Last updated March 13th 2016
At Eat.Drink.TelAviv we are excited when we have a chance to share with you some interesting personalities in the food industry here in Tel Aviv be them chefs, goat-herders, bakers, food photographers, inventors, farmers, cafe owners and restauranteurs.
Eat.Drink.TelAviv’s Meet.Talk.TelAviv would like you to welcome Jacob “Shimmy” Seren, the inventor of the doughy-vessel of his design called the feeli. Along with a few other partners, Shimmy is bringing his love of fresh quality food, neatly packed in the feeli with their gourmet street food spot Feeli.
Born in Holon, Jacob “Shimmy” Seren is a third-generation baker. He trained for two years as a Master Chef in Israel and eventually ran his own restaurant in his home town called Kobi’s Place (Kobi is a nick name for Jacob, Shimmy’s real first name.) His true passion, however, was working with dough. Shimmy experimented constantly with different flour mixtures and dough recipes to develop his idea of the “feeli” cup. It all started one day when Shimmy kept thinking how everyone eats street food in a pita, laffa, baguette or bun. He realized “how can I create something so I don’t spill [my food]?” And so began the journey to create the feeli.
From start to finish – concept to restaurant – it took Shimmy seven years to develop. The special dough took five years to perfect, and it took four iterations of the Feeli machine – a one-of-a-kind fast bake oven that uses the dough and creates the crispy and chewy cup.
It took four years to narrow down the menu that would utilize the delicious doughy dish. Working closely with a chef, they focused on bringing fresh ingredients with a street food vibe and slowly elevate it all to gourmet status.
I’m sitting outside of Feeli, at the corner of Nachla’at Binyamin and Achad Ha’Am with feeli inventor Jacob Seren and Elinor Praizler, one of Feeli’s business partners and the director of Marketing. They seem relaxed and ready for the questions. So relaxed Jacob lights up a cigarette, and tells me to call him “Shimmy.”
“I thought your name was Jacob?” I asked. Everyone since the he was ten years old called him Shimmy.
He tells me the nickname is from a band member in the group America, who played the music for the soundtrack “The Last Unicorn.” I wasn’t familiar with the musical stylings of the band America, but I did grow up watching the Last Unicorn. Multiple times. As it turns out so did Shimmy and the Israeli employee working the counter at Feeli. Within minutes, the theme music from the movie is playing loud enough from the speakers inside Feeli. A slow smile appears on Shimmy’s face as we reminisce about Schmendrick, Momma Fortuna, and Lady Amalthea – the Last Unicorn.
Prof. NomNom: Let’s start off by finding out a little bit behind the name “Feeli.” What does it mean?
Shimmy: We came up with a lot of words and anmes, but we had a few guys working in this project for the last five years and they told us that “Feeli” is a good name. To feel, and to feel full. That’s how it became Feeli. Feel—Feeling—Feeli.
Prof. NomNom: So why with an “I” and not a “Y” like it is suppose to be?
Shimmy: We wanted to create something new. We didn’t want it to be exactly how you spell it. It’s not what you are expecting.
Prof. NomNom: Makes sense. So tell us a bit about your background in the restaurant and food business.
Shimmy: My real work is as a bakery chef. I’m a third generation baker. When I finished the army I opened my first restaurant in Holon. It was called Kobi’s place.
Prof. NomNom: So you are a baker turned inventor?
Shimmy: I think I have good hands and a good mind, se when I thought about Feeli I went to somebody to build the first machine. It was a very simple machine. Over the years, I kept thinking how I wanted to do the next machine, and the next machine, and then again, when we needed another machine.
Prof. NomNom: What inspired you to create the feeli cup?
Shimmy: Well everyone eats their food in a pita, in a baguette or a roll and after you have to clean up your shirt. I thought how can I come up with something so I don’t spill?
Prof. NomNom: Hah so you are a messy eater?
Shimmy: No. It was just a thought.
Prof. NomNom: Oh. Okay, so you mentioned you had several different machines, how long has this project being going on to bring Feeli into existence?
Shimmy: From the idea to the restaurant it was seven years. It took a lot of time to develop, to figure out the dough and the menu.
Prof. NomNom: How did you come up with the recipes that you put inside the…what do you call this cup? Is this the “feeli?” (I’m pointing to the doughy cup.)
Shimmy: The feeli is the dough. What we decided before we opened the restaurant is to take the street food [available in Israel] and make it more sexy. Take the Shwarma and put it in the feeli. Take the meatballs you make at home and put that in the feeli. All the steak that you eat, all the street food you eat, we want to put it in the feeli. We have an item called Phad Ka Pao, which is inspired by Thai street food. We have chorizo, the Asado (the steak with beef fat, carrots and red peppers), a breakfast feeli with egg and a few more. We even have a dessert feeli. It’s in a smaller feeli with the freshest (in season) fruit we can buy. We have apple, pear, put a little butter and honey and top it off with soft serve ice cream. It was inspired by my time at the bakery. Everything about Feeli is about the freshest food possible.
Prof. NomNom: What was some of your specialties when you worked at the bakery?
Shimmy: My specialty is actually dough. All kinds of dough. I like to experiment with different things – I like to play with dough. That’s how I came up with Feeli. I played with the dough. It took me something like five years to come up with the right dough for the feeli.
Prof. NomNom: Wow!
Shimmy: You need a special dough because it’s not a pita, it’s not laffa, it’s not a baguette. You need a special taste and texture.
Prof. NomNom: So you cannot use pita dough?
Shimmy: No! NO!! You can’t! It’s a special dough that bakes in two minutes. The secret is in the dough.
Prof. NomNom: It took you five years to create the dough?
Shimmy: The right dough! (Shimmy chuckles)
Prof. NomNom: And it was all done through five years of experimenting in the kitchen?
Shimmy: A lot of experimenting. I had a big bakery in Tel Aviv, with a factory in Petach Tikvah. I sold it, but it was called Galit Bakery.
Prof. NomNom: Where do the partners come in?
Elinor: I worked in a big company for ten years. It was a food company but not a restaurant. I specialized in marketing, promotions and sales. Shimmy and I met two years ago and I was wondering what I wanted to do with my life, and he had a lot of ideas, and I knew what to do with those ideas. Sometimes you need someone that can dream, and then you need those that know what to do with those dreams and make it a reality.
Prof. NomNom: How did you help make Shimmy’s dream a reality?
Elinor: After I tasted the feeli and saw the machine, I liked it because it was a sexy food. It was something women can eat. I can’t eat shwarma and falafel, because afterwards I have to rest. It’s not sexy. I liked this idea because it was good for women, and after you have the project you have to build the concept. He had the machine, the name, and the dough and we had to design the restaurant around that.
Prof. NomNom: How does the menu get set?
Shimmy: We have a chef that works with us. We need someone that has a little more experience in the kitchen. See, I’m a baker. So we need someone that has more experience with the food.
Shimmy: Just fresh ingredients. When we created this menu we thought: Fresh. Fresh. Fresh. You know, for something like four years we were thinking about meatballs. Dreaming about meatballs. We did a chicken one, a turkey one. Everything with meatballs. And we did a big show for our friends and it was always about being fresh. If you want to be successful you have to serve fresh.
You know you can take a pita from the convenience store and it’s…it’s a good pita. But if you take one from the oven, you’ll like it even better. And this is the feeling – you put your order and we make it fresh right there. Feeli is fresh, 100% fresh.
Prof. NomNom: So what’s your favourite feeli?
Shimmy: Because I’m a carnivore I like the Asado (Beef)
Elinor: The Shwarma
Prof. NomNom: You ever spill on yourself?
No. I know how to eat it! (Elinor chuckles)
Prof. NomNom: What are some of the challenges when you start a new food concept?
Elinor: It’s a big challenge. Feeli is something no one knows. The concept of street food isn’t so well known. In New York City people know street food. But in Israel not so much. If someone thinks street food they think falafel or shwarma. Or they can go to McDonalds and get something. You know what you get. When you make something new you don’t know what you get — so we need to get people to experience Feeli.
Prof. NomNom: What are your future plans?
Elinor: We hope to be a network of restaurants around the world. (Elinor smiles)
Prof. NomNom: The whole world!! Is there anything like the feeli out there?
Elinor: No. Nothing like it. His dream is to have his creation all over the world. Something made in Israel served in New York.
Prof. NomNom: Have you been to food conventions to showcase the feeli to the world?
Shimmy: We haven’t done it yet, but we went to a few conventions to see if there is anything like the feeli and we haven’t seen it. This was before we opened the restaurant. We traveled to American and Europe to a few food shows to see that no body knows about it, so we could be the first one.
Prof. NomNom: Do you have any plans to change your menu every season?
Shimmy: This menu took a year to create, and we feel it is the right menu. We believe everyone can come and get something. You can come four or five people and everyone can get their preferred tastes. You can get vegetarian, or meat, chicken or turkey. There are only eight feelis.
Prof. NomNom: Seven and one dessert feeli?
Elinor: It’s not a dessert. It’s just a smaller, if you eat a feeli you can’t eat the sweet feeli. You come in for the sweet feeli.
Prof. NomNom: Ahhh, so you can’t eat both. Hmm… I take that as a challenge!
Prof. NomNom: Okay, good to know – don’t get a feeli and a sweet feeli. It is a lot.
Elinor: You can, but you know, you can just have ice cream if you want.
Prof. NomNom: You are at a great location here at Nachla’at Binyamin and Ahad Ha’Am!
Shimmy: There is Mizlala and Catit.
Prof. NomNom: Ya, very nice. So what are some of your favourite restaurants in Tel Aviv?
Shimmy: My mom’s. (Shimmy laughs)
Prof. NomNom: I’m writing that down. But seriously, any other favorites?
Elinor: I like Barbunia. The Fish restaurant and bar.
Shimmy: My kitchen in my home.
Prof. NomNom: Do you want to give your address to the readers?
We ended the interview by singing the last unicorn together, crying, arm in arm, with a feeli in each hand.*
*That did not happen. After all, you should try to have more than one feeli at a time.
And the last lion roars at the last dusty fountain
In the shadow of the forest though she may be old and worn
They will stare unbelieving at the last unicornWhen the first breath of winter through the flowers is icing
And you look to the north and a pale moon is rising
And it seems like all is dying and would leave the world to mourn
In the distance hear the laughter of the last unicornI’m alive, I’m aliveWhen the last moon is cast over the last star of morning
And the future has passed without even a last desperate warning
Then look into the sky where through the clouds a path is torn
Look and see her how she sparkles, it’s the last unicornI’m alive, I’m alive