Spotlight on Shouk: A plant-based Israeli DC restaurant

    Photo: Shouk

    Imet Ran (pronounced Ron) Nussbacher back in 2017 while producing a food and wine variety show in Washington, D.C. He brought samples from Shouk, his plant-based fast-casual restaurant located just outside of Chinatown in Northwest DC. We got to talking, and I learned he was Israeli.

    I wanted to know what inspired Ran to establish Shouk and learned after talking with him that Shouk had a much bigger purpose than it seemed.

    Early Life

    Photo: Ran Nussbacher

    Ran was born and raised in Netanya in a Romanian-Hungarian family, and lived there for the first 22 years of HIS life. At the time, the restaurant scene wasn’t nearly as developed as it is today and eating out wasn’t a thing. Cooking at home was where family life was based and we had weekly Shabbat meals.

    Ran went to Brown University in Providence, Rhode Island, for his undergrad degree and then on to Boston University for grad school. He landed in DC at a startup software company after completing his studies and spent several years in the business world.

    Shouk Is Born

    After realizing that businesses can drive massive change on a large scale if it’s done right, Ran turned his attention to trying to change eating habits and reducing the role that animals play on our plate. Thus, Shouk was born.

    A vegan for many years, Ran knows that today, animal agriculture is the biggest contributor to carbon emissions in our world today. First, there’s pollution from raising cattle and second, there’s the flip side of hurting the earth by cutting down forests to make more lands for pastures.

    “People are rapidly becoming aware of the connection between what we eat every day and climate change and the health of our society, and wanting to live better and healthier lives,” said Ran. “That’s why we give them an experience that they can enjoy just as much without sacrificing and we’re removing the barriers to trying plant-based food. You don’t have to choose between eating your meal or eating healthy. At Shouk, you get both.”

    Israeli Infusion

    Photo: Shouk

    Shouk also has a very strong Israeli identity. Upon entering, you quickly realize that you’re no longer in a standard American restaurant. People who are familiar with that part of the world have mentioned that they feel at home when they’re at Shouk.

    Further, the name “Shouk” in itself refers to the market of Israel and the street food of Israel is the core energy and inspiration behind the concept. Shouk is a celebration of vegetables and legumes and food transparency mixed with the happy energy and warm hospitality and informal matter that Ran interacts with his guests.

    Gaining Recognition

    Photo: Shouk

    Shouk was voted the best fast-casual spot in DC by Eater DC readers and twice by Washington Post readers, and has won an award each of the last three years.

    The restaurant has also been nominated two years in a row for RAMMY awards [Restaurant Association Metropolitan Washington] for best fast bite.

    “We are competing equally with our peers. That, to me, is a huge marker that plant-based food is becoming mainstream. It is hugely satisfying,” said Ran. “Plus, Tim Carman at The Washington Post wrote a piece that shed some light on what we’re doing and why we’re doing it.”

    The Future of Shouk

    Photo: Shouk

     

    Shouk is currently working on the next phase of their expansion. A second location near Union Market recently opened and Shouk has continued to grow in popularity.

    “We never sit still,” shared Ran. “We’re always looking for ways to innovate. That innovation comes from our own excitement about eating something. We change something when we crave something for ourselves. If we dig it, we roll it out.”

    And Ran listens to his customers. People had been asking for falafel since Day One, the biggest request from patrons. Shouk also just added a new hummus section to the menu.

    “I’m excited that we can make tasty, plant-based food accessible and exciting,” said Ran. “It’s highly rewarding and amazing to see the response. I can’t wait to do more of that.”