The Oshman Family JCC in Palo Alto debuted Nourish: A Newish Jewish Cafe earlier this year.
The nonprofit JCC is home to many different services, including its own preschool, gym and entertainment offerings for those in the Jewish community living on the Midpeninsula. And while it previously housed a cafe, the JCC opened Nourish in July with a goal to offer the community something unique.
At Nourish, you might overhear conversations spoken in Hebrew, but you will also see customers hard at work on their laptops and enjoying a snack, similar to what you see in any local Starbucks. That being said, the goal has always been to give the local Jewish community a place to meet others and foster new friendships, said Sally Porush, the JCC's chief people officer.
"What we're trying to do is have a place for our community to come together," she said.
Key to the success of the new cafe, said Porush, was bringing on board someone with strong restaurant experience.
Porush found her answer in Robert Stayte, whose experience in the food industry includes time as catering director for the University of California, Berkeley as well as years of working in corporate dining.
Stayte described the food he makes at Nourish as "Jewish cuisine with a twist," adding that he takes inspiration from traditional Israeli, New York deli and California cuisine. For example, one of the most popular dishes at the cafe is a play on In-N-Out Burger's famous "animal-style" fries (french fries topped with cheese, grilled onions and the chain's secret sauce). Stayte added his own twist by using Tater Tots instead of fries and topping them with bits of pastrami.
The menu includes a variety of flatbread pizzas and pastas, hummus plates and quesadillas. There's also coffee from Peet's Coffee and teas from Mighty Leaf. Nourish primarily serves breakfast and lunch, as the cafe closes at 5:30 p.m. during the week and is not open on weekends.
One of the biggest hurdles in crafting the new cafe's menu, Stayte said, was creating items that serve kosher customers who adhere to strict guidelines around preparing and eating certain types of meat and dairy. Among Nourish's kosher-friendly dishes are hummus topped with spiced chickpeas and a simple pasta with marinara sauce.
A customer favorite, Stayte said, is the falafel. Falafel balls are placed inside a generous piece of pita bread, surrounded by various vegetables, like tomatoes and cucumber. This is certainly one of the more traditional Jewish dishes on the menu, along with the matzo ball soup that Stayte said customers pick up in droves on Fridays to take home before the start of the Sabbath at sundown.
The atmosphere in Nourish is relaxed and the decor wholly modern and unique. An entire wall is covered with cheeky quotations chosen by the staff ("The optimist sees the bagel, the pessimist sees the hole") as well as charging stations for laptops or cell phones (it is in Palo Alto, after all).
With the new addition of a desert-inspired "oasis play space" playground next to the cafe, the JCC anticipates many parents will become Nourish regulars. Parents of children who attend the nonprofit's preschool already make up a large portion of Nourish's customer base, Stayte said, adding that a lot of students from the nearby Kehillah Jewish High School frequent the cafe, especially for lunch.
Now that Stayte has a more specific audience in mind at the JCC, he finds himself enjoying the challenge. A resident of Palo Alto for more than a decade, he said he decided that Nourish was the right fit because it allowed him to pursue something new in his career. The concept forces him him to come up with innovative dishes that Jewish and non-Jewish customers can enjoy equally, he said.
"I wanted to have an impact on a community by helping to create a family-friendly atmosphere and a meeting place with great food that meets the needs of our diverse population," he said.
Nourish: A Newish Jewish Cafe
Oshman Family JCC, Jessica Lynn Saal Town Square, 3921 Fabian Way, Palo Alto
Hours: Monday-Friday, 7:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. Closed Saturday and Sunday.