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September 16, 2019Cart

Business

by Westchester County Business Journal
by WCBJ

A blend of cultures, cuisine at Falafel Taco in Pleasantville

Rosie Hernandez and Jonathan Langsam in the kitchen of their new Pleasantville eatery. Photo by Aleesia Forni.

What happens when you mix Israeli cuisine with authentic Mexican flavors? A new Pleasantville eatery is giving diners a chance to find out.

Tucked in a small storefront at 30 Wheeler Ave., adjacent to the Pleasantville train station, husband-and-wife owners Jonathan Langsam and Rosie Hernandez opened the doors of Falafel Taco in April.

“There are people who walk in and say ‘I have to see how your falafels are. How do they compare to my favorite falafel in Israel or my favorite falafel in New York City?’” Langsam said.

“And people like it,” Hernandez said.

The eclectic menu at Falafel Taco, which mixes Mexican favorites and Middle Eastern staples, traces its roots to Langsam and Hernandez’s attempts to cook food that satisfied their blended families, a group they say is made up of a mix of vegans, meat eaters and everything in between. The couple each has more than a decade of experience working in the restaurant industry: Langsam in the kitchen and Hernandez on the administrative side of the business.

“In every family celebration, I’d have to bring the guacamole,” said Hernandez, who grew up in Veracruz, Mexico, before emigrating to the U.S. in 1999. “They’d ask ‘Are you coming? Well, you have to bring the
guacamole.’”

For Langsam, who held positions in the hospitality industry before transitioning to his work as a chef, many of his dishes focused on his Jewish upbringing and interest in Middle Eastern cuisine.

“We call it Mex-Raeli,” he said.

The couple said they had discussed opening a restaurant together for years, but the opportunity finally presented itself when Hernandez lost her bookkeeping job last year.

“I said, ‘Let’s do something together,’” Hernandez recalled.

But what type of food that restaurant would serve took some tinkering.

“I love Mexican food. I really do,” Langsam said.

“Yes,” Hernandez added pointedly with a laugh.

“So I was thinking,” Langsam continued, “if I opened something with Rosie, maybe it should be a Mexican place.”

The two spent months at their home, working on possible menu items and brainstorming concept ideas.

“Should it be Israeli? Or should it just be tacos?” Langsam recalled of their conversations. “But then we decided on a little bit of both.”

At first, the two thought they would split the menu in two parts: half offering Mexican staples, the other featuring Middle Eastern dishes.

It was Hernandez’s daughter, Andrea, who had a different suggestion.

“She said, ‘Why not mash it up?’” Langsam recalled.

The result is a menu that includes a Mexican matzo ball tortilla soup, Mexican latkes with avocado hummus and an Israeli corn salad. Shakshouka is topped with jalapeno and queso fresco, while an order of “Mexighanoush” mixes roasted eggplant baba ganoush with chipotle seasoning and tortilla chips. A range of falafel tacos include a chicken schnitzel taco, a turkey shawarma taco and a Tel Aviv taco with fried fish, black bean hummus and chipotle mayo.

The two had looked initially at larger restaurant spaces in Armonk and Chappaqua, but ultimately decided to stick with the smaller footprint offered at their restaurant’s new home in Pleasantville.

“In Manhattan, you find all these hole-in-the-wall places with tiny, tiny kitchens, and they’re pumping out a lot of food, and that was the kind of model that I was going under,” Langsam said.

The Pleasantville residents spent three months renovating the 650-square-foot former flower shop, covering the existing “fire engine red walls” with Venetian plaster, adding additional plumbing and installing new flooring. Hernandez also worked closely with mentors from SCORE Westchester in White Plains to develop a business plan.

The primarily take-out restaurant has counter seating along the window overlooking the train station, along with additional tables and chairs for outdoor dining. There is also a cooler offering prepared foods made on site like gazpacho and guacamole.

“At the beginning, we were like, ‘I don’t know if they’re going to love it,’ but at the grand opening, we had a huge line,” Hernandez said.

Langsam said the restaurant saw more than 200 customers on its opening day.

“We were saying, ‘Let’s do samples of the food for them to try, of the falafels,’ but we didn’t have time,” Hernandez recalled. “They just kept coming.”