If you’re hungry in Tel Aviv and on a tight budget, and you’re craving a homemade vegan lunch, you better hope it’s Tuesday or Friday. These are the only two days that Lynn Mitchell, a dreadlocked 29-year-old culinary entrepreneur invites guests into her home and lovingly feeds them. For the past three years (minus a six-month hiatus) Mitchell has been operating Mama Lynna, an underground restaurant inside her home in Tel Aviv’s colorful Florentin neighborhood. On Tuesdays she serves Moroccan food (like couscous) and other oriental dishes (like kubbeh soup); Fridays are focused on Indian cuisine (thali, curry, samosas etc.). It’s always vegan and organic.
Lynn Mitchell started her culinary adventure after finishing communication studies at Sapir College in the Negev and moving to Tel Aviv. She knew she didn’t want to work in communications and searched for something else. Her idea for Mama Lynna stemmed from her love for couscous, her favorite dish. She started with one day, and a limited menu of couscous, vegetable soup and vegan moussaka. “Couscous is an authentic home food but people usually don’t make real couscous at home because it’s a long process. That’s what I wanted to give to the people,” she told me.
Lynn’s business partner is her mother, Relli Traxel. Both of the women cook, but Traxel is primarily in charge of the cooking while Lynn is in charge of everything else. Traxel is half-Moroccan and half-Italian, and her daughter testifies that she makes the best food in the world, from both sides. Lynn is vegetarian since the age of 5 and has been vegan for four years now. Relli became vegetarian in the last few years.
Their restaurant, which started as an experiment, grew and took on a life of its own. “In the beginning, not many people came, just my friends, but they told their friends and more people started coming. It’s all word-of-mouth and social media,” Mitchell explained. “We don’t have a sign outside; you can’t come here by mistake. I like it that way—it is part of our mystique.”
But the quantities of people and food grew so much that Mitchell had to move, twice, to bigger apartments with larger kitchens. Two months ago, she moved to a new location, also in Florentin, with a big backyard. A while back, she left her job as a bartender and dedicated herself to her burgeoning business. Her mother, who worked in yoga therapy and alternative medicine, also gradually left her job to dedicate herself to cooking. “Lynn’s food is soulful, authentic and delicious,” said Chen Attar, a Mama Lynna customer who owns We Love Plants, Tel Aviv’s urban plant shop. “You can feel that she cooks with love for people and for the products she uses.”
A year-and-a-half-ago Mitchell felt she needed a break. She flew to India for six months. When she returned, she added an Indian day to the menu. Her mom had also previously studied cooking in India, and this knowledge came in handy. Nowadays, their Friday thali meals are a hit. Customers sit on the floor in a relaxed and laid-back atmosphere, and sometimes Mitchell adds live sitar music or macramé and jewelry stands, to complete the Friday afternoon Indian vibe. Mitchell sees similarities between Moroccan and Indian food: “Both cuisines use a lot of spices, like curry and fenugreek seed. Both use a lot of vegetables and both cuisines are warm and full of love.” On her free days, Mitchell studies to become a yoga instructor and she teaches a hula-hoop course, but mostly prepares everything for the two days the restaurant is open.
Most of Mamma Lynna’s steady customers are twentysomethings from the neighborhood. In addition to serving meals at home, Mitchell also offers take-out and delivery services and twice a month organizes Indian events that include food and music in one of the neighborhood’s bars. “I order take-out from Mamma Lynna to work every Tuesday,” Attar told me. “I order large quantities to take home and my whole family loves Lynn’s couscous, soup, and vegetable patties.”
Dana Kessler has written for Maariv, Haaretz, Yediot Aharonot, and other Israeli publications. She is based in Tel Aviv.