Peace on a plate. That's what Yoash Dvir is serving up at his hummus bar in Sydney, the first eatery of its kind in the Australian city. "I have an Israeli salad, a Lebanese-style hummus with Lebanese tahini, we serve Turkish coffee, one of my best clients is Egyptian and we're friendly with everyone, especially the Syrian restaurants up the road," says Dvir, as he shows me around Simply Hummus in the city's upscale Darlinghurst district. The tiny venue is as simple as the name suggests – it's decked out with lanterns and fairy lights, and a small cluster of tables has been squeezed into the narrow space.
Dvir, 40, grew up near Tel Aviv, but moved to Australia after his wife, a tech expert, was seconded to Sydney about two years ago from New York, where they had been living. Upon their arrival Down Under, Dvir, a former lawyer, spotted a gap in the foodie landscape.
“There was no hummus bar, and as a businessman I thought it was a good opportunity,” he explains. “In the Middle East there are a lot of hummus places, so I said ‘let’s open one’.” Dvir knows many other Middle Easterners who shared his dream. “I talked about it for a year before I did it,” he says. “Everyone said someone should open a hummus bar. I was that someone.”
He happily admits he was not much more than his wife’s sous chef in the kitchen at home prior to this new venture, but he soon set about finding a recipe he liked, testing it at some of the city’s popular weekend markets, including Sydney Vegan Market.
“I had never cooked hummus before, so I started looking for recipes. I bought a book about hummus and started cooking. I found some recipes I liked, and after 40 iterations I got the recipe and concept I have today.”
While everyone has a different idea of what makes a good chickpea paste, Dvir has opted for a chunkier version of the dish he’s used to. “The texture we have here is more of the Lebanese kind – it’s more ‘liquidy’ and chunky, not so smooth. In the Middle East you get it very smooth, very liquidy, but it’s also much heavier.” But Australians don’t like heavy dips, he says. “It needs to be light and easy for them.”
By catering to this market, he hopes his customers will help him realise his next dream of expanding the business.
“I want more,” he says confidently. “Melbourne is a great spot, Brisbane is a great spot, Cairns is a great spot – it’s hot all year round up there and hummus is a great thing to eat with a cold drink.” His next destination, however, will be Bondi for the summer, when he’ll serve hummus at lunch only throughout the season.
Thankfully, so far, interest in Dvir’s humble hummus bar has exceeded his early expectations, and while he’s proud to be the first entrepreneur to dip his feet into the market, he says his success has been a case of trial and error.
“I didn’t know how much hummus I would need when I first started. In the beginning I cooked, and because no one knows about you it’s best to keep a little bit on hand and if you run out, you run out,” he explains. “I cook chickpeas, but I don’t blend them as hummus. We do it to order, blending 12 to 15 dishes at a time.”
Every day is different, so Dvir says it’s tough to estimate how much stock he might go through. During his stints at the vegan market, for example, 700 bowls of falafel flew off the stall table in one day. That’s a whopping 15 kilograms of chickpeas.
“The tahini, I get from the Lebanese guys at Auburn [a district of Sydney], and how much I use depends on the day. The markets showed me how to take the small cooking at home and take it to mass production.”
And while he can take the credit for being the first to open a dedicated hummus bar in the harbour city, Dvir says he’d welcome others to join him. “I would be happy to see more of them popping up. The thing is, I am the first one and no one can take that away from me.”