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Emma Chen / Columbia Daily Spectator

When business is slow, the Sulzberger Lounge also serves as a quiet study space.

An array of colorful couches and lounge chairs provides a comfortable meeting space in the Sulzberger Lounge on the second floor of the Kraft Center for Jewish Student Life. Photos of smiling students are hung along the walls and polaroid pictures are displayed near the kitchen of Kosher eatery Café Nana.

Café Nana is located in the Kraft Center, on West 115th Street between Broadway and Riverside Drive. Originally bought by Avi Sema in 2008, it was re-opened in 2012 by Israel native Avi Atia, who currently runs the café. Before 2005, the space was used as a communal kitchen area for students to make coffee and bake.

“I used to run a couple restaurant[s] before and a friend of mine told me it’s a place [that] need[s] kosher food for the students who are kosher, so I come take a look, see its potential, see the customer and just go into it,” Atia said.

Café Nana is the only all-kosher restaurant located on campus. Kosher foods are foods that correspond to the dietary regulation of Jewish laws.

Some students may know Café Nana as Vish, a food company that, according to Atia, partnered with Café Nana in 2018. And while the Columbia/Barnard Hillel website mentions Vish, Café Nana has always retained its original name.

The menu consists of a variety of dishes including a Greek panini, falafel sandwich, Israeli salad, and “egg your way” option. While they offer a smaller selection of items than they did when they first opened, today’s choices continue to fulfill the café’s emphasis on fresh, healthy options. The café’s most notable dish is their homemade hummus, and their menu lists seven combinations of hummus offerings.

“It’s our hummus, you know? It’s not [made] with any chemical[s]; it's natural and we do it right on the spot,” Atia said.

The café is open to the public, operating Sunday through Thursday from 9 a.m. until they run out, and on Fridays only for catering services.

“Sometimes it’s going fast and sometimes [we run out by] 7 p.m.,” Atia said. “If we have [orders] for after that we stay longer, but usually [7] is the time.”

In addition to the general dishes, Café Nana caters to many student groups at Columbia. The café receives at least one catering order per day and offers a separate menu, similar to their usual one, specifically for those catering jobs.

The majority of Atia’s customers are students or people affiliated with various student groups on campus. And when business is slow, the Sulzberger Lounge also serves as a quiet study space for students to work, meet friends, or get to know Atia.

“We talk about Israel. Everybody knows I’m from Israel. Originally, I was born in Israel and most of the students over here [have] been in Israel and go to Israel all the time,” Atia said. “So we talk all the time about Israel, what’s going on, what you study, and become friends.”

Atia invites students and neighborhood residents of all backgrounds to enjoy a peaceful environment, fresh food, and a welcoming conversation.

“[There’s] good people over here. [There are] good customers and you know, we become friends. So, if you don’t have money today and you’re hungry, I’m not going to tell you to bring the money because I know I’m going to see you tomorrow. If not tomorrow, [then] next week. We’ve got that relationship already, so [customers] feel comfortable.”

Staff writer Katie Levine can be contacted at Follow Spectator on Twitter @ColumbiaSpec.

Katie Levine Hillel Kraft Center for Jewish Life Café Nana Avi Atia
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