let’s appeal to them”. We strive to relate to our guests, but it’s not what constitutes the way we serve food.
4. How do you accommodate university students?
University students, and young consumers in general, are more thoughtful about the food they put in their bodies. Where is it from? What is the nutritional impact? What is its environmental footprint? Does it taste good? Younger generations have been at the forefront of this trend and it has opened up a big opportunity for people like us to present something that is well-crafted and delicious and responsibly sourced, even if that means it’s a bit more expensive than the lowest common denominator fast food that earlier generations like me grew up with. But, the Penn community is a lot more than just students. There’s faculty and administration and staff and researchers and a huge world-class medical complex. The daytime density around Franklin’s table is very high and everyone eats lunch. When done well, fast-casual restaurants are an affordable luxury that can help make someone’s day a little bit better.
5. Do you have any advice for students who want to get involved in the food industry?
Our advice to anyone who wants to get involved in the industry is to get involved as soon as you can. Bring a great attitude and ask lots of questions!