Take the stairs down to the kitchen counter of Miznon on Hardware Lane in Melbourne’s CBD and you are immediately struck with a rush of energy; a positive buzz where smiling faces of the staff beam, Aretha Franklin blasts from the speaker and the clatter of pans welcome you.
The first Miznon opened in Tel Aviv in 2011. The diner takes fresh seasonal produce to create Mediterranean-inspired street food. The group have gone on to open Miznon’s in Paris, Vienna, New York City and…Melbourne.
Chef Afik Gal moved to Melbourne in 2017 to open Miznon here and has settled in. How does he lead a team to create such a happy buzz, particularly in the time of COVID-19?
“For us, this is the kind of the concept that we have in all the restaurants. In Miznon, wherever it is, we take the energy to the next level and it starts with the staff.”
Afik says that for 80-90% of the kitchen staff, this will be their first kitchen job. “I think with any job, the hardest part is to make people feel happy. We want our staff to wake up, come to work and have a smile on their face. We want them to look forward to their day, it makes very good energy between the staff themselves and the customers.”
“I don’t think we made a conscious choice of hiring untrained chefs. I think it’s happened because people would sit at the bar, feel the energy, see the fun and hard work and think they may want to work here.”
Afik adds, “This is how it happens. If you start your own good energy, people are attracted to it.”
At least six people who worked at Miznon in Melbourne have gone on to train as chefs. “I hope it’s ok to say we make the energy contagious!” Afik laughs, “we share our passion with them with they take it forward.”
Part of keeping that passion alive and well is working with the best local produce they can find.
Afik says, “Once we choose a location, we get to know a city usually by starting at a wholesale market and we build a menu built on what we find and like.”
Olive oil is a huge part of the menu at Miznon and back in 2017, they sought out Mount Zero and pre-COVID-19 were using 100 litres a week.
With the world moving at a slower pace, the litres may be a little less but there is still much Mount Zero Frantoio olive oil being poured, added and splashed on to Miznon’s fresh dishes. And, in a business pivot, they have moved into delivery, too.
“I didn’t want to do delivery for a long time in Tel Aviv. At first we did it ourselves, we’d drive it around to test how it travelled! But now we’re doing it here, we asked ourselves what can we do for people to eat at home. We’re doing a lot of prepared food; tahini, hummus and falafel, and lamb stew or wagyu beef stew.”
Where does Afik see the world of hospitality moving in our current climate?
“Everyone is rushing out now, trying different concepts and that’s good but it will eventually find a balance. There are many options at the moment, balance will come.”
He adds that, due to COVID-19 restrictions, the energy in the venue is relatively low compared to what it usually is!
“Before the restrictions, every Friday night we would gather our customers around the stairs and the bar, give them Challah bread, light candles and say a blessing. You need something to retain this energy and the social distancing makes it hard. So, we now personalise it. We give each table a baby challah and one piece of cake, so we create intimacy too. Intimacy and nurturing is also part of the energy we create.”
Positivity, nurturing and intimacy; a great combination in a changing world.
59 Hardware Lane, Melbourne