Dual Diners Drop

In Eat, July/August 2021 by Eric Ginsburg3 Comments

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Resto combo—one of Food Network’s Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives fame—lands in DTR. 

“I want to trigger people’s curiosity,” says Trey Owens of his and Ari Augenbaum’s new Raleigh restaurant’s edgy name: JewFro. “The first thing everyone does is read something and decide how offended they should be. I want to spark people’s interest.”

For Owens, a Black Southerner, and Augenbaum, a Jewish chef, JewFro is a chance to explore the commonalities and corollaries between various Jewish and African cuisines and how two very different cultures can come together in an unexpectedly harmonious way. Together with business partner Nar Hovnanian, an entrepreneur with Armenian and Middle Eastern roots whose culture includes very similar food, Owens and Augenbaum designed the new restaurant concept to be not just palate-pleasing—but a conversation-starter.

“It’s about representation,” says Owens. “It’s about showing you that there’s so much more to a culture than what you hear about.”

The trio operates Soul Taco—a popular Richmond restaurant featured on Food Network’s Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives that’s known for its oxtail al pastor and buttermilk-battered fried chicken tacos, among other fusion recipes. During the pandemic, they experimented with various pop-ups, including JewFro, which melds common Jewish and African ingredients and cooking styles. It was a hit. 

Now, they’re preparing to expand across state lines, opening a Soul Taco location—quickly followed by JewFro—inside the former Remedy Diner by Goodnights Comedy Club and Irregardless Café. The building is large enough to hold both restaurants, which drew the partners in.

“We’ve had our eyes on Raleigh for quite some time,” says Owens. “Raleigh’s poppin’, so it was really hard for us to get in at first. Baltimore or Nashville had been discussed. Fortunately, things in Raleigh went from looking almost like it wasn’t going to happen to coming together really well.”

Soul Taco will focus on replicating the success of its two Richmond locations. Slated for a late summer or early fall opening, this establishment, Owens insists, is not like other soul or taco restaurants. For starters, everyone—including dishwashers and servers—earns a living wage. 

The team relies heavily on fresh, local ingredients and making everything from scratch—which includes braising some meats for 12 to 14 hours, Hovnanian says. But more than anything, it’s the blend of foodways that makes Soul Taco unique. “It’s like somebody’s abuela moved from Mexico down to Atlanta,” says Owens.

At JewFro, the menu is arguably more distinctive and original. While the millennial restaurateurs are still finalizing the menu, a draft includes items like a West African peanut soup with ground Moroccan lamb and kreplach, or Jewish dumplings. A brisket sandwich on marbled rye gets a makeover using an Eritrean dry brine technique, ras-al-hanout slaw, and a harissa and preserved lemon aioli. 

Ashkenazi Jewish household favorites including pastrami, challah, latkes, potato kugel and chopped liver all make appearances, as does a South African piri piri chicken; a Doro Wat Ethiopian spiced roasted turkey; and a wide range of ingredients and preparations popular in Tunisia, Egypt and Cote d’ Ivoire. In line with their mission to start conversation and cross-cultural understanding, Owens says they’ll have a glossary of terms on the back of the menu so diners can learn more about a dish’s origins.

“The concept of JewFro is inclusion,” says Augenbaum. “At first, we worried it would be difficult to meld these cultures together. Once we started working on it, we started seeing how many similarities there are.”

For Owens, who can trace his family’s roots back generations to slave ships but not to the continent, it’s also been a journey of self-discovery. “This allows me to dive deep into all of Africa, and then also my own business partner and what he eats and partakes in,” Owens says. “That’s purposeful.” 

Hovnanian agrees. “I think each concept has a very unique blend of all of us,” she says. “This is very much our food and very much tells our story. We are always giving each other a chance to talk about things because we have this relationship. We want people to just stop and try to understand each other.” soultacorva.com.

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