(JTA) — Like many Americans, Ari Augenbaum, Trey Owens and Narine Hovnanian closely watched the protest movement that followed the death of George Floyd during the summer of 2020. Floyd’s death sparked familiar discussions among the friends about the history of race and oppression in the United States.
The three restaurateurs, who run a popular Virginia eatery called Soul Taco, figured they would use food to serve up healing, history and, they hope, a unique dining experience.
During a late-night conversation at their Richmond restaurant, they decided to launch JewFro, a pop-up-style spot that fuses Jewish and African cuisines. (Richmond restaurants are open for in-person dining, although JewFro offers takeout service as well.)
“JewFro,” Augenbaum said, “was born out of a conversation that I’m sure many Americans were having about the Black Lives Matter protests.”
Augenbaum, Owens and Hovnanian already had experience melding cuisines: Soul Taco combines Latin American flavors and Southern food. Since its October 2018 opening, Soul Taco has enjoyed a meteoric rise, including being featured on a January 2020 episode of Food Network’s “Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives.”
JewFro by day is a Jewish deli that specializes in house-cured meats and artisanal sandwiches with African spices. By night, the eatery offers up classic Jewish and Israeli dishes with African flair, as well as modern takes on African dishes with Jewish flavors: grilled chicken marinated in South African Peri-Peri sauce over Israeli couscous, or Zigni (an Eritrean beef stew) brisket over matzah polenta with braised kale and stewed tomatoes.
A recent Sunday brunch featured fresh baked challah with house cured gravlax and Dukkah, the Egyptian nut and space blend. Diners could wash it down with a harissa mimosa, flavored with the Tunisian hot chile pepper paste.
While creating the menu, the three friends made an interesting discovery.
“When we started researching some of the dishes for this concept, we realized that a lot of the ingredients and cooking methods were almost identical,” Augenbaum said. In fact, “the similarities were more prominent than the differences.”
Augenbaum, a Jew from Maryland, credits Owens, an African-American from Richmond, with the idea that eventually gave birth to JewFro.