Protest In A Pita: Bargain Falafels Help Israeli Middle Class Stave Off Crisis
TEL AVIV — The Israeli middle class is tired of paying a full hour's salary for a few bites of street food — and the market is reacting.
Cofix, a leading coffee to-go chain, broke all the rules and came up with the symbolic price of 5 shekels ($1.40) for either a cup of coffee, a sandwich, or a piece of cake.
The first few days after the opening, the franchise on Ibn Gabirol Street in central Tel Aviv was flooded by customers. But Cofix is only the latest case of a creeping trend in Israel's shifting home economics.
The number of outlets selling street food for rock-bottom prices is growing; and many have picked locations in the heart of areas known for their high food prices.
The trend first appeared at pizzerias and falafel stands in Orthodox areas in the suburbs of Tel Aviv, but has recently spread to the center of the city, and even to the rest of the country.
Ratzon Falafels — where a falafel sandwich is sold 6 for shekels ($1.6) — is a good example. They opened their third restaurant last year in one of the most popular streets in Tel Aviv, and now have lines from noon until closing time, at around 7 p.m. In response, many higher-end falafel restaurants are reducing their prices
“When we opened, a falafel sandwichin this neighborhood cost 12 shekels”, says Liron Ratzon who co-founded the restaurant with his brother Moran. “Now it's up to 18 shekels ($5). But we stayed at our fixed price of 6 shekels. What’s the big deal? What’s a falafel? Hummus and spices, and it has to be warm. We have good agreements with our providers and we turn a profit thanks to the quantity.”
Ratzon says his customers come from all walks of life, and whether it's for lunch or dinner, people are looking for a bargain."They don’t have any money anymore, the crisis has hit them hard," he says. "In our restaurant, a couple can eat a meal for 20 shekels ($6). Somewhere else they would have needed to share a meal for that price.”
At one of the tables sits Keren, 40, who works in a nearby law office. “This is a protest in a pita. I am not ashamed to say I am here for the price.”
The cheap street food stands have seen their popularity grow very quickly. Among their new customers is a new group of people, everyday workers who see their salaries stuck even while prices keep rising on everything from gas and electricity to housing and food. Cofix did not invent anything. What’s new is that it’s no longer a source of shame for the middle class to eat on the cheap.