When a family run a restaurant, there are always stories to tell.

If there's one dish that makes Yael Shochat of Ima Cuisine think of home, it's salad.

And this passion for salad is something she's brought to her popular Fort St deli. Israelis love salad, she says - it's a part of every meal, even breakfast.

Ms Shochat founded Ima, originally in Shortland St, in 1997, because when she first arrived in New Zealand from Israel, "there was just not much to eat".

"It was really sad," she remembers.


When I arrive at Ima, her daughter Abigail is working as a waitress, but she's far too busy to talk.

When she got into the food business, Ms Shochat remembers being a bit scared, because of her young family, but took the plunge after a successful catering gig.

"A friend of mine, they had a vineyard, Kim and Erica Crawford, they asked me to do their harvest festival and I ended up catering for 800 people," she says. "And I thought, actually I really want to do this."

 Yael Shochat says the hours she spent building up Ima were hard on her young family. Photo / Babiche Martens
Yael Shochat says the hours she spent building up Ima were hard on her young family. Photo / Babiche Martens

She named her establishment Ima, the Hebrew word for mother. It seems to be an apt name, as that's where her kids ended up spending a lot of their time with her.

"They didn't see me at home, I can tell you," she says wryly.

"It was hard, though, I was hardly at home and the family paid the price, but they've been very supportive."

Abigail started working at the cafe at 14. Ms Shochat's second daughter Naomi also works there and she is trying to recruit her youngest daughter, Talia, who's 17.

"Yeah, we shout at each other a lot, we're very similar," says Ms Shochat about Abigail. "It's hard, which is good - she's a very good worker."


Ima brought a unique food experience to Auckland - Ms Shochat says Israel's culinary landscape is a true melting pot with influences ranging from Eastern European to Moroccan to Middle Eastern. And of course, salad, which Ima offers in the form of large sharing platters.

"We love vegetables and salad," she says. "One day I just threw out my menu and started this sharing thing, all this vegetables and salad."

However, she's come across a few customers with an aversion to veges who demand lamb and chips, with nothing else - but Ima knows best.

"I have shown the door to some people," she says. "Because it's a really fatty piece of lamb, you just have to have that tomato salad and that zesty lemony cabbage thing.

"You can't just have that lamb and chips, I'm not going to serve it to you."

A lot of the staff members at Ima are long-serving as well and some have left but then returned.

It's almost like a family as well, and Ms Shochat is particular about her staff. They must be "clever, positive and reliable".

"I really, really can't stand stupid people," she says.

And it's the same vibe with her customers who have stayed loyal to her unique cuisine over the years.

"I've got customers I've known for ... years and some of them have become real friends," she says.