A Love Letter to Mint Kitchen, Gone Too Soon

The Israeli fast-service restaurant closed its doors earlier this year due to the coronavirus after operating for just over a year.

Due to COVID-19, Mint Kitchen, a fairly new Israeli restaurant on University Place closed its doors. Mint Kitchen will be missed for its beautiful calming environment, small plates perfect for sharing, and its fresh Mediterranean food. (Staff Photo by Manasa Gudavalli)

The first time I went to Mint Kitchen, I was waiting outside for my best friend. She had already been to the restaurant and was eager to share her find. We were used to having every single class together, but things had changed. We were lucky to see each other once a week.

My best friend and I quickly adopted this restaurant as our go-to place to meet up between our busy schedules. Over our many visits, we would read, trade updates on the sensational happenings in our lives and she would teach me Russian.

Mint Kitchen, like many other restaurants, closed its doors as a result of the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. This fast-service Israeli kitchen was the perfect lunch spot for those with busy schedules. Only a short walk from Bobst, Mint offered a comforting reprieve from the everyday hustle and bustle just outside its doors.

Mint was my first brush with the concept of mezze. I adored the idea of being able to order a variety of small dishes, perfect for trading and sharing with whomever you’re dining with. The exchange of food creates a connection with those seated around you, bringing people closer together, as food should.

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In the summer, Mint was the place to go if you were trying to take refuge from the heat with a refreshing pomegranate Gazoz or maybe some goat’s milk frozen yogurt. When the weather cooled, the cozy lighting fixtures inside beckoned — encouraging passersby to come inside for a warm bowl of orange lentil soup.

Once inside, diners were greeted with an open kitchen, allowing them to bear witness to the preparation of the food they were about to eat. Small tables allowed for intimate gatherings and were perfect for sharing plates.

The walls were lined with an array of greenery, adding to the white-wall and open-concept space. Their shelves house an assortment of cookbooks from other Israeli chefs like Yotam Ottolenghi. Diners could flip through these at their leisure while enjoying a meal, or they could sit at the counter and watch the people who passed by the restaurant.

Our favorite spot to sit was the box steps that sprouted from one of the walls. We would leave our bags at the bottom of the staircase, position ourselves on plush pillows and pull out something to read.

Yet, Mint had more to offer than just delicious food and a charming space. With a food ethos that pledges to use high-quality ingredients that are “carefully sourced, minimally processed and creatively served,” Mint boasted a menu laden with fresh and exquisitely prepared vegetables in addition to various Mediterannean-style meats.

Co-founders Zeev Sharon and Assaf A. Harlap were both raised in Herzliya, Israel. Sharon grew up knowing that he wanted a career in the hospitality industry, while Harlap had a passion for impact. The two ingrained their goals into the restaurant’s business model.

Coining the phrase “Mint It Forward,” the pair were more than just their food. One of Mint’s mission statements was making a “fundamental commitment to the communities which it serves.” It was a refuge to vegetarians, vegans and omnivores alike. Oven baked falafel, carrots tossed with olive oil and za’atar, roasted cauliflower finished with date syrup and fresh pomegranate seeds are just a few examples of what Mint had to offer.

The creators also believed that New Yorkers should have access to fresh and healthy food. For every 10 meals served at the restaurant, Mint funded a meal for a family through City Harvest.

Additionally, every full-time team member had the opportunity to own shares of the company. Every year, Mint distributed 2% of its annual net profit to its staff. This program was meant to link the success of the business to the growth of the team.

Erez Komarovsky was the culinary partner and worked with the two co-founders to create the menu. A chef, baker and author, he is dubbed one of the founding fathers of modern Isreali cuisine. He is known for founding Lehem Erez — a bakery that sparked the artisanal bread-making movement in Israel.

Sharon and Harlap also made it a priority to reduce the restaurant’s ecological footprint in any way they could. They designed the menu to be eco-friendly and implemented waste management strategies throughout the restaurant.

It’s not hard to see why Mint Kitchen has been praised by Vogue, Forbes and the New York Times alike. Though it only opened in 2019, it was more than enough time to make an impact.

Thank you Mint Kitchen, for charming your way into our lives and taste buds. You were so much more than just a restaurant, nurturing and pouring love into your food and the community. 

You will be missed dearly.

Email Isabella Kloster at [email protected]

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