Wide Angle

Café Mogador in East Village : A home away from home

In the middle of the most popular neighborhoods in New York, Rivka a Mogador native founded with her brother, Café Mogador, a home away from home where they recreated their mother’s Moroccan recipes. The restaurant located in East Village, Manhattan is a warm place for all those who are in love with Moroccan food, culture and hospitality.

Café Mogador, pictures of Rivka's family hung on the walls of the restaurant./Ph. Café Mogador
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Café Mogador is a home away from home for Rivka Orlin, a Jewish woman who was born in the Moroccan coastal city Essaouira. In 1983, she founded with her brother one of the most popular restaurants in East Village Manhattan, a place where everybody is invited to enjoy the food and relax in a cozy atmosphere.

It all started for Rivka when she was living in Morocco with her parents and twelve siblings, a fascinating story that was narrated by Lee Oren, Café Mogador’s Director of Operations. «Rivka was born in Mogador from a Jewish family but she moved to Israel in 1956» recalled Lee. 25 years later, she moved to New York, and most precisely East Village, which was considered back then a cultural hub that inspired many artists and musicians. «It was an underground area and there weren’t a lot of restaurants around maybe there was a bar or two» Lee told Yabiladi.

Recreating her mother's recipes

Inspired by her childhood memories and recalling her mother’s recipes, Rivka founded the restaurant with a very heartwarming idea in mind. According to Lee «Rivka’s idea was to make the food she was growing up eating». Growing up in household where 12 kids were supposed to be fed was quiet a hard task for her mother, so Rivka was there whenever her mother was cooking. Although she did not know how to cook back then Rivka «used to spend time with her mom in the kitchen», said Lee.

«when she opened the restaurant she basically did everything by herself, cooking, washing dishes and serving the food. She did everything from A to Z», declared Lee. Café Mogador was a way of feeling at home again and remembering all the past memories in Morocco, so Rivka «just cooked the food that her mom used to make (…) she made Couscous, Tajine and Bastilla and some Middle Eastern food as well and no one in New York back then knew what Moroccan food is».

Expanding the family business

After gaining respect and popularity, Café Mogador was expanded. «5 years ago we opened another restaurant in Brooklyn in Williamsburg which is also successful and they are serving the same Menu», explained Lee who insisted that the two locations are notorious for being a «home away from home».  It is all based on the feeling that one encounters when dining or having lunch in Mogador. Also the decoration is collected by Rivka, photos of her family, teapots and tagine pots sourced from Morocco. «It is very casual, a labor of love for her (Rivka)», stated Lee.

Indeed, the family business has been a magnet for almost every Hollywood star. Featured in magazines like Vogue, Time Out New York and the Interview, Lee told Yabiladi that the list is very long when it comes to the number of celebrities who have been to Café Mogador. «Scarlett Johansson, Natalie Portman, Johnny Depp and Kevin Bacon were there». Not only that, a few series and movies were shot in the restaurant.

Everybody's welcome here

When asked about their regular customers, Lee said that they welcome everyone and that’s what makes them so unique. «One of the things that we are proud of is that we are ‘everybody’s welcome there’».

As for the food, the two locations of Café Mogador, serve breakfast, brunch, lunch and dinner. The menu contains a range of Moroccan signature dishes such as, Couscous, Tagines, and Bastilla alongside other Middle Eastern goodies. Although the cuisine is Moroccan, Lee explained that they don’t source products from the kingdom. «There isn’t anything that we are sourcing from Morocco especially because you can really get everything here», she said adding that «however a lot of elements in the restaurant are from Morocco like the Tajine pots, the teapots and the Turkish coffee cups».

Café Mogador is indeed a very agreeable place for New Yorkers and even tourists. «Every week I get an email from customers that really love us and they are like oh you should really open a place like this in Los Angeles» said Lee with a happy voice. For the moment Café Mogador is open in Brooklyn and East Village, two pieces of Morocco, most precisely Essaouira in the USA.

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