21 Jan 2019
Ramallah, Palestine
Organic Food and Agriculture

Saleh Totah, a Palestinian entrepreneur wanted to start a cafe in a flat owned by his family. He then remodeled and built a restaurant inside it and it wasn’t until two years later when he opened it. It was only a few weeks after when Morgan Cooper passed by and then Totah and Cooper started seeing each other.

“I began helping a bit in the cafe. I think we were initially trying to systematize the place. For our own pleasure, we gardened and grew veggies,” Cooper says. Slowly the menu started shifting to something more seasonally and traditionally inspired.

“It’s just sort of happened, and only very intentionally in the last few years. Up until then it wasn’t really an idea: we want to create a restaurant that is heavily organic, inspired by and supplied by harvests from our own garden,” Cooper adds.

She notes that it was sort of in their nature to grow own food and they would share with friends, so the cafe grew into what it has become, La Vie Cafe.

Cooper and Totah later dropped the ‘Cafe’ part from the name and made it La Vie. “It’s a celebration of life. The life growing in the soil of the rooftop garden is part of a circle that we all participate in. This space celebrates our relationship [with] land and life through food and drink and culture. We host an art space for young artists, are building an underground wine and tapas cellar, cultivate an organic rooftop garden, and host a display for fair trade handicrafts. It’s all part of what La Vie is and that connection is represented in our logo,” Cooper explains.

She’s also the morning cook, sometimes the server, gardener or cleaner. “Depends on the needs of La Vie. Whereas my husband is an electrician, plumber, gardener and bartender more often than not,” she says.

La Vie targets mostly everyone. Between locals, visitors, expats and sometimes folks living in Jerusalem.

The Ramallah-based cafe used its first year’s income to buy land for non-profit arboretum while the money raised from selling fair trade handicrafts is all donated to planting trees.

“Some other fun characteristics about the space: we see ourselves as an urban farm in the center of Ramallah. Everyone sees us as that. We sometimes keep our bee hives on the roof, we have chickens in the back, two ponds full of fish and frogs (the water from which we use in our gardens), and there’s often a milk goat, rabbits and dogs. We have 46 edible trees and vines, all of which get used for specials in La Vie,” Cooper says.

“We also have a few staff with special needs, including our morning cleaning guy of 9 years who is deaf and mute. That’s actually really important to us…we not only hire but try to support people who struggle to find that support elsewhere in this community,” she adds.

For Cooper and Totah, healthy soil means living soil. “We want our restaurant to remind people that we are what we eat, so we need to be responsible participants in this cycle. That starts with awareness of where our food comes from. Then it must move into responsibility as a consumer,” she says.

 

Follow La Vie on their Facebook.

La Vie Organic foods & agriculture
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