Amzallag’s Moroccan-born grandmother – Grandma Mesadi – used to roll out long rolls of dates mixed with nuts and honey, a delightful treat he treasured as a youngster.Unlike most aspiring Israeli thespians, Yoav Amzallag thanks his lucky stars every day that his acting career didn’t pan out. After all, if it had, he wouldn’t be poised to turn his grandmother’s recipe into an energy bar that promises to sweep the US and Europe and hopefully turn into a staple at health food stores, health clubs and supermarkets around the globe.
With final negotiations close to completion, Amzallag’s got a date with success: a US food chain is about to sign on to carry his Hatifei Energia (Energy Treats), and European importers are also showing interest. Soon sportspeople and others looking for natural energy while exercising will be stocking up on Almazog’s date-based treats.
The jovial Amzallag firmly believes that “we lead ourselves down the road that’s good for us,” and for him that turn in the road came back in 1999. He was living in Tel Aviv after leaving his native kibbutz Tzeelim. After barely scraping through high school and finishing the army, he’d done a preparatory course for engineering and then was bitten by the acting bug. When his acting schoolteachers told him he should look for some other line of work, opportunity came knocking in the form of an old family tradition.
Amzallag’s Moroccan-born grandmother – Grandma Mesadi – used to roll out long rolls of dates mixed with nuts and honey, a delightful treat he treasured as a youngster. His mother continued making the delicacy years later while he grew up on Tzeelim.
“A group of my friends and I were sitting around my apartment in Tel Aviv. I used to bring the date rolls that my mom used to make based on my grandma’s recipe from her house to my place, and my friends really liked it,” Amzallag told ISRAEL21c. “Then we had the idea of selling it.”
At first the product was rather coarsely wrapped in plastic, and Amzallag walked over to neighborhood groceries, asking the owners if they’d take some for sale.
“A few of them looked at me funny, didn’t quite know what to make of it; they said come back when it looks a little better,” he recalls of the early days. But soon they couldn’t stock enough of it, and Amzallag was riding his motorcycle all across Tel Aviv to meet the demand for grandma’s special treat, which now has annual sales in Israel of around $700,000.
“My mom would make it at her house, and then it started to become a big business there, too. Soon we were producing such masses of the stuff that it was getting crowded in my parents’ house, so we brought in a worker and opened a little production plant in Kfar Sava.”
He added a worker, and another, and another. His motorcycle rounds took him further afield as demand for the mixture of crushed dates, cashews, almonds, honey and other nuts which were offered either candy-bar size or as individual bite-size treats took off. It was time to widen his horizons.
The provider of the specially squeezed dates Amzallag uses for the snacks, Tzemah Date Products in the Jordan Valley, could also see the entrepreneur’s products were a hit.
“He saw that I was going from buying 200 kilo to 400 kilos and 600 kilos. When it got to the point where I was buying a ton a month, he saw I had something,” recalls Almazag with a smile.
“He told me they had plans to develop all kinds of products based on dates. ‘You have something and it’s growing all the time,’ he told me, and offered to build me a factory and to market it together.”
Hatif Energia and Tzemah Dates merged, and Amzallag was suddenly producing the product at a brand-new factory not far from where the dates grow, near the Sea of Galilee. There, about 15 women sit at metallic tables as row after row of the date mixture comes out of a huge mixing machine, where they still prepare it similarly to the way Grandma Mesadi did, chopping it into smaller quantities, some helping prepare it for wrapping in now more sophisticated containers and wrappers.
“There’s still a lot of hand work,” says Amzallag.
Now instead of a motorcycle, Amzallag has a car to ferry his products in, plus a sales agent and other signs that the snack – which is particularly popular among Israeli health clubs and cyclist groups – is about to go worldwide.
“The whole operation is obviously much bigger,” he says proudly. “We’re still working on strategies, but if you have a good product, there’s no reason why it shouldn’t sell.”
He looks forward to the day that Grandma Mesadi will be able to see the product on local shelves in North America. “I think that to produce something here and sell it over there gives you a feeling of satisfaction,” says Amzallag. “When it really takes off, I’ll feel really good about it.”
Offering a sweet taste of Israel to those unfamiliar with the country is another benefit of his success, he says.
What makes his bar better than other energy bars currently on the market? “It’s 100 percent natural,” he explains, “and based more on the dates than on cereals or grains, like some of the others. There’s no gluten, either. The texture is a little different and the taste is really different – something special.”
Looking back on his success in Israel and eagerly anticipating the future abroad, Amzallag recognizes his good fortune.
“There’s a little magic to it, because we could’ve just as easily said that day: You know, we’ll think about doing that idea tomorrow. And then it could’ve turned out differently or not happened at all.
“I’m happy that I decided to take it on, and it gives me a kick, when I come home to visit, to see that the product’s stayed exactly the same. My mom still prepares it herself – she doesn’t want to rely on me – but she buys the ingredients from me now, because it’s cheaper. She’s delighted that it turned out to be a success – after all, I think every mother wants her son to do something with his life.”
With various salesmen peddling the product he used to peddle on his motorbike – which still has a proud place on the kibbutz – he’s looking forward to energizing athletes and other customers around the world, “thanks to grandma and mom and a whole lot of hard work.”