Fresh salatim. Plant-based schnitzel and shawarma. Falafel that is lighter and filled with green. Just some of the offerings from the new vegan restaurant, Sephardic Sisters.
It's not often that a restaurateur will close one successful business in order to open another. In fact, when husband and wife team Gina and Andy Kalish first discussed shutting down their six-year-old, thriving vegan restaurant, Kal'ish, it did not seem like a viable option.
"When Andy proposed the idea of possibly shutting down Kal'ish, I said, 'no, absolutely not,'" said Gina. "It was doing so well, and people loved it, and I loved it too."
But it became apparent that the Kalishes had to make a change--they no longer felt true to the restaurant.
That's when they decided to give the former Kal'ish location a quick, beautiful, and bright refresh, creating a new restaurant that speaks more to where they are, at this juncture of their life.
"It's such a passionate thing for me, food," Gina said. "This is really the way I eat every day. I love to share when I get excited about stuff. I finally just came to terms with the fact that as much as I love [Kal'ish]-- it's been with us for over six years--it was just time to transform it into something… more true to me, more authentic."
Sephardic Sisters, which opened in Chicago's Uptown neighborhood in March, serves up vegan fare with Sephardic and Mizrahi Jewish influences. The new restaurant offers an alternative to Gina and Andy's neighboring deli, Sam & Gertie's, which serves vegan food based on traditional Ashkenazi-style deli classics.
Sephardic Sisters serves up vibrant fare--bursting with color and exploding with flavor. "For quite a while, I've been wanting to introduce more of the Israeli and Sephardic food, and there just wasn't any room in the deli," Gina said. "The more I experimented at home, I realized this is really the food that I live on day and night."
Gina was born in Mexico City, but traces her lineage to Italy and Spain. Although she isn't Jewish, her great-grandfather was a Spanish Jew.
The new eatery is resonating with its clientele. "The vegan community, the Jewish community, the Uptown community--they've all responded very well," said Andy, a Jewish Detroit native. "[Vegans] hadn't really come across a vegan Middle Eastern restaurant [until now]. They would go, by default, to places that are Middle Eastern, but they're limited as to what they can get. By coming to us, they can eat the shawarma, the chicken. the kabobs, all that Mediterranean stuff they wouldn't otherwise be able to."
And Jewish customers, he said, come to the restaurant because it's an extension of what they're familiar with. "I just happen to love being Jewish and I happen to love the food, culture, and people--and I always have," Andy said. "If we're going to invest in something and labor over it, we might as well do something that we believe in and love."