Everyone keeps talking about the Israeli entrepreneurial spirit as it relates to the high tech sector. But the small business spirit is also prevalent in the country. One example of it is the burrito stand located in Jerusalem’s historic Mahane Yehuda market known as “The Shuk.” Burrito Chai is owned and operated by a young local couple name Michiel and Missy Witt.
You can get any manner of burrito there – steak, chicken, chopped meat, vegetarian – and it is all kosher. In addition to the guacamole, salsa and parve sour cream, Burrito Chai (life in Hebrew) also offers shots of tequila and margaritas.
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Michiel – Michel to his friends – was born and raised in Jerusalem to American parents and is 24 years old. Missy is originally from Chicago and is 29. The couple has two young children and they have been married for 3 and a half years.
They live in a small house in the Nachlaot neighborhood right by the Shuk. Michel is one of 14 siblings, the fourth youngest actually. Pretty much everyone in the area knows at least one member of the Witt family personally.
Interestingly, Burrito Chai got its start as a weekly evening event in Michel and Missy’s home. They started a Facebook group around it and their house was always standing room only on Burrito night. The first was held on one of the rainiest nights of the year. I was sure that this would keep people from coming out and when I arrived I was surprised to see how packed their house was. People really wanted their burritos.
The next step was to sell the home made burritos out of a cart every Friday morning at Jerusalem’s outdoor entertainment and shopping venue called Tahana Rishona (first station.)
Missy says that she wanted to bring more Mexican food to Israel. Americans love their ethnic delicacies. But they made them largely American. Israelis may love their pizza and burgers, but they have not yet taken a liking to Mexican food. The new restaurant may have started with Burritos, but its owners hope to expand eventually to a full Mexican menu.
After first coming to Israel a number of years ago on a Birthright trip, Missy fell in love with the country. She returned a few years later to study Tora in a women’s seminary. That’s when she first met Michel. It was actually in the Shuk itself at one of its frequent evening street parties.
As Missy put it, “First I fell in love with Israel. Then I fell in love with Michel. I now have a family and a home here and I wanted to bring to the community something that I loved back in America. And since my husband is doing his part for Israel in the army it’s my part to manage a new business.”
Michel is currently serving in the army working as a mechanic on super huge bulldozers used for clearing obstacles in the field. He joined late, after taking a deferment to study in yeshiva and because he got married when he was only 20 years old. But now Michel serves in a special program which the IDF has for religious people who are already married. And Michel also does his part for the business. He helped with the renovations of what was once an Indian restaurant and does a lot of the cooking, while also watching the kids at night.
With a husband in the army, Missy is the one who runs the business. This makes Burrito Chai not just a small business story but also a small businesswoman story. A new family, a new business and a husband in the army, when does she sleep. On Shabbat, of course.
So if you want to help out a duo of young entrepreneurs in Israel, a new immigrant there, bring a more diverse menu of delicacies to the country, all while getting to eat some really delicious Burritos, be sure to visit Burrito Chai.
Burrito Chai is located at 4 Eshkol Street in Mahane Yehuda.