Pictured above (left-to-right): The Dobronskys and the Cohens (Photo credit: Yelp)
Oren Dobronsky knows a few things about innovation. The entrepreneur has founded multiple start-ups, participated as a shark on Shark Tank Israel, and has been an investor for more than ten years. Which is why he saw that Silicon Valley lacked something essential, and he saw an opportunity.
But this time, innovation didn’t have to do with technology. It had to do with hummus.
While Silicon Valley offered opportunities and intensity, it lacked the Mediterranean cuisine Oren remembered from Tel Aviv. With his wife Nancy Dobronsky, a restaurateur, Oren was determined to bring those flavors to California, and the couple opened the first Oren’s Hummus in Palo Alto in 2011.
Mistie Cohen, CEO and owner for Oren’s Hummus and CEO and founder of EyeSpy, was brought into Oren’s in 2012 to help Oren and Nancy with the concept, design and expansion: Oren wanted a hummus empire, and Mistie had the experience to make that a reality. Along with Mistie’s husband, David Cohen, Oren’s executive chef and owner, the team grew the original Palo Alto location into the go-to Bay Area restaurant for a taste of Tel Aviv.
There are now five locations and a commissary, with more stores planned, and Oren’s appears at local farmers markets.
When Mistie, who specializes in operational support, first partnered with Oren, it was meant to be a brief consulting stint to help the company grow, but she found more than just a single project at Oren’s. Now, she and David are part of the permanent team, and they are more family than coworkers with Nancy and Oren — they even travel to Israel together.
Family is a word that comes up frequently when characterizing the restaurant, both among its team and its customers.
“I started feeling the vibe, enjoyed the food, building up the team and getting to know the customers who became like family, and it felt like home,” says Mistie. “With Oren’s, there’s something truly special. They made me feel welcome from the get-go. I’ve loved everything about this. I’ve loved where we can go as a team, as a company.”
You can credit Oren’s Hummus’s success to many things: the freshness and healthiness of the food, or the friendliness and warmth of the staff, or how a bite of hummus at Oren’s — with fresh pita, of course — transports you to the streets of Tel Aviv.
“We import our chickpeas and our tahini and our spices,” says Mistie. “A lot of our products are straight from Israel. People from Israel say, ‘I feel like I’m at home.’ It’s a huge testament to our product.”
Pickles, olives and Goldstar, an Israeli beer, are also imported. Many of the menu items are gluten-free (there’s gluten-free pita, too) and there are plenty of vegan options to satisfy most dietary preferences.
Though COVID-19 has rocked the restaurant world, Oren’s has been able to adjust quickly: its to-go and delivery system was strongly in place before the pandemic hit. Still, Oren’s has had to reduce staff and watched business fall at the beginning, but it has been steadily climbing again as the weeks pass.
“We’re focusing on how we can survive and how we can give people a great, positive experience,” says Cohen. “People are choosing us because our food travels well, it’s healthy, it’s fresh, and it’s easy to be delivered.”
Looking ahead, there are the questions many restaurants face: How do you reduce how many people come into contact with the customers? How do you keep customers and the team safe? What will the restaurant model look like in the future?
But Mistie knows they have been lucky, and Oren’s is committed to helping those with less. At the Cupertino location, Oren’s provided meal vouchers to employees at a nearby company, but those employees donated their vouchers in turn to help ICU patients and homeless shelters in the Bay Area. At the San Francisco location, the company uses food runners to provide anything fresh, including hummus and rice, to those in need.
“It is really nice to see all kinds of restaurants working together or providing to the frontlines,” says Mistie. “People are saying, How can we participate? How can we help? It’s nice to see that the community is coming together.”