Chickpeas, Anthony Bourdain And Lessons For Local Entrepreneurs

Kanaan Berlin co-founders, Palestinian born Jalil Debit and Israeli born Oz Ben David — copyright Kanaan.

These days if you want get a seat at Kanaan you better make a reservation AND arrive a couple of minutes early. But, this hip hummus joint’s journey to success didn’t happen fast — in fact it included an awful lot of hard work.

For Kanaan co-founder, Oz Ben David, life suddenly fell apart. After he left the military, Oz pursued a marketing career where he quickly figured out the recipe for success. Oz then moved from Israel to Amsterdam with plans to open a marketing agency.

As one of Israel’s hottest young marketers, Oz was hopeful that Amsterdam would be the perfect springboard for continued success. But it wasn’t. His business failed. Then his marriage ended. Divorced and broke, Oz decided to move to Berlin for a new beginning. What that would be, he wasn’t sure, but he liked the vibe and felt the city was the right place to be at that time in his life.

After arriving in Berlin around four years ago, Oz met Palestinian Chef Jalil Debit, a descendent of the Arab Samir family that owns the famous ‘Humos Samir’ in Israel and Palestine. In fact Jalil comes from a long line of chefs — 400 years of them! The two instantly started to talk about how hard it was, in their opinion, to find good hummus in Berlin. After a healthy debate, they decided to solve this problem by being the duo to make great hummus and supply it to stores.

While starting to launch their business, it seemed like the only agreement the two had was how hard it was to find tasty hummus in Berlin. Was Jalil’s family recipe better than Oz’s grandmother’s? Or should they use Oz’s grandmother’s secret? It was a tough call — they are both delicious. So after a lot of deliberation, the pair decided to bring their two family recipes together to create Kanaan’s special recipe. They did this without giving up ingredients that were important to each of them. The vegan Israeli-Palestinian fusion dish was an instant favorite.

Copyright Kanaan Berlin.

The fact is, when Oz and Jalil began their mission to bring the best hummus to Berlin and beyond, they envisioned it would be as a supplier to supermarkets. However, the entrepreneurs very quickly discovered just how hard it is to enter the German market as a food supplier. Their hummus was passing all the taste-tests but they were too fresh to have proven traction for their product. Stores wanted to see demand.

This is where Oz’s marketing savvy came into play. The Kanaan co-founders began hosting events to serve their hummus. These events didn’t just sell-out, they seriously oversubscribed. Their first pop-up party was supposed be attended by 300 people. Much to their surprise over 1,100 came in search of hummus (and brought the Berlin police behind them because when your party is that size - the police pretty much always hear about it!). Their next party had an expected guest list of 1,000 but 3,500 people arrived (and again brought the police in behind them!).

Tom Cruise as Brian Flanagan — a marketing pro turned restaurateur in ‘Cocktail’ — via IMDB ©Getty Images.

There’s a classic 1980s Tom Cruise blockbuster titled “Cocktail’ where Cruise’s character, a marketing ace, teams-up with his wealthy business partner and develops an ambition to open a trendy bar he’d call ‘Cocktails and Dreams’. As the story unfolds, the pair live a wild life by running a popular bar, banking serious cash, there’s also a relocation to a sexy paradise, and some scandalous affairs.

This is not that story. Call this ‘Chickpeas und Daydreams’. While Oz and Jalil were running hard organizing pop-ups for the purpose of proving traction to supermarkets, they unintentionally evolved into a hip Prenzlauer Berg eatery.

After more than year of grueling work, the pair found themselves occupying a beer garden on Kopenhagener Strasse where they were able to regularly sell their hummus to happy foodies. And sell it they did. In fact they sold so much that one morning about a year later, Oz was woken-up by the bosses at Germany’s national airline Lufthansa.

Lufthanasa Facebook Page Update

It seems his satisfied customers had talked Kanaan into a national vote for what food would be served in-flight and the bosses were knocking to tell the guys they’d won. Oz and Jalil were now the hummus supplier of choice for Lufthansa flights. The duo had been busy working so hard optimizing their restaurant, they hadn’t realized they’d finally reached their supplier goal. And while becoming a supplier is what they originally wanted, the guys realized that they were very happy and thoroughly enjoyed being restaurateurs too.

If you pay attention to politics, perhaps these two should appear be the most unlikely business partners. Instead, the entrepreneurs are creating delicious food that’s bringing people from all over the world together in a regenerating area on the old East German side of Berlin.

Visit Berlin write-up on Kanaan.

Others are noticing. After they secured the Lufthansa deal Visit Berlin, an agency that develops tourism in the city, highlighted Kanaan in their #Foodspots_Berlin campaign. Plus the press came — both food bloggers and A-list journalists. Outlets near and far wanted to talk to these two to find out just how they’ve bootstrapped Kanaan into a Berlin gem. These guys are so cool they’ve been written about in Vice, Vogue and even Vanity Fair.

Article on Kanaan in the UK’s Guardian newspaper.
Article in Germany’s Der Tagesspiegel newspaper.

While the guys have engineered one tasty (and vegan!) hummus recipe, Oz says their real secret ingredient to success has been Berlin. From Day 1, he says the city has welcomed not just them as individuals but Kanaan as a whole. Oz also believes that Berlin is the perfect test market for new products.

“Berlin is so open, and so central, it effortlessly brings people together”.

— Oz Ben David, co-founder of Kanaan Berlin

The famous American Chef Anthony Bourdain, presenter of CNN’s Emmy Award winning ‘Parts Unknown’ show, would have likely agreed with Oz. In fact, one of Anthony’s last filming locations before his untimely death was Berlin. Bourdain visited the city now known as Silicon Allee earlier this year and discovered that many different types of creatives have been coming to Berlin for decades to get inspired.

Celebrity Chef Anthony Bourdain’s ‘Parts Unknown’ episode on Berlin covered the city’s cuisine and creatives.

“During the Weimar years and later, just before and after the Wall came down, Berlin became a refuge for artists, writers and musicians at a crossroads in their lives.”

— Anthony Bourdain, in ‘Parts Unknown Berlin’

Indeed, Oz and Jalil have been able to launch and grow Kanaan on a budget of zero. They haven’t taken any funding. They’ve bootstrapped by selling hummus to hungry people and reinvested cash back into the business to grow it. Their menu now includes a number of yummy vegetarian (and vegan!) meals. Meanwhile, Oz has rebuilt his life into something that inspires and drives him (and its paying the bills too).

Fun figures:
* 50 hummus dishes eaten per hour
* 35 kilograms of green peppers used per day
* 15 kilograms of beets used per day
* 300 pita bread eaten per day

While Kanaan has proven itself to be a huge success on Kopenhagener Strasse, Oz and Jalil aren’t taking it for granted. While they started out with the goal to supply to stores, the co-founders are currently happy with their restaurant business and are focusing on growing it. They’re in the process of scouting new locations not only within Berlin but around Germany and possibly internationally to Japan or Korea. They also sell their own products to take home from their restaurant including different breads and desserts.

When you meet Oz, he’s a humble, witty guy that knows how to tell a good story. It’s clear he and Jalil care deeply about providing delicious food and an unintimdating setting to foster excellent conversation. The co-founders are also keen to give back since they say they’ve gotten so much from Berlin.

They’re both active around the city supporting volunteer initiatives and Kanaan has officially launched an employment program for refugees. Kanaan’s awesome diverse team consists of Germans, Israelis, Palestinians and others plus refugees from a few locations including Syria and Egypt. Oz explains that Kanaan’s helping refugees get back on their feet after life gave them a rough run. Indeed life often unfolds like a rollercoaster ride, from low to high, and there’s no reason why a difficult event should derail an entire life.

Article about Kanaan Berlin’s refugee employment program in Vice.

Keeping with the spirit of community, their restaurant’s roughly 220 person capacity outside garden area has been hosting viewing parties for the World Cup. Bringing football fans, trendy startuppers, hip hummus hunters and many more together to enjoy a friendly afternoon of football in the sunshine. While nobody can truly predict who will win this year’s World Cup final, one thing is clear. If you want to attend their finals viewing parties, you better get there early!

Copyright Kanaan Berlin.

Let’s finish with a motivational moment. Oz recently gave an inspirational Open Lecture to startuppers at the German Technology Entrepreneurship Center (GTEC) — a startup campus headquartered in Mitte that’s on a mission to inspire people, guide entrepreneurs and grow sustainable companies.

His talk was not only sold-out but the delicious hummus Oz brought for everyone to enjoy disappeared fast. I know because I was there — and yes I ate some too! It really is delicious. GTEC recorded this Open Lecture. Now you can listen to Oz explain why he thinks people should not fear taking the big jump into entrepreneurship, republished with permission from GTEC.

German Technology Entrepreneurship Center’s Open Lecture with Oz Ben David, co-founder Kanaan Berlin. Copyright GTEC

For more about awesome brand storytelling from Berlin, read my Medium post “Storytelling Your Way To Startup Success”.

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Cambridge MBA | Marketing Consultant | Speaker | Author | Ghostwriter

Marketing Executive combining Storytelling & Digitial Technology. Techstars Mentor. Former Bloomberg Journalist. Cambridge MBA.

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