A Hidden Hillel Gem
Written by Bwog Staff
Kosher cuisine specialist Carly Silver reports from 115th Street.
Amid Moroccan tents and colorful cushions lies a Middle Eastern eating experience on our very own campus. Bella Alayof brings international flavors to Café Nana, her kosher restaurant in Columbia/Barnard Hillel.
Born in Uzbekistan, Alayof emigrated to Israel when she was 17 like many Jews making aliyah and moving to Israel. At the time, her family faced limited options. “Most Jewish people, they have two choices: United States or Israel,” she says. “My father and my mother, they chose to come to Israel, not to [the] United States.” After marrying and having four children in Israel, Alayof came to America almost eleven years ago.
As a former accountant in Israel and a real estate agent in the United States, Alayof did not foresee a career in restaurants. However, as the real estate market slowed in the last few years, Alayof’s son bought what would become Café Nana and his mother saw her chance to embark on a new career venture. “I said, ‘Let’s take the café and do the café and I can take everything and handle it, no problem,’” she remembers.
The most popular dishes at Café Nana include personal pizzas and hot sandwiches. This semester, Alayof brought two innovations to the menu: a new falafel recipe and matzo ball soup. “A lot of students were sick last winter and [had] nothing to eat,” she says, “but, this year, [if] somebody [is] going to be sick…we’re going to send them a delivery of chicken soup.”
Café Nana has a regular routine to ensure its clients are satisfied. Sunday through Friday, Alayof and another employee, Alex, make the day’s dishes. After cooking from 9 to 12 p.m., the lunch rush arrives. “We bake everything,” Alayof says. “Even the dough for the pizza, we’re doing here. Everything is homemade.”
Although Alayof hopes to return to her family in Israel in the near future, she has bonded with the Columbia students. “I talk with the student[s] and [they’re] like my children,” she enthuses. “I love them. [They’re] very good kids, very smart, you know, very successful and good kids. I really love what I’m doing.”