By Nestor Bailly, Contributing Reporter
RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL – If after a hot day at the beach or during a short workday lunch hour you hunger for something fresh, fast and differnt, pop by Laffa Kebabs in Ipanema or Leblon for a delicious shawarma or falafel you won’t find anywhere else in Rio.
Roni and Tomer Kanarek are two brothers from Tel Aviv, Israel, who have brought the symbolic fast food of the Middle East to Rio de Janeiro.
Roni came to Rio nearly three years ago with his Brazilian wife, whom he met in Israel, with the idea of starting a business. Tomer followed shortly after to help the start-up.
“We decided on this, a kebab store, because there is no Arabic or Israeli fast food in Rio,” said Roni. “We did research all over Brazil and found nothing like what we’ve done, no kebab stores like what you find in Israel or Europe.”
Given Rio already has a few Arabic restaurants and a sizable Jewish and Arabic population, the Kanareks figured they had found a niche in the market.
Their first store opened in Ipanema in November of 2009. Conveniently located near the General Osório Metro at 175 Visconde de Pirajá, the restaurant offers a variety of traditional Arabic and Israeli fare with some original twists. The newest location, in Leblon, opened in December 2010.
The kebabs, falafel and other sandwiches are all made with fresh bread, baked from their homemade dough on a special press imported from Israel. The lamb kebab, their most popular, is well-balanced and flavorful, without the excess fat or grease that many kebabs have.
“If you want to eat a real kebab like you would in Europe or Israel, we are the best,” said Tomer. “Everything is like from Israel, the recipes and spices are all authentic. We learned how to make everything ourselves, then came here and taught our chefs.”
Laffa Kebabs offers a little slice of Israel for many of its customers. Roni and Tomer like hands-on managing, and are often in the restaurants talking with customers in Hebrew. “We are very close to many of our customers and to the community,” said Tomer. “Our restaurants are like a small Israel for them, and we are happy to bring a little bit of home food to them.”
Though Tomer worked in a bar and restaurant business back in Tel Aviv and Roni ran part of the family’s shoe business, starting a new business in Rio was not without its hurdles.
“Of course the bureaucracy was difficult, but they didn’t make it harder for us as foreigners. It really helps to have a Brazilian partner who can help out with the procedures,” said Roni, referring to his Brazilian wife, who played an important role.
“Everything here moves slowly compared to Israel,” Tomer added. “But that is part of the more relaxed way of life. My advice to anyone staying here or starting a business is just be patient.”
The Kanarek brothers are in the process of franchising their business, and plan to open new branches elsewhere in Rio as soon as they can. They are especially targeting high-end shopping malls where they can market their ‘fast casual’ street food with style.
For more information see the web site.