Dafna Mossenson balances an unlikely pair of jobs. The Israeli transplant to Warsaw works as a guide for Israelis visiting Poland on the March of the Living, and she’s also the co-owner of Hummus Bar, the first hummus joint in the former Warsaw ghetto. Mossenson, 53, is a former school director. Her husband Erez, 55, was a supply chain director at Kimberly. The couple just opened the second Hummus Bar location.
I spoke with Mossenson over the phone Sunday as she led a crowd of visiting Israeli students on a tour during Holocaust Memorial Day.
How did you open a hummus restaurant in Poland?
My husband dreamed of opening a hummus restaurant for something like 15 years. Three years ago, I told him to either learn how to make hummus or give up the dream. He learned how to make hummus at a local restaurant.
So then why open a hummus place in Poland and not, say, Israel?
The competition in Israel—it’s just not fair. And also we wanted to travel abroad while we still can. We have friends in Warsaw. We went there a few times, and we checked the costs, the openness of the people, and the culinary saturation in the city, and we decided to go for it.
Are there other hummus restaurants in Warsaw?
There is hummus for sale, but a real hummus place—no. There’s a place called Tel Aviv, there’s a place called Beirut, there are Lebanese restaurants.
How much does hummus cost?
Hummus in a pita is 10 zloty ($3.29, or NIS 11.50). A plate of hummus is 15 zloty ($4.94 or NIS 17.20).
Is it true your house is next to Isaac Bashevis Singer’s old residence?
It’s not far, something like five or six houses away. This part of the street where we are was part of the big ghetto. Almost all the buildings were erased in the ghetto uprising. And we only discovered that this building survived the ghetto when we went to register our business.
Our building has a cellar, and the opening to the cellar is in our store. We opened it once, but we didn’t go inside. There’s no light and it’s an unpleasant feeling. What can I say? We imagine what happened there, that Jews hid there during World War II.
What kinds of reactions are you getting?
Total excitement. You can see on our Facebook page, several bloggers have given us great reviews.
What are the hopes for the future?
Well, we accomplished our dream. We opened our store and the Polish people like hummus. Now we have to do business. We imported a pita oven from Israel. We have a central kitchen and we can supply five or six places.
What have you learned about Poland from running a hummus restaurant there?
My perception of Poland was not created solely by hummus. As a guide, I deal in history, and I learned and heard. But in daily life, there is so much bureaucracy leftover from Communism. We have two Polish workers in our management who help us navigate it.
In the last year and a half, there’s a lot of tourism, and not only Holocaust tourists. And I hear a lot from Israelis that, ‘Poland is not what we thought.’ Warsaw is a beautiful city, and there are loads of visitors. There is memory, there are ghettos, but daily life is daily life.