Chickpea
By Jesse Donaldson

The Chickpea explosion

After a string of different jobs – including stonemason, caregiver and store manager – Itamar Shani discovered his calling in a rather unlikely place: the back of a food truck. “It was there I realized that I was a chef,” he says. “All my life, I'd been writing in a recipe book. I'd been making everything by myself – my own flour, I'd roast my own coffee. I realized that I really connected with food from the ground up.”

At the same time, Rotem Tal came from a family steeped in hummus tradition; not only does his uncle own multiple hummus places in his native Israel, but Rotem himself had begun finding success making and selling his own on campus at the University of British Columbia. “He started making hummus, and people got crazy about it,” Itamar explains. “And we'd become good friends. And I said 'Hey, I'm thinking of opening a food truck. Did you want to do it with me?'”

Less than three months later, in the spring of 2016, Chickpea was born, bringing vegan and vegetarian Mediterranean-inspired comfort food to the streets of Vancouver. The pair set a brisk pace, taking the food truck to everything from weddings to events and festivals, and a little over a year later, Chickpea's first brick-and-mortar restaurant opened its doors in Vancouver's Riley Park neighbourhood, steps away from the Mount Pleasant area.

“It was like an explosion,” Itamar laughs. “We had a small commissary, then had to move to a bigger one, then had to buy our own commissary after three or four months. And then we decided we needed our own space to spread the 'chickpeace' a bit more.”

Our goal is to one day buy a farm, and live there. We'll grow the food and recycle what's left. We want to do everything. - Itamar Shani, co-owner
In the spring of 2016, Chickpea was born, bringing vegan and vegetarian Mediterranean-inspired comfort food to the streets of Vancouver.
In the spring of 2016, Chickpea was born, bringing vegan and vegetarian Mediterranean-inspired comfort food to the streets of Vancouver. Photo courtesy of Yellow Pages

Home is where the hummus is

Decorated in a whimsical, cartoonish style, the 2,400-square-foot restaurant has allowed Rotem and Itamar to expand beyond the food truck's initial offerings, including new menu items like vegan shawarma and tofu schnitzel served with avocado and yams. What they don't make themselves, they source from local partners. Vegan chocolate comes from Zimt Chocolates. Non-dairy ice cream is provided by Say Hello Sweets, another local food truck. At every turn, the pair are committed to making their restaurant something truly different, and that even extends to how they treat their staff.

“The restaurant industry, it's not a nice environment,” Itamar says. “Front-of-house, they put beautiful girls out and sexualize them. Then you have people in the back that work so hard, but everyone's yelling at them. It's not like that here. Everyone's an equal. Each one of them is getting a good salary. We're getting into giving benefits. Our employees are our friends. Our family.”

Chickpea's food truck and brick-and-mortar restaurant offers vegan and vegetarian Mediterranean-inspired comfort food.
Chickpea's food truck and brick-and-mortar restaurant offers vegan and vegetarian Mediterranean-inspired comfort food. Photo courtesy of Yellow Pages

Spreading the 'chickpeace'

Starting in their first week, Itamar chuckles, the restaurant has been packed from virtually dawn until dusk. And there's been other recognition as well; the food truck was given a glowing review by Metro News, and was a finalist for the 2017 Vancouver Magazine Restaurant Awards. And while many restauranteurs dream of franchising, or expansion, Rotem and Itamar have a somewhat different goal.

“Our goal is to one day buy a farm, and live there,” Itamar says. “We'll grow the food and recycle what's left. We want to do everything. People are coming in all the time, asking if they can invest. And put [the restaurant] everywhere. I don't think we're going to do that. For now, we're doing the restaurant. Let's take it one chickpea at a time.”

[Header image by Jesse Donaldson]

Chickpea expands on the food truck's offerings, and includes a variety of beverage options, including craft beer, cider and Kefir.
Chickpea expands on the food truck's offerings, and includes a variety of beverage options, including craft beer, cider and Kefir. Photo by Jesse Donaldson
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