Recently, I travelled to Jerusalem to attend Tbex, the largest travel blogger conference. I met bloggers from around the world, attended numerous seminars and of course visited the historical sites. I also was able to network with some very exciting, innovative companies. I had the opportunity to have one on one meetings with them. I love food and technology, so when I heard the founders of the app bitemojo were going to be there, it was love at first sight! I learned about some of their new ideas and projects that might revolutionize the way we explore abroad. Here’s a brief history of their background:
We are a husband and wife team, living in Jerusalem and raising our four amazing children, ages 11, 9, 8 and 4. We are veteran entrepreneurs in the tourism and travel industry, and the founders of several successful national travel websites. In addition, we are the co-founders of YallaBasta which is Israel’s leading culinary tourism company and operates nationwide. What makes Yallabasta a leader in the industry is the fact that we have identified from the beginning, the growing need of travelers to experience Israel’s great food markets on their own. Based on the success of this product, we decided to develop Bitemojo, as the first application in the world that offers self-guided food tours and food discovery experience.
Tell us about your passion for food in Israel. What is your favorite dish?
Some 15 years ago, we had to travel outside Israel in order to find upscale food. Today, Israel is attracting travelers also because of its outstanding food and culinary scene. Israeli chefs create fantastic food that is in many cases based on local ingredients and products, and following traditional cooking methods. So food for us is much beyond passion, it’s a way of life now. We are really keen and satisfied with the level of food and dining here in Israel and Jerusalem. If we had to choose our favorite dish we would say: “Kubba Hammusta”, a traditional meatball rolled with Moroccan couscous (Michael) and a “Meorav Yerushalmi”, a mixture of kosher innards and lots of onion and spices. It’s best at Adom restaurant (Yael).
What is your top food “bite” from one of your tours?
Now this is a real challenge! We have experienced great food from top European destinations nearly on a weekly basis. Bitemojo is releasing new culinary experiences in different cities in Europe as a result. So our top food bite isn’t just about the food itself, but also about the context, the person behind it and how well it resonates with the city. If we have to choose one, it would be one in Neukölln, Berlin. The restaurant called Mama Kalo serves up ‘Flammkuchen’, which is Alsatians-style pizza covered with a light layer of cream, pieces of melted cheese and sliced beet. This most delectable bite recounts the story of the renaissance of the neighborhood of Neukölln .
When did you decide you needed to create the app. bitemojo?
Bitemojo is in many ways the fulfillment of our personal desire to get to know new destinations based on their food and cuisine. When we travel we usually never go to museums or local monuments, we insist on taking the off the beaten track approach. We learned that by just wandering around away from the crowds, you discover the real heart and soul of the place. That’s what guided us four years ago to develop Yalla Basta in Israel and the bite-card as a solution for people who wished to take self-explored experiences. That’s what also pushed us to develop bitemojo as the meeting point between the need, the existing proof of concept, and mobile technology as the vehicle for the former two. Taking it from theory to reality wasn’t a simple decision. Yael quit her job as a senior manager in one of the biggest Jewish organizations in Israel, and we started from scratch, raising money from investors, getting into development, establishing a local operation in Berlin and so on. We are very determined people, we deeply believe in our vision, and maybe the most important thing – we really like to work together as a couple.
What is your favorite part of creating a food tour?
Although people may think it’s the food, we actually are more excited to tailor the story of the tour. We try to adapt the bites and points of interest into it. Every place has a story to tell, but we think that food is the best way of telling it. We first read about the place and what role it plays in the local life of the people. Then we just walk around and try to find the right and unique angle that would be the base for the bitemojo story of that particular location. Only when we decide on the storytelling via the tour, do we start to look for the bites that can support this story, enrich it, and provide it with their genuine DNA. This is a thrilling process, not very different then an author who write books. At the end, you have taken an idea and created a real product behind it that visitors can better understand.
Which is your favorite tour and why?
Asking which tour we like the most is like asking which of our children we love the most, so the answer is we like them all! Each of our tours is special and unique in its own way. In general, we like our urban tours that take you on a three-hour walk through different neighborhoods. You really get to experience the local way of life as you imagine yourself living in that city. In addition, we found that when discovering small stores, cafes, and restaurants in these out of the way areas, it offers a significantly better customer service experience. The owners/managers are happy to meet you and in many cases take the time to speak with you and share their stories.
What cities will you be launching in 2017?
Currently, bitemojo is available in three cities: Berlin, Tel-Aviv and Jerusalem. We are working hard to open Rome, London and Barcelona. These cities have everything needed for developing great culinary tours, itineraries, and of course delicious local cuisine. We have already recognized the key areas and places, and are currently signing-up culinary partners on a daily basis. Our goal is to launch these markets at the beginning of May 2017.
Can you tell us more about your Berlin tours?
Our tours in Berlin are bringing to light the tremendous culinary change Berlin has been experiencing in recent years. People traveling to Berlin want to eat local German food and in many cases, they find themselves eating anything but German food, due to the influx of fusion and Mediterranean cuisines. Bitemojo tours are capturing this aspect and exposing clients to the many different faces of Berlin. As always, we are doing it our own way, which involves top sellers and food, mysterious points of interests, and offerings from upscale neighborhoods like Prenzlauer Berg to emerging neighborhoods such as Neukölln.
Three foods you can’t live without…Yael: wine, coffee and chocolate and Michael: steak, beer and black licorice.
What are your future plans for Bitemojo?
We are on a mission to change the way people travel. Period. We would like to offer the world a new way to travel and learn about new places, and that’s through unique and different food bites. We believe bites are the right size for this exploration, as bites allow you to eat more than one, to leave some for others, and to have much deeper understanding of that place instead of having a 3 course meal in only one place. As every place has a story and as we believe food is the best way to tell it, we want to offer the bitemojo experience not just in big cities but also in the countryside, small cities, and other destinations worldwide. We really like the fact that our business model supports directly the small and medium size businesses and we feel proud to be able to play a role in our destination’s eco-system. We hope that in five years from now, bitemojo will be one of the top things to do when traveling abroad.
What is your biggest challenge?
We wake up every morning working out our two main challenges as a startup: bringing value to our users and bite customers, and providing a similar value to our culinary partners in every destination. These two challenges go hand in hand as they represent the core idea behind bitemojo – creating a network of foodies from one side and supply them with unique experiences from the other. We want these two forces to enrich each other. The customers by having a great experience based on their one-on-one meeting with the business owners. The owners also learn that the better service they provide, the more customers they will have in the long run. Trying to balance these elements that make both sides happy is our biggest day-to-day challenge.
How fast has the Bitemojo community grown?
Our community of bite users has grown steadily since the launch of bitemojo in August 2016 in Berlin. We already have many thousands of users and app downloads. We are starting to see one of the most important indicators for our business which are returning customers. They are returning for a second time or more to get the same bitemojo experience in a different destination. That is for us the strongest testimonial we can ask for.
Here’s some testimonials from my fellow travel bloggers who attended TBEX in Jerusalem:“My Bitemojo tour of East and West Jerusalem was fascinating and delicious! The “bites” are certainly more than bites, and the route took me to areas I had never seen on several previous trips to Jerusalem. Highly recommended, well worth the price!” Rachel’s Ruminations, at http://rachelheller.org.
“We love food and exploring new places, so Bitemojo might just be the perfect app for us. Follow the suggested path or don’t, it’s your choice, but you will definitely discover some delicious bites along the way.” Birthe & Brecht, at Wandering the World