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Pomella Thrives

Israeli restaurant bonds community

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Mica Talmor makes the smoothest hummus this side of the San Francisco Bay. Explaining how she makes it, Talmor takes a break from running Pomella, her new Israeli restaurant. "It's not about the recipe, it's about the technique," she says. Piedmont Avenue customers will remember the taste and consistency of it from her previous restaurant, Ba-Bite, which closed in 2018.

In Hebrew, Ba-Bite means "at home." In English, it was a playful pun. "The name was perfect because people really felt at home." For the new incarnation of the restaurant, she wanted it to have a feminine name. "This time I'm going solo, it's mine, one hundred percent woman-owned and I wanted it to represent me," she says.

Pomella is the Hebrew pronunciation of the pomelo fruit. In her case, the name actually stems from the pomegranate. "For 20 years, the pomegranate's always been part of my business symbol," she says. "That's where the 'Pom' came from." And "ella" means "goddess" in Hebrew. Talmor says, "The fruit itself symbolizes, in many cultures, a new year, new beginning; it symbolizes prosperity." Pomegranates may look plain on the outside, but she says, "When you open it, there's a whole world in there. That really comes through in our food as well." To create her menus, Talmor draws upon those familiar culinary influences she ate back home in Israel—from the Middle East and North Africa, even some European dishes.

The new location of Pomella is right down the street from the old Ba-Bite address. The restaurant now shares a unit in the same building as Doña, where Chow used to live. Talmor returned to Piedmont Avenue because she kept bumping into people from the neighborhood who missed her cooking. "When we closed in 2018, there was a line out the door, of people coming and saying goodbye," she says. "It's just incredible how much support I have gotten from this community."

On a recent Sunday night, it looked like the community had returned in full. Customers waited for their names to be called outside in the courtyard. Some people ate at the tables but, like me, most had pre-ordered their meals online to go. I found Pomella's menu slightly confusing and left without a batch of the house-made pita bread. It doesn't automatically come with the hummus plate. Talmor agreed and said that you can always give them a call for clarification. She also added, "I think everything is very confusing with that lack of human interaction."

Pomella opened in March at the very start of the pandemic. "I didn't really know how to deal with the Covid situation," she says. But Talmor made a practical decision to start off with prepared meals and mezes, items that people could buy cold and then heat up at home.

Once outdoor seating was allowed, she thought it was time to start offering hot food. "We added our hummus plates, fresh grilled proteins and fresh falafel." Since then, Talmor says, "It's shocking, but Pomella is experiencing a growth pattern in the middle of the pandemic."

Her optimism about running a business during a pandemic can fluctuate on any given day. "I am responsible for our crew and I will get us through this crisis. We are growing and I completely believe in this project," Talmor says emphatically. On the other hand, when she hears about other restaurants closing, she gets it. "It's really, really, really hard right now. I don't know what I would do if I were in their shoes."

"I borrowed a lot of money to open this place, and I committed to my employees," she says. "I've had employees that left their jobs to work for me." Not being optimistic, or even considering shutting down, aren't options. However, Talmor has been feeling the strain of being in survival mode for several months in a row. "I can't really look that far ahead. I'm working on making changes, on menu items and having special dinners. I'm working on so many different things."

Covid-19 has yielded one clear benefit: Pomella has stepped up its social-media presence and uses it as an effective way to communicate with customers. "We just managed to create a community around us through this time," Talmor says. Speculating on the support the restaurant's received, Talmor says, "Some of it is that we were here from the get-go, giving people some help at a time when they needed it."

Pomella, open 11am to 8:00pm daily, 3770 Piedmont Ave., Unit B, Oakland. 510.250.9215. Pomellaoakland.com.

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