A Hidden Hillel Gem

Written by

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.”

Tags: , , ,


  1. Anonymous  

    THIS IS FRICKIN AWESOME... I wish I knew about this sooner.

  2. Anonymous

    2nd floor of the Kraft center
    606 W. 115th st

  3. Anon  

    can non Jewish students enter Hillel?

  4. don't be an  

    ass. I was genuinely interested in going there, and I wanted a serious answer.

  5. Anonymous  

    Having recently discovered Cafe Nana, I highly recommend it to everyone! Alayof is very attentive and the food is delicious. Not to mention, the tents and cushions are awesome!

  6. cc12

    Umm..Nana is not good food. The Jews use the couches to chill (although in terms of obeying every middle eastern stereotype to market yourselves to nonJews, good job!) but that's about it.You want good food? Amir's, Maoz and Jerusalem. Or do yourself a favor and trek to NYU for Mamoun's and University Pita (especially University Pita).

  7. LePOW!  

    ATTN: If you don't like Cafe Nana, you are an Anti-Semite!!! Arghhhh!!!!!

© 2006-2015 Blue and White Publishing Inc.