BY KATIE HOOS
When walking down the aisles of one of the county’s farmers markets, one might expect to see the usual summer produce: bright berries, ripe tomatoes, local eggs and fresh herbs. But one unique vendor, Taiim Falafel Shack, is rapidly growing a local fan base and changing the way Westchester residents traditionally envision farmers markets.
Based in Hastings-on-Hudson, Taiim Falafel Shack serves Middle Eastern “soul food,” according to owner Zamir Iosepovici, who opened the cozy restaurant in 2010 with his wife, Kerri Jew.
Now Taiim Falafel has expanded to not only include the restaurant, but a catering service and several stands at various farmers market venues.
“I was always interested in sharing the food that I grew up on,” Iosepovici, a native of Israel, said.
Showcasing traditional Middle Eastern cuisine with locally sourced ingredients is exactly what he does.
Born in Ramat Gan, Israel, Iosepovici, 45, spent his childhood in his homeland until his bar mitzvah at age 13. His family immigrated to the United States in 1981. They moved from Brooklyn to San Diego, Calif., finally settling back east in Merrick, Long Island, where Iosepovici attended high school. He received his bachelors of science degree from SUNY Binghamton and his law degree from the Emory University School of Law and went on to practice law as an assistant district attorney for the State of New York until entering private practice in 1996.
Iosepovici, a Hasting-on-Hudson resident, eventually became a partner at Popescu, Iosepovici and Associates, a New York City-based law firm, before deciding to scale back on his workload in 2010 in order to focus on other, more personal interests.
His wife became ill and needed to take time off from work, Iosepovici said, leaving him to think of a different way to make up for the loss of her income.
“I had to find a way to make lemonade out of lemons,” he said.
Following his desire to share some of his favorite Middle Eastern food with his neighbors, Taiim Falafel Shack was born in 2010.
Located on 598 Warburton Ave. in Hastings-on-Hudson, Taiim, which translates to “delicious” in English, serves a variety of traditional Israeli foods, including lamb and chicken shawarma, babaghanouj, stuffed grape leaves, hummus and, of course, falafel.
“It’s all really inspired by food sold by street vendors and the mom-and-pop shops in Israel,” Iosepovici said. “We call it Israeli soul food.”
But the food represents more than nostalgia for Iosepovici, who sources the majority of his spices and ingredients from local growers; it’s his way of supporting local agriculture.
Iosepovici incorporates seasonal ingredients into Taiim Falafel’s menu and purchases as much as possible from local farmers, especially produce and spices to flavor Taiim’s hummus.
“One thing we’re doing now is developing a working relationship with a local farmer in Dutchess County, Blooming Hill Farm,” he said. “We get a list of what’s fresh and we order what sounds interesting. When it comes to interesting vegetables and herbs, I love doing that.”
Iosepovici said he likes to play with seasonal flavors, creating cilantro or peach-flavored tabouli in the summer and butternut squash flavored hummus in the fall.
Besides sourcing locally, Taiim Falafel promotes local commerce in its appearance at the Down to Earth Farmers Markets, an Ossining-based group that organizes nearly 20 farmers markets in New York City and Westchester and Rockland counties. There are currently eight Down to Earth Farmers Markets in Westchester, including summer locations in Rye, Larchmont, New Rochelle, Croton-on-Hudson, Ossining and Tarrytown.
There are also winter markets in Ossining and Mamaroneck.
The markets—which began in 1991 after Ossining resident Miriam Haas wanted to purchase apples from local farmers that did not spray them with the chemical Alar—sell locally grown produce, locally made goods and food from vendors who support local agriculture.
“The trademark of the markets are the two types of vendors: local farmers and food makers like [Iosepovici] who source locally,” said Nicole Reed, communications manager for Down to Earth. “We like the idea of broadening the circle to support local agriculture.”
Adding a vendor like Taiim Falafel Shack, according to Reed, makes it easier for local residents to get all their shopping done at one time and can potentially eliminate grocery store runs.
“One thing we try to do is provide as much of people’s weekly grocery shopping at the market as we can,” Reed said, noting vendors selling goods such as nuts, nut butter, olive oil, baked goods, fish and coffee add another layer to what is thought of as traditional farmers market items. “It’s really a celebration of food.”
Taiim Falafel Shack has sold hummus and falafel for the last year at the Larchmont and Mamaroneck farmers markets on Saturday mornings, and has started setting up shop on Sundays at the farmers market in Rye. They also have a stand at the Down to Earth Piermont in Rockland County and Park Slope in Brooklyn locations as well as other farmers markets in the area, including the Irvington, Chappaqua and Hastings-on-Hudson seasonal markets.
While Iosepovici said business is really dependent on the weather, the markets have been successful in gaining more catering customers and broadening Taiim Falafel’s reach along the Sound Shore.
But most importantly, the farmers markets, Iosepovici said, provide him with the opportunity to share Taiim Falafel’s motto, “Keep Calm and Eat Falafel,” which he said means relax and enjoy Israeli food.