Two local taco shop owners — one Black and one Jewish — put their heads together to come up with a new temporary restaurant concept downtown that they hope will catch on.
Trey Owens and Ari Augenbaum, who co-own Soul Taco with locations in Jackson Ward and Shockoe Slip, branched out last month with the launch of JewFro, a pop-up concept that combines Jewish and African cuisines.
“It’s Jewish. It’s African. It’s just offensive enough to get people’s attention,” Owens said of the JewFro name.
Owens, who is Black, runs JewFro with Augenbaum, who is Jewish, and their business partner Narine Hovnanian.
“We leaned on each other to appreciate each other’s culture,” Owens said.
JewFro operates out of Belle (a restaurant formerly known as Belle & James) at 700 E. Main St. on a short-term lease. Belle is temporarily shuttered due to the coronavirus pandemic. The space is on the ground floor of a Hampton Inn/Homewood Suites.
The pop-up pulls from the culinary traditions of Ghana, Morocco and Eritrea as well as Israel and American Jewish cuisine. In keeping with the pop-up’s goal to introduce diners to different cultures, the menu features a glossary.
Dishes include: Shakshuka, a Middle Eastern and North African dish of poached eggs, Niter kibbeh (Ethiopian spiced butter), tomato sauce, olives, labneh (strained yogurt) and challah; West African peanut soup with ground Moroccan lamb kreplach dumplings, toasted pine nuts and herb oil; and Peri-Peri grilled chicken, a grilled half chicken with coconut sauce, Jollof cous-cous and Israeli salad.
JewFro serves sandwiches, entrees, soups, salads and desserts for lunch, brunch and dinner. Sandwiches run $12 to $15. Most items on the dinner menu fall in the $10 to $30 range.
Owens said he was inspired to create the fusion concept after observing the blowback that ensued after actor Nick Cannon made anti-Semitic comments last summer.
“It’s terrible what he said, but it’s also terrible to see, in turn, a Black guy with such a station and accomplishments be torn down by one thing,” Owens said. “For me, it felt like we needed to come together to talk about things and appreciate each other rather than cancel each other.”
While the pop-up is scheduled to power down at the end of March, Owens said JewFro has been well-enough received by customers that he is on the hunt for a permanent location for the concept.
JewFro follows a holiday pop-up called Jingle Belle that the Soul Taco crew created and ran out of the same location last winter. The Soul Taco group also had been running the food business for the hotel’s rooftop bar, Kabana, however that arrangement came to an end earlier this month.
Owens said Soul Taco is weighing new locations in other cities.
“We left Kabana to pursue other avenues and other things and to focus on growing JewFro,” Owens said. “We really fell in love with the concept.”