According to Nir Caspi, Starbucks failed in Israel. But, luckily for him, the lack of a major American coffee chain left plenty of room for the Israel native to pioneer his own business: Caspi opened Cafe Landwer in Tel Aviv in 2004. Just 15 years later, Cafe Landwer now has 80 locations in Israel and its first American store right here on Beacon Street.
Before opening a major cafe chain that now sells Landwer coffee in three countries, Caspi served in the Israeli army—an experience that greatly contributed to his business ventures. After leaving the army and traveling across the world alongside one of his best friends, Caspi planted his roots back in his home country and decided to bartend in Tel Aviv. For Caspi, Tel Aviv is the city that never sleeps—making it an ideal stomping ground for a young guy looking to make a few dollars in the nightlife business.
“Tel Aviv is the New York of Israel,” Caspi said. “It’s the main city, the party city. It’s much more vibrant and party than New York.”
So, Caspi started off his career working behind the bar, only to open his own shortly after. But the nightlife wasn’t for him. Still looking to turn dimes to dollars, Caspi decided to capitalize on a venture that was already halfway laid out for him—and one that started in Berlin in 1919.
Moshe Landwer founded Landwer Coffee, a small coffee roastery in Germany, 100 years ago. In 1933, Landwer and his family moved their lives and their coffee business to Tel Aviv, setting the stage for Caspi’s Cafe Landwer. By the 1980s, Landwer Coffee became Israel’s second largest coffee producer, and, fortunately for Caspi, it was now in the family. Caspi’s uncle acquired the Landwer Coffee brand. Though Landwer coffee only sold its roasted coffee in supermarkets, Caspi saw an opportunity to make the Landwer name bigger.
“I told [my uncle], ‘Listen, why don’t we take this amazing name with a heritage of a century, almost a century, and we will tell the story,’” Caspi recalled.
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Within a couple years, Caspi and his team at Cafe Landwer were brewing enough coffee to sustain the nightlife of Tel Aviv. In 2018, Caspi brought the beans and the business to Beantown, opening his first American location on Beacon Street near Boston University. The Cleveland Circle location of Cafe Landwer opened shortly thereafter, with two additional locations in Toronto. Across the globe, Cafe Landwer is estimated to serve 7.2 million guests and 2 million cups of coffee annually.
When he was first deciding where to open up his first American Cafe Landwer, Caspi explored New York and Miami. The father of four boys, he wasn’t satisfied with the massive expense of living in those two major cities. But, Caspi knows Boston. Having visited Harvard University and being familiar with the Israeli-Jewish community of Boston already, Caspi decided that Boston would not only be the ideal place to raise his growing family but also to plant new business roots.
“There is a huge Jewish-Israeli community here that really hugs us…” Caspi said. “The best part of it is my kids have a better, much better, English than mine and they won’t speak with a broken English in their future life.”
The arrival of American Cafe Landwer locations has created new opportunities for Caspi and his family, but all Cafe Landwers are alike. Caspi notes significant differences between the original Israeli coffee shop and its American counterpart.
“Over here, [Cafe Landwer is] more of a bistro, more of a restaurant,” Caspi said.
In Israel, Cafe Landwer tends to attract a different kind of business. Whereas the American crowd of Cafe Landwer gravitates more toward the typical restaurant experience—wait service, a full menu, the works—Cafe Landwer in Israel is more of a coffee shop, the Israeli equivalent of a Caffè Nero or Fuel America.
“In Israel, we will have a ton of students that will come sit in Landwer, will learn, will study, and will spend hours in Landwer,” Caspi said.
This practice is what Caspi is trying to create for Cafe Landwer in the U.S. With such close proximity to Boston College and Boston University, Caspi invites students to order coffee, take out their laptops, and spend a day at a table in Landwer.
“Because it’s a full service [restaurant], people sometimes feel intimidated from coming in and spending three hours on a computer,” Caspi said.
To attract more students, Cafe Landwer is hosting a National Coffee Day celebration. From Sunday, Sept. 29 to Friday, Oct. 4, customers can get an authentic Turkish coffee, latte, cappuccino, or any other caffeinated concoction for $1—an offer that even The Chocolate Bar will have to rival.
Additionally, Caspi has created a menu at Cafe Landwer worth spending a study day and a few dollars on. It’s not Mediterranean by definition, he says, but Cafe Landwer’s cuisine definitely fits into the Mediterranean Diet pop culture has dubbed as all the rage. Both of Caspi’s parents were born in Morocco, and Cafe Landwer’s menu was built on food that Caspi ate as a kid most days of the week. Over pita, hummus, and shakshuka, Caspi described the nature of the food he ate in his youth. Israel, he said, is the melting pot of the East, taking inspiration for food from all over the Middle East and Mediterranean.
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“Israel established [as an independent state] 70 years ago, and people came to Israel from all Western Europe, Eastern Europe, Africa, from all over the world,” Caspi said. “And each group came with their own culture and their own food.”
So, Caspi and his family were not tied down to just traditional Mediterranean food. As Caspi recalls, his mom used to make schnitzel—a staple Austrian dish—four or five times a week. Now, with storefronts in Boston, Cafe Landwer has taken on twists of American staples.
“Over here, you can’t have breakfast without eggs benedict,” Caspi said. “Another thing, in Israel, in breakfast, nobody will eat sausage, bacon, all those stuff.”
To compromise, Caspi balanced out the kebabs and chicken shwarma on the menu with burgers and halloumi sticks, Landwer’s take on mozzarella sticks. And while Cafe Landwer definitely sees guests who tend not to stray from American classics, he notice
s more and more people coming in for authentic Mediterranean food.
But, the food isn’t the only important aspect of the restaurant world.
“I came here for business but I feel like I have another mission now,” Caspi said.
The mission: peace. Caspi, aside from his career as a restaurateur, is also a board member of the Israeli American Council of Boston. His wife, three of his sons, and Caspi were born in Israel—his fourth son was born just the other day right here in Boston—and immigrated to America. Still, his sons didn’t spend enough of their life in Israel to be truly Israeli or truly American, he said.
The Israeli American Council strives to create a community for people like Caspi’s family. Without a place in both the Israeli and American communities, Caspi, as part of the Israeli American Council makes room for them, fostering a peaceful relationship between neighboring communities. With this, Caspi hopes to bridge the gap between the Israeli community and America as a whole, making a place for them in society where there is none.
He creates lasting relationships not only between Israelis and Americans, but Arabs and Israelis, too. He notices in the Beacon Street location of Cafe Landwer that many Arabs come to enjoy food that reminds them of home—a fact that makes Caspi believe that peace between groups is achievable.
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His next city and next stop to peace is Los Angeles. With a new Cafe Landwer location opening in L.A. in the near future, Caspi’s Cafe Landwer isn’t slowing down anytime soon, making its way all the way to the opposite side of the States. From Tel Aviv to Boston to L.A., Cafe Landwer is moving toward a big goal with Caspi at the helm. It’s no small task, but Cafe Landwer is expanding with Mediterranean American dishes, served with a side of love.
Images Courtesy of Drew Katz