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A conversation with Reuven Wolaj, Gulindo Bistro Bar owner

by simone July 20 2008

Reuven will make you a good cup of coffee.

As Starbucks takes over America, and Hillel, Joe, Aroma and Arcaffe battle for control of Israel, small, independently owned cafés are becoming fewer and farther between. In Jerusalem, Gulindo, on Shammai St. 17, is bucking the trend, creating an intimate space with character. Jerusalemite recently spoke with founder and proprietor Reuven Wolaj, an Argentinean immigrant who runs Gulindo with his Israeli-born wife.

How did you come up with the name Gulindo? My wife, whom I work with, is called Geula, and I call her Gueli. She calls me Lindo, so when we decided to open the bistro, we combined our nicknames and came up with Gulindo.

What made you decide to open an independent café so close to the flagship branches of Aroma and Hillel? Basically, we're offering people an alternative. We're smaller and our goal is to create a personal connection with our customers. Here they are not just a number. We have regulars that come and sit at their own particular tables and I already know what they want to order before they even open their mouth. It's more intimate here. Some people prefer the anonymous vibe of chains, while others prefer our intimate atmosphere. Basically, each place speaks to different people.

Gulindo is a quiet café during the day and has a bar vibe at night. Was this the original intention, or something that just happened? Gulindo is billed as a Bistro Bar, and that's what happened. We're a bistro by day and a bar by night. We change our lighting, our music and even our food offerings at night. Our morning music is much more shanti (chilled out) than our night music, and our morning foods are breakfast foods, whereas we offer more bar-type foods at night.

Gulindo also doubles as a gallery. How do you decide what artists to feature? I have a friend from the Musrara School who serves as my curator. We change our exhibits each month. Last year we hosted music nights as well. We want to create a cultural vibe here and give a platform to Jerusalem's artists and musicians, to create a sense of community here for them.Gulindo Bistro Bar

Gulindo quickly became a favorite for locals as well as visitors to Jerusalem. What do you think it is about your cafe that makes it so popular? I'm glad to hear that it's popular. After three years of hard work, it's good to see that our efforts are being rewarded. I guess the café is popular because we're good to our customers. We don’t charge too much. We have discount cards that regulars get so that after a few meals here, they get a free meal or drink. We like to give here and not just take.

Most of Jerusalem's cafés have the same items on the menu. What stands out on yours? What can I get in Gulindo that I cannot get elsewhere? We have a lot of dishes here that aren't offered elsewhere. We use different mixes of cheeses than other places. We make everything ourselves here in the café, as opposed to some of these chain stores where they make a quiche in one place and then it's shipped to a whole chain of stores. All of our ingredients are really fresh. We have high standards for our food which we make new each day.

If you could change just one thing about Jerusalem, what would it be? I would like to influence the municipality to support new businesses and small businesses. They need to make it easier to open a business here. I had to fight very hard to open Gulindo, and if a city wants to grow, it shouldn’t be that way.

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