(New York Jewish Week) — On my frequent trips to Israel, I always throw a handful of gallon-sized, zip-top plastic bags into my suitcase. Once there, I fill them with spices, kosher candies and nuts during my pilgrimages to my personal holy sites: Tel Aviv’s Levinsky Market and its open-air market, Shuk HaCarmel.
But thanks to Din Allall, the 29-year-old, Israeli-born CEO of the rapidly expanding Nuts Factory chain, for my next trip to Tel Aviv, I plan to leave those bags behind. That’s because Allal has brought the Israeli market concept to New York.
“The idea is that these stores should feel like the shuk,” Allal told the New York Jewish Week, “but cleaner and neater.”
Allall opened his first Nuts Factory on Manhattan’s Upper East Side three years ago. Since then, 11 more brick-and-mortar stores have popped up around the city — most recently a second Upper East Side location, this one on 74th Street and 3rd Avenue — as well as in New Jersey and Boston, with plans to open a second Boston location and one in Washington, D.C. The company also operates a handful of departments within supermarkets.
The brightly lit shops are well organized, filled with rows of acrylic containers packed with nuts and dried fruit — including pineapple, melon and papaya — a kaleidoscope of jelly candies, mounds of Middle Eastern spices and sheets of chocolates. Customers help themselves by scooping out the desired amount of product into a plastic bag (provided) or a reusable container (brought from home).
Just like visiting an Israeli shuk, entering a Nuts Factory location is a multi-sensory experience: the aromas, colors, and selection create a symphony of sensations. The Nuts Factory ups the ante by dry-roasting nuts in small batches at each store, assuring freshness as well as providing an inviting fragrance.
That’s part of the reason that Allall has invested in physical stores, as opposed to online. (Another successful, Jewish-owned business in the same category, Nuts.com, began as pushcart in Newark — and is now almost exclusively online.)
“You can buy nuts online but you can’t experience what you can in a store,” Allall said. “Most of our business is walk-in. People see what they get. They can try the nuts and candy. It’s a whole experience.”
The idea to roast the nuts on site came from Allall’s grandfather, Shimone, who was born in Iraq and came to Israel as a teenager. Together with Allall’s father, Igal, the pair created a shuk-like indoor store. The family founded Shkedia (Hebrew for almond tree), a nuts and dried fruit business, about 25 years ago and now has 200 departments in major supermarket chains, like Shufersal and Osher Ad, all around Israel. Nuts Factory is a separate, U.S.-based operation.
“We hadn’t seen anything like it here,” Allall said. “We thought it would be great for Americans to enjoy the ‘shuk’ experience. This generation is leaning towards healthier and less processed products. The quality of the nuts and dried fruit category in America is not as good as ours.”
Allall chose New York as its testing ground because, as he said, “Where else would you do it? We love New York, its energy, its innovation. And I don’t think we were wrong!”
Although there are no signs announcing that the store is an Israeli concept, the sales associates on the floor will tell you which of the products come from Israel — many, perhaps most, of them do. The parve babka, from Tel Aviv’s Antikovich Bakery, is flown in from Israel, as are the store-brand selections of date rolls, sesame, halva and chocolate cookies. The silan and tahini are Israeli, too, and the variety of chocolates — like white chocolate hazelnut bark or milk chocolate coconut bark — come from the family’s chocolate factory in Modi’in, located between Jerusalem and Tel Aviv.
In addition to a typical nut selection, Nuts Factory has special offerings, like pretzel-covered pecans, Nutella-coated cashews and strawberry-covered peanuts. “Everything” cashews — covered with a garlicky spice mixture — is what Allall calls his “weirdest” offering, while their best-selling product, he said, are the Oreo-covered pecans. To understand why, take the store up on its free sample and try one.
“We have a variety that nobody has, that you can’t find anywhere,” Allall said.
All Nuts Factory products are kosher and all of the stores — except for one in Boston and another on Sixth Avenue in Manhattan — have kosher certification. The stores are open on Saturday.
“I was a bit skeptical when I first walked in there — another nut place!” Upper West Sider Sabrina Rosen Salomon told the New York Jewish Week. “But everything was clean and nice, and they have a special offer where you can fill a platter for a fixed price.”
For Tu Bishvat, the Jewish holiday of trees that celebrates all things nuciferous and fruity , the chain is offering a special to its customers: The Nuts Factory’s platters, which they usually sell for $30 and can include up to six items, will be discounted to $24.99. The platter is not based on weight, but whatever fits on it. The special begins two weeks before the holiday, which this year falls on Feb. 6.
And if you can’t make it into one of his stores, you can order the Nuts Factory’s products online. The aroma of warm nuts, however, is not included.