Born and raised in Hong Kong. Eldest, has a brother and a sister. Studied graphic Design, “everything interested me but mostly waitressing” Zoe and Xoli met by chance five years ago, two weeks later the place opened. Then Xoli didn’t speak any Hebrew.
How do you define culture?
“The type of glasses through which people look at the world. I experienced New York as a beautiful mix of all cultures. Growing up in Hong Kong I met no Spanish speakers. Tall buildings and businesses are the Hong Kong’s glasses.”
What is unique about the Xoho?
“Our openness. When staff member says: I know how to make this dish” We tell her: So just go ahead and make it!”
How do you define culture?
“Cross section of human behavior. Including all human interactions: using hands, music, also bigger things: philosophies of people and places.”
The uniqueness of the Xoho is: Our background and approach that are different. It is a place that gives you the feeling of community spot.
What made you start?
Xoli: “I felt so lonely. When I came here I knew people, had relatives but felt horribly lonely. I told myself that if in one year I don’t find my place in Israel, I am going back to Australia. You know that 60% of new comers go back during their first year here, right? It’s hard.”
Fluid, Organic, Creative
When I started interviewing Zoe and Xoli on a calm afternoon at their cafe they looked at my pencil case. “I sewed it”, I replied, explaining I had to create a case that suites me, because I couldn’t find one like it out there.
“This is our pencil case.” Xoli continues. “See: when you can’t find what you need, you create it. Our Xoho is fluid, organic and creative. How did it happen? Every day was another day, and it just happened.”
Zoe: “I’m most proud of our food. It is a philosophy and 100% team work, learn and cook.”
Is it related to the fact you’re two young women?
“Well if this isn’t a maternal cafe than I don’t know what is!” Says Zoe. “We are a strange-legitimate-family here. Our bakery is our “zen spot.” It is everybody’s favorite working place. The staff knows, that if anyone of them has a hard day, has her period or just needs quiet, they take the bakery shift. Out of our 15 workers only one is a man. When people say that girls fight with each other and are not tolerant I say they have never worked in a women’s team. Women are willing to work harder, do anything for one another and that is the power of our team. At the end of shifts our staff says to each other: “Goodbye, I love you” and still linger before going home. Search to fit in, fit in what you create.”
What is your customer profile?
“Students, people in their late 20’s, locals from the neighborhood, internationals and Anglophones but also the most Israeli guys ever.”
What do you mean? “You see him there?” And she points at a man chatting while sipping his coffee. “Well he comes here every day and in his 67 years he has barely left Tel-Aviv. Sometimes I ask him:”Don’t you want to travel and fly abroad?” He has never left this country! He tells me: “Why, if I want to go abroad I come here”
Zoe: “Friends find what I do hilarious. Sometimes life hands you something. So won’t you take it? My first experience of food industry was jamming. Making jams in Virginia with a friend. Living the jam cycle from buying the fruit to selling jam in farmer markets. Jam started my taste for food. Honestly I didn’t know what I was doing. Back in New York at the time started a new food scene: catering and start-uping food.
For instance? Mobile pizza oven: park and bake. Chefs moving out of their restaurants for starting their own food idea. Brooklyn allowed it. Conveyed to you “everything is possible if you believe in your product.” The joy put in to what you create, impact others. People love knowing their food is thoughtful, intimate and unique. Anything needs to be interesting to us here. Earn people’s trust and have faith we are doing it well. It works.”
What other aspects does your culinary culture have? Their answer is a song: the bagel song! “All I wanna do is eat a bagel a bagel…” After singing I ask for an explanation: Our previous location allowed baking a batch of ten bagels at a time. With the remaining dough a little bagel is made and during each shift another team member gets it, in turns. Everyone wants that little bagel.
Thoughtful, Intimate, Unique
“There are phases in being our customers: from dropping by to becoming a regular. We get to know you. People chat here and know each other.”
Xoli: “I would have still been so lonely had I not opened this place.” Zoe smiles and mentions Howie. Who is he? “Xoli and Howie met ten years ago in Kibbutz Ma’agan Michael.” says Zoe. He was the first person I met then,” completes Xoli. “He was a lawyer and we two started together the business by hiring Zoe.” Looking at each other they giggle at how Xoli politely accepted Zoe as her partner for the business and kept Howie as a partner in her private life.
Where will you be ten years from now?
Xoli: “Zoe will be in New York.” Zoe: “Israel is not my home forever. People tell me now I’ve been here long enough and when I’ll go back I’ll feel weird maybe even like a stranger. I will carry on a very dynamic lifestyle, nature involved, food, but not in a traditional way.”
Xoli: “I struggle with what fulfils me. Really hard to know what makes me happy. In ten years? I will probably be here. Still don’t know. Probably cooking, creating more and more for people.” Zoe: “She has a magic touch. There is so much love in the space. An embrace when entering. Dogs come in five minutes before their owners. But sometimes it doesn’t fit. Explain? Xoli: When handing over the fruit-shake in the Xoho style jar-cup, a customer bluntly asked: ‘you seriously expect me to drink from a jar?’ Most people love it but this place is not suitable for everyone and it is really fine. It is a family here.”
What is your Comfort Food?
Zoe: “Super cheap street food. Can’t find here a good simple pizza. Xoli: “Bagel, to eat with your hands. No, actually Korean food. I crave for that. Garlic and spices. You get here too much flavour but not the right mix.
What does food mean to you?
Xoli: A place. Food is a place. I go home after a whole day at the Xoho, and cook.” Zoe does too.