The Boston area is known for a lot of things: universities, high-tech, seafood, baked beans and Boston cream pie. Shakshuka is not one of them. Not until Tzurit Or opened up Boston’s beloved Tatte Bakery and Café (which is expanding to DC in the fall), that is.
Or grew up on Kibbutz Kinneret in northern Israel, where she spent a lot of time baking at home with her mother, the kibbutz’s “master baker.” After completing her mandatory army service, she settled in Tel Aviv, studying film and going on to work as a film producer.
Her marriage to a childhood friend led her, in 2003, to California, where he had been living for a while. The film scene there seemed at first like a good fit, but in Los Angeles, Or felt especially far from home and unsettled. She was itching to get out, so when a new job opportunity arose for him in Boston, they jumped at it, moving with their new baby.
When the marriage fell apart, Or knew going back to Israel with her young daughter wasn’t an option, so she resolved to make—or rather, bake—a life and a home for herself in Boston: “The whole story of Tatte is that I got stuck here, and I said to myself, ‘What can I do that I know to do well? That I can build a feeling of home around?’”
She spent her next visit to Israel in the kitchen with her mother, learning and writing down all the recipes for the Israeli and European-style pastries and cakes they had baked together over the years.
Back in Boston, she got to work in the kitchen. A sample she sent to the committee in charge of selecting vendors for Boston’s highly regarded Copley Square farmers market earned Tatte (which rhymes with latte and comes from her young daughter’s pronunciation of savta, the Hebrew word for grandma) a stand in 2007.
From there, it was off to the races, with the self-taught Or rising at the crack of dawn to bake and the Tatte stand selling out every day over the course of its three years at the market. Her famous nut boxes (beautiful tarts filled with carefully placed nuts) also became part of Williams-Sonoma and Dean and DeLuca’s mail-order catalogues.
Though it wasn’t her original plan, in 2008, Or opened her first brick-and-mortar Tatte location in the Boston suburb of Brookline. A second, larger, location followed in 2012 after Or realized that she wanted to expand beyond beautiful pastries and sweets to offer Israeli food, bringing the flavors of home—including shakshuka.
Today, fueled by a partnership with Au Bon Pain and Panera founder Ron Shaich, Tatte counts 13 locations throughout the Boston area, with at least four more coming this year, as well as a “bakery wonderland” production hub, three DC locations opening in the fall and additional expansion to New York and Chicago thereafter.
Though Or baked every day until 2015, today a staff of almost 1,000 makes picture-perfect breads and pastries (including an Israeli-inspired Halva Bomb and Chocolate and Passion Fruit Krembo), sandwiches, salads, drinks and, of course, that famous shakshuka. On Fridays, Tatte locations sell challah, and while not kosher, they add flourless treats for Passover and hamantashen for Purim (filled with freshly ground poppy seeds Or’s mother ships all the way from Israel every year).
But a big staff doesn’t mean Or has stepped away from the business. The superwoman behind its every aspect, she designs every location herself, from the one-of-a-kind pattern of the floor tiles to picking the light fixtures and antique scales that grace the pastry case; negotiates all real estate deals and, along with her team, creates a new menu each season. She’s also the person behind the Tatte Instagram, where you’re just as likely to see her home kitchen and her puppy George as you are photos of Tatte locations and dishes.
Or cites her unique life experience—life on a kibbutz and in Tel Aviv, her army service and an intense career in film production—in her ability to make Tatte happen. “If I hadn’t been a producer, I wouldn’t have been able to pull it off,” she says.
And she shows no signs of stopping. As Tatte grows at lightning speed, she remains more committed than ever to ensuring that it continues to be that welcoming neighborhood spot that feels like home and that encourages others to build (or bake) their own paths.
Photos courtesy of Tatte Bakery and Café (Photo credit: Courtney Perkins Ryan)