Interview | Haya Molcho

"I believe in a boom in gastronomy".

Haya Molcho and her sons: (from left to right) Ilan, Haya, Nadiv, Elior and Nuriel Molcho.
Nuriel Molcho
Haya Molcho and her sons: (from left to right) Ilan, Haya, Nadiv, Elior and Nuriel Molcho.

For years, Haya Molcho and her family have been enriching not only their adopted home Vienna with Mediterranean-Israeli gastronomy. Their NENI concept has been available throughout Europe for several years. Haya Molcho's cookbooks and the retail line "NENI am Tisch" have also gained a large following. Now the entrepreneurial family is venturing into two entirely new culinary projects. Haya, her son Elior and chef Elihay Berliner talked with FOODSERVICE about their future plans.

Before we look ahead to the future ... how did you survive the pandemic?
Elior Molcho: As it probably did for everyone else, the Corona pandemic came as a shock. At the beginning, we didn't know what was coming and how long this state of emergency would last. In the end, several factors helped us: First and foremost, our cohesion as a family. Together we thought about how and with what strategies we could get through the crisis. In addition, we were lucky that we have already been more broadly positioned for several years: Our NENI product line at the table, which we distribute through retailers, has provided us with a steady income. Then at some point came the government subsidies, which also gave us the opportunity to retain our employees. Short-time work was an important instrument - although in the restaurant business you always have to add that the short-time work allowance only compensates for part of the income. For the employees, an important part of their earnings is lost in the form of tips. BUT: We were able to keep all our employees - which I ultimately see as a good sign for us as an employer.

Have there been anything on the positive side to come out of the crisis?
Haya Molcho: For me personally, the first time was actually not so bad and above all healthy. For the last few years, I had been working day and night, always available. And suddenly I had time for the first time - for myself and for all the important questions: Where do we want to go? What does our path look like? The children also moved back in with us during this time. And I wrote a new cookbook: Vienna by NENI. We also launched cooking boxes in many restaurants, which have even brought in a large share of sales at some locations. For example, in Amsterdam. The third lockdown, however, was really tough - and I no longer had much understanding for the repeated measures. The restaurant business was simply dropped. And we certainly still had it good with our branded gastronomy. People still come to us despite 2Gplus.
„We are from Israel and share the same spirit: Never give up!“
Haya Molcho

What motivates you to open more restaurants, especially in this challenging time?
Haya: So first and foremost, of course, we believe in the new concepts - and in an end to the pandemic, or at least that we have learned to live with the virus. And I believe in a boom of gastronomy and nightlife. People want to live. They long for something that makes them happy and fascinates them. Bringing something new to Vienna, in turn, makes me happy.
About the family business Molcho
The Molcho family has become known for its NENI concept, which can now be found twelve times in Europe - from Vienna to Mallorca to Copenhagen. The name, which is made up of the first letters of Haya and Samy Molcho's four sons (Nuriel, Elior, Nadiv and Ilan), reflects the philosophy: eat and enjoy in a large group of family and friends. Levant and Mediterranean regions characterize the cuisine.

For several years, selected products such as hummus, lentil or chickpea salad have also been represented in retail under the NENI am Tisch brand, at Spar, Edeka and Globus.

Elihay, together with Haya and Nuriel Molcho, you created the concept called C.O.P.. What's the thinking behind it?
Elihay: We've been working on C.O.P. for a very long time and actually wanted to launch it much earlier, but had to slow down because of Corona. C.O.P. stands for so many things: On the one hand, the concept is based on the realization that gastronomy is more than just a room in which food is served. There are so many people in front of and with the finished plate - from producers to employees. And all of these people are meant to be part of C.O.P.. The restaurant is their showroom, but also their "community space," where they come together. At the same time, C.O.P. stands up for values that play a major role today more than ever: Social awareness, sustainability - all products come from Austria, part of the proceeds go to international drinking water projects - and humanity.

What can guests expect at C.O.P.?
Elihay: It is the time for unconventional gastronomy. At first glance, the guest experience won't be all that different from visiting a conventional restaurant: You'll walk in, enjoy a great ambiance, your meal, pay the bill and go home. And yet, it will be different. We're putting our suppliers front and center. Their contribution to the food will be more visible, and we will dispense with complicated dishes. At C.O.P. we also offer light Mediterranean Levante cuisine with local ingredients.

How do you communicate your message to guests?
Elihay: Social media plays a big role for us. But we will also communicate a lot on site and in the menus, such as our water projects or even the full name of the person who supplies our eggs. Each week, we will also have one of our producers in the restaurant. At the same time, we have to maintain a balance. No one wants to be lectured or hear lectures when they are hungry and want to enjoy their meal. All the products we use will also be available for guests to buy at home. There is a small shelf in the restaurant as well as an online store and a subscription wine club.

What look and feel accompanies the concept?
Elihay: A minimalist design. The guest space is inspired by Corbusier's work in India in the 60s. Very clean, white marble, aluminum and steel. The same minimalism that applies to the kitchen: not too many ingredients, one thing on the plate.

KVETCH - Smashed Burgers in Vienna
Kvetch. That's the name of the new smashed burger concept that will be available in the Tel Aviv Beach space this summer. On the one hand, Kvetch means "to squeeze." In this case, squeezed is juicy organic beef from Austrian family-owned Höllerschmid. But it's also an ancient Jewish word meaning "a group of people who like to complain."

With a passion for international cuisine and street food, Elior Molcho started creating the perfect burger two years ago, focusing on the quality of the ingredients. With the street food scene in Vienna just getting rolling, he says now is the perfect time to take off. Elior brought his brother Ilan on board, and from now on, they'll be cooking. After the food truck on the Danube Canal last summer, the restaurant in the 2nd district will follow. Of course, vegetarians are not left behind, because in addition to the Double Cheese Burger and the Spicy Fried Chicken Burger, there will also be an excellent vegetarian burger. It will be accompanied by handmade French Fries, craft beer and a selection of wines. For more info, check out the Instagram page "kvetch.vienna".