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May
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2024
Business

After months of remodeling and visioning, Angie Hsu, Matan Mazursky and Kumar Jensen opened their restaurant, MAZU, located at 229 Xenia Ave., behind Emporium Wines and Underdog Cafe. MAZU features dishes from Israel, Taiwan and South India, reflecting the cultural backgrounds of the three owners. Pictured from left to right are Mazursky, Hsu and Jensen seated at MAZU’s bar. (Photo by Jessica Thomas)

Global flavors at MAZU restaurant

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Falafel, dandan noodles, masala chaat — these are a few of the items offered on the menu of MAZU, the newest restaurant on Xenia Avenue, tucked behind the Emporium.

Officially opening Friday, March 24, at 11 a.m., MAZU features a menu without borders, a menu influenced by Taiwanese, Israeli and South Indian culture, reflecting the cultural backgrounds of the three owners, Angie Hsu, Matan Mazursky and Kumar Jensen.

The News recently sat down with Hsu, Mazursky and Jensen in the freshly remodeled space where they shared their story, which Mazursky called “strangely fateful.”

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“We dreamed and talked about doing a restaurant, but thought ‘This is not going to happen,’” Mazursky said. “We have little kids, and it’s just like … it’s not where we are in life.”

Then Jayne Brahler, owner of Black Barn Veganry, approached Mazursky, asking if he and Hsu would be interested in taking over the downtown space that had held Brahler’s former restaurant, The Veganry.

“Matan said to [Brahler] once that he thought it would be interesting to own a business in Yellow Springs,” Hsu said. “She didn’t know that I had cooking experience or that we had hosted a supper club at our house and catered and done food events 10 years ago.”

Despite that experience, Mazursky said he was hesitant to say “yes” to Brahler.

“It seemed like we agreed that it wasn’t going to happen,” Mazursky said. “When we went to meet with Jayne, I was in that same mindspace, but Angie was a new person, a person who was ready to say ‘yes, Jayne, I want it.’”

Following their conversation with Brahler, Mazursky and Hsu spoke with friends who owned businesses in Yellow Springs. 

“Right away people were like, ‘You need a third partner,’” Hsu said, “And we were like, ‘OK, who is gonna do this crazy thing with us?’”

The couple approached Jensen, who they’d been friends with since they moved to Yellow Springs. Jensen, who grew up in the Vale and had been doing sustainability work in Chicago, said he was interested in owning a business, but hadn’t thought about owning a restaurant.

“I moved back from Chicago and was caretaking for family members, working on some personal projects and started a business doing consulting work for friends and government organizations,” Jensen said. “So two or three days after they asked me, I forgot that I just started a consulting business entirely and said ‘yes’ to seriously talking about the restaurant.”

“He wrote such a sweet text,” Hsu said. “That was the moment, for us, when we realized this wasn’t just a fantasy. This could be a real thing, an incredible thing we could build together.”

And build they did.

“We had a lot of conversation about what we wanted and our values and how those would manifest themselves, but a lot of it was exploring it in real time,” Jensen said.

Part of the exploration involved collaborating with friends and family members to build a space to welcome the community. A look at MAZU’s instagram page, @MAZU.eats, features highlights from the process: removing carpet and tile, grinding down and polishing the cement floor, adding sun tubes with the help of Jensen’s uncle, Andy Holyoke, designing and installing a live-edge black locust bar with the help of Holyoke, Cassidy Clark and Aubury Longenecker.

Despite the vastly different look, Hsu said the group appreciated Brahler’s open kitchen concept and wanted to retain the feeling she created in the space.

“We ate here several times when it was The Veganry, and we loved Jayne’s vibe,” Hsu said. “We have little kids, and Kumar’s a really involved uncle, so we wanted this to be a space where kids could run around and have a good time and eat food.”

Walking into the newly designed space, the white walls provide a backdrop that highlights three panels with coastlines painted on them and a protest banner collage. As part of their process, Hsu, Jensen and Mazursky worked with local artist Migiwa Orimo, who helped the trio develop a vision for the space.

“Migiwa has been with us from the beginning, helping us make decisions with her incredible skills as an artist, but also as a longtime community member,” Hsu said.

To determine a theme, Orimo led the group through a visualization process in which they discussed their values, considered the meaning of their restaurant’s name and looked at images each individual brought forth.

“She helped us turn those into tangible ideas,” Jensen said.

According to Hsu, Orimo suggested the protest banner collage as a way to bring in protest banners from India, Israel-Palestine and Taiwan.

“We have a lot of values that we don’t get to be explicit about in the menu, but we can be explicit about our values and politics on the walls,” Hsu said.

“There was definitely a lot of thought put into keeping things simple with meaningful highlights,” Mazursky said.

Asked about the name of the restaurant, Hsu said MAZU has a dual meaning.

“We wanted a name that is memorable and different,” Hsu said. “MAZU is a nod to the Chinese sea goddess MAZU and also a reference to Matan’s last name.”

According to legend, MAZU the sea goddess protected fishermen and sailors; in some interpretations, she also protected immigrants and travelers. Hsu said the spirit of MAZU lives in the restaurant — Hsu, Mazursky and Jensen have worked to create a menu that “traverses borders and values the movement of people across the world.”

With that in mind, Hsu, Jensen and Mazursky worked on the menu for MAZU, committing to incorporating parts of their individual cultures and stories to the cuisine. Hsu, who is Taiwanese-American, had experience cooking and serving Taiwanese food when she and Mazursky lived in Tel Aviv, Israel.

“My parents immigrated to the U.S. in their 20s, and my mom has always just cooked what she wanted,” Hsu said. “I really missed my family’s food, the food I grew up with, and it didn’t exist [in Tel Aviv].”

Once she started cooking, Hsu said, the experience afforded her the opportunity to share her own culture and cook food that speaks to her.

“In my experience there was so much about trying to fight these preconceptions or notions or stereotypes people had about Asians,” Hsu said. “I’m a real person, from a real background; and if you’re interested, I would like to tell you about it.”

Hsu said she was inspired by other children of immigrants who are cooking food that they grew up eating.

“It’s unapologetic,” Hsu said. “It’s Captain Crunch made with sticky rice flour, and it’s incredible. For a long time I didn’t feel authentically American, and now [the food I’m cooking] is something I get to celebrate.”

For Jensen, who was adopted and grew up in the Vale, growing food had always been a part of his life. His vegetarian parents had a large vegetable garden.

“I spent a lot of my childhood in that garden and around good food, but I wasn’t really cooking very much,” Jensen said. “In my early to mid-20s, I started thinking about my identity in relation to India and Indian culture, and I started actively looking for biological relatives.”

Living in Chicago at the time, Jensen said he was able to connect with Indian culture by going to grocery stores and restaurants, buying cookbooks and talking with friends who helped him overcome his imposter syndrome feelings.

“We were sitting there talking about food at a friend’s house, and one of them sort of made this distinction between traditional and authentic. You’re a South Asian person making South Asian food. That’s authentic,” Jensen said.

Cooking, then, has created pathways for Jensen to explore relationships with other South Asians, develop an identity and visit his biological home place.

Mazursky said he also has struggled with imposter syndrome as an Israeli person living in the U.S. and selling Middle Eastern, Israeli and Palestinian food.

“A lot of food that people think of as Israeli food or Middle Eastern or Palestinian food, that’s not food my family knows how to make, but it is food that I enjoyed eating there,” Mazursky said. “Sometimes I like to picture the guy who sells falafel coming here and me selling him falafel, and how ridiculous that would be.”

With that in mind, Mazursky said he wanted to open a restaurant that could live up to the standard set by restaurants in Israel, Taiwan or India.

“For me, I believe that if we’re selling this [food], it needs to be on par with where it came from,” he said.

That said, Mazursky, Hsu and Jensen aim to create a flavor that is unique to their combined cooking style.

“We bring a bit of a twist because it is a mixture,” Mazursky said. “Kumar will say, ‘Hey, what if we brought this [ingredient] and put it in this dish because those things taste good together’ and that’s how we created the menu.” 

Speaking of the menu, visitors to MAZU will only find vegan offerings, but that will not limit them to a single flavor profile. Whether it be yansu mushrooms — a salty crunchy combination — hummus or guabao — a Taiwanese street food — the flavors offer a reimagining of tradition, a melding of savory, sour and sweet to create a culinary adventure. In addition to the menu, customers will eat from ceramic plates, handmade by Hsu.

“Sustainability is really important to us,” Hsu said, explaining that using ceramics will allow the restaurant to avoid single-use plastics.

“I also just feel so lucky that I get to continue to make ceramics and be a part of that scene here, but also not forgo my other passions, which are food and community,” she said. 

For the three, the next few weeks will be all about learning the ropes of running a restaurant and becoming a part of the story of 229 Xenia Ave. Looking forward, Mazursky said, the community will tell them what will happen with the space.

“It’s something that we’ve found very daunting,” Hsu said.

“But also exciting,” Mazursky said.

MAZU will be open to the public starting March 24 at 11 a.m. The restaurant’s hours will be 11 a.m.–2 p.m. Friday, Saturday and Sunday. Visitors wishing to take food home are encouraged to bring clean containers in an effort to reduce the number of single-use plastics in the village.

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9 Responses to “Global flavors at MAZU restaurant”

  1. Ena Nearon says:

    Looking forward to new menus and tastes. Especially the Israeli touch.

  2. Mr A L Ward says:

    Sounds incredible, Can you deliver to York, England!;)

  3. Andrew Ward says:

    Sounds incredible, Can you Deliveroo to York, England!;)

  4. Aner says:

    Can’t wait to visit, this sounds so great! Love all these 3 cultures, fusing them together is amazing

  5. וילק דבורה says:

    Good luce

  6. Libby Rudolf says:

    How wonderful!

  7. Tina Bujenovic says:

    I’ve been there twice this week already, hoping you would be open. I’m so excited for you! Wishing you great success!

  8. Karl I Ransome says:

    I am so excited that I will once again be able to have Israeli food, having been brought up in Jerusalem back in the 1950s and 1960s (I last visited Israel in 2012). I live in Xenia but it is only 10 miles up to Yellow Springs where some family members live. Karl

  9. Nance says:

    Let’s GOOO this is fabulous and exciting. Jump in taste explore and live.

    Mazel Tov!!

    Nance

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