Image Credits: Elizabeth Robertson.
My memory is kind of foggy but I think the first time CabinGirl and I went to Laser Wolf was because a very close Jewish-American couple offered us their reservations after they realized they had accidentally double-booked on two different dates. All they told us was that it is a super trendy restaurant that serves Israeli cuisine, and you have to call up at the first of each month if you want any chance to get a table. The food was so amazing that CabinGirl started calling at the beginning of each month to get us a reservation. In total, we’ve probably eaten there five times.
This all began during the height of the pandemic, so we ate outside on the sidewalk. The dining room is nice, but I’ve only been inside to talk to the maître d’ or to use the bathroom. At one point I know we ate there with my podcasting partner, Brendan. Our son loves the place, and it gives us an excuse to get into the city once in a while.
In November, CabinGirl asked if she should book a reservation, and I said ‘no.’ The reason was simple. After the October 7 Hamas attacks and the furious Israeli response, I knew that it was taking a risk to have my family sit down on the sidewalk in front of an Israeli restaurant. This wasn’t a political statement on my part. It was purely about our personal security. At the time, I knew next to nothing about the owners other than they were Israeli, and I had no idea they owned so many other restaurants in the city. I also didn’t know that they had done this:
On Thursday, 100% of sales at four Philadelphia Israeli restaurants, including the acclaimed Zahav — will be donated to a charity that has been providing free medical services to people in Israel since Saturday’s terrorist attacks by Hamas.
The fundraiser applies to sales at Zahav, Laser Wolf, K’Far and the five Goldie locations in the city. All the restaurants are part of the CookNSolo group owned by Michael Solomonov and Steve Cook, who announced the campaign on Instagram on Tuesday.
The money raised will be given to Friends of United Hatzalah, which has been working on the ground in Israel since Saturday’s attack. Friends of United Hatzalah is an independent, civilian-led organization with more than 6,500 volunteers who respond to emergency situations throughout Israel by providing medical assistance.
Like I said, I wasn’t turning down an offer to eat at Laser Wolf for any other reason than my feeling that the establishment could become a terrorism target. So far, that hasn’t happened, thankfully, but over the weekend pro-Palestinian protesters assembled outside one of the Goldie establishments in Center City and began chanting “Goldie, Goldie you can’t hide, we charge you with genocide.” This is now a national story, with many expressing outrage that a Jewish-run business is being targeted in this way.
This led me to take more of an interest in the ownership team.
Mike Solomonov and Steve Cook are co-owners of the trailblazing Philadelphia hospitality group, CookNSolo Restaurants, and champions of Israel’s extraordinarily diverse and vibrant culinary landscape. Together, they have been awarded three James Beard Foundation Awards, with Mike awarded two additional Beard Awards for his work as Chef of Zahav, which includes 2017 “Outstanding Chef”. Zahav is their flagship spot that is widely recognized for bringing the many cultures of Israeli cuisine to diners across the U.S., and around the world. In 2019, Zahav became the first Israeli and first Philadelphia restaurant to win the James Beard “Outstanding Restaurant” Award. In addition to Zahav, their restaurants are Federal Donuts, Dizengoff, Abe Fisher, Goldie, Merkaz, K’Far and Laser Wolf, as well as Lilah…
Their partnership should be a heart-warming entrepreneurial success story. Their food is almost universally acclaimed, and their thriving businesses have created many jobs in the city. But obviously their high profile has now made them a target. Where are they supposed to hide? And how are they responsible for the actions of the Israeli government in Gaza?
Is it reasonable to hold it against them that they donated money to help the Israeli victims of the October 7 massacres?
I know everything is political when it comes to Israel and Palestine, including cuisine. And, look, when they’re discovering decomposing Palestinian infants in an abandoned pediatric ICU, I don’t expect people to be silent about the atrocities in Gaza. I also know that my ability to feel safe while eating at an Israeli restaurant doesn’t amount to a hill of beans, even if Laser Wolf’s Fava Bean Salad is absolutely banging.
But I don’t have tolerance for this bullshit. Mike Solomonov and Steve Cook are not responsible for genocide and they should not be targeted or told to go into hiding. And to be balanced here, I’ll note that back in 2002 when the trauma of the 9/11 attacks was still fresh and military planes were still in the skies over Philly, and the Second (Al-Aqsa) Intifada was under way, I regularly ate at the Jordanian-Palestinian Alyan’s Restaurant on 4th street. I didn’t blame the owners for then-current events in Israel, like the brutal attack on a bat mitzvah that killed six and wounded 33 in Hadera. I didn’t blame them for 9/11. I would have defended them against protesters who accused them of those crimes and told them they could not hide. I ate there because their baba ghanoush is out of this world.
Philly is a great food town, and anyone who wants to diminish or disrupt that over politics is not a friend of mine.