Tzurit Or left a successful film career and an entire life back in Israel to come to the United States. She carved out a home for herself in Boston by building Tatte, now an armada of eight perfectly Instagrammable bakeries that sprawl across Cambridge, Boston, and Brookline. Learn about how she went from serving in the army to become a pastry chef and founding Tatte with Tzurit’s “Five-Year Plan”
September 13th, 1992 was my last day serving in the army in Israel. I served for two years. That experience of mentoring, supporting, and leading a group of soldiers shaped who I am today. In the army, the people in your team are pretty much all that you have. They always have your back, and you have theirs. It’s a serious life experience.
At 25, I was deep into the film production world as an assistant line producer at a large production company in Israel. I worked my way up, and I still remember my first real production. We were shooting for a DANONE commercial in Hungary—we purchased a wheat field from a farmer and harvested it to a DANONE logo with an Aerosmith song as the background. It was pretty cool.
Working in production provided me with real daily challenges and, of course, exposed me to working with people from different countries and cultures. I learned to create and manage a budget and make really big things happen—I moved mountains. Simply put, in the film industry, I learned how to create, build and make it happen. I learned that there is nothing we cannot do if we only put our best effort to it.
A year or two earlier, I was starting to think about school. In Israel, things are a little different around this: at age 18 we have to go to the army it’s part of our life and after that, you basically start your life. I was working 24/7, traveling, and running a demanding production sets. About three years later, I had my B.A—I really, really loved school. I made the goal of having my masters degree by age 30.
I asked myself: “Should I continue my current career?”
By age 30, I was at the top of my production career. I was producing projects in Rome, Cyprus, Australia, and all over. I was working on an amazing documentary project and I was very fortunate––I worked my butt off, but I was fortunate to see the world with my work. At age 30, I was offered to build and open a new production for advertising department at one of Israel’s largest TV and post-production companies. It was very flattering and challenging all at the same time. I loved the freedom to build and manage a new production department.
I also met my (now ex) husband at age 30. He was living in the US and it was unclear where our relationship would go, being so far away from each other. He convinced me to give the US a shot. I left behind an amazing film career, all of my family, and my friends. I decided to go for it. I packed up my house and sent it over on a boat to America. I took my dog, too.
Prior to moving and with the help of a friend, I lined up interviews in the top studios in LA—when I came to America, I came as a producer. I interviewed at Fox, Universal, and Nu Image. I remember, I was so nervous because I barely knew English. I had what we call ‘Tel Aviv English’. But I had a massive amount of production and post–production experience.
After a few interviews I realized I wasn’t having a massive love affair with LA, I wasn’t connecting with the people and culture…at that point I had been married for about six months.
I decided it was time for a change—I was either going to go home, I was really homesick. Or, I was going to have to find someplace here that felt like home. LA didn’t feel like home to me.
I also found out I was pregnant and my husband at the time got a phenomenal job offer. He brought us to Boston. I always loved the East Coast, and I found Boston to be a beautiful place. It had a European feel to it, a real culture that I missed terribly, and the flight home was five hours shorter, which was, at the time, very important to me.
My daughter Mika, my Mik, was born here. If I left the US, it could only be without her, and that was not an option––she was my world. I knew I had to stay and I needed to create a new life for myself. Mika was four months old when I started to build a new life. Twelve successful years in film had made for a wonderful career, but I was ready for something new. Baking was central in my house. I baked as a kid, I baked with my mom. My first cake was a flourless chocolate base with cream and glazed with ganache using my favorite childhood chocolate. I even remember adding brandy to it when I was twelve. My mom loved baking with yeast and making dough––she taught me all of that, whisking, knitting, shaping meringues, most of the basics of baking I learned from her. I grew up in a time and place, in a Kibbutz, and if you wanted to eat, you had to do it from scratch. Some of it we had to plant and harvest, from olives to bananas to tomatoes to grapes. Anything that we needed, we made ourselves. Baking was a way for us to gather and celebrate it was a way of living. We baked every day. Baking at home is very different than baking at home in the US. It took me a while to understand that. When I came to America, my husband gave me a box with a pancake mix and I just didn’t know what to do with it. I never saw food that came from boxes before.
My mom is well-known as a The Baker, and some of her recipes we make at Tatte today. When I started out, I had no knowledge of what Americans baked—I didn’t know their traditions. I only knew my culture’s approach to baking, so I decided to go with what I knew. I basically applied my life’s travels around the globe, my management, creative thinking, and planning into building Tatte.
I was at my second year doing the Copley Square Farmer’s Market. I was baking in my home kitchen 16 hours a day to keep up with the demand. I was working on my first location, Tatte Brookline. Tatte Brookline is my home. It opened four months before my 35th birthday.
I created Tatte to have a home in the US. I was busy figuring out how to both run a business, and raise my daughter while trying to make it happen in America without knowing much of the language and with no friends or family to support me. I did not know anyone in Boston or anyone from the restaurant and food scene. I wasn’t sure what would come next, but I was overwhelmed with the love, attention and support we received early on. Still, I remember asking myself what’s next. I knew I needed a plan for the next challenge. I knew I needed to move forward.
I opened my fourth Tatte in Cambridge, in Kendall Square. I was working on our first Boston location, too. By then, we had our large production space in Kendall, and I was trying to figure out our long-term plan about what I wanted and how I would make it all happen. It was far from easy. Being an owner is lonely––no one will spare you the self-doubt. I was on my own, I had no partners, no financial support. I was trying to bring Tatte to as many people as possible by pure passion and hard work.
Around that time I was starting my new personal life, I was on my own, and I was very happy.
I’m 45 now. We have eight Tatte locations and four more are coming this year. I’ve worked out an unbelievable partnership for Tatte, and about five months ago, there was another change in ownership with the original partnership by gaining a partner. Ron Shaich is one of a kind, and he is everything I’ve ever wanted for myself and for Tatte. He is the founder and former CEO of Panera Bread, and he is my only partner today. He understands our world, our challenges and our short and long term needs. He built three successful companies and his long term thinking and discipline will allow us to grow in a responsible and thoughtful way.
We also hired a president for the company, the top in our industry, Karen Kelly. We’re heading for exciting and massive growth together. My daughter is 13, and I finally feel at home here! I’m surrounded by the best team of people, they are my family and my Tatte family, they build Tatte with me.
Today, I’m focused on our growth, our people, the food and bakery, and protecting and developing the brand. I am making sure we grow but stay small. I love my job, my life here, I love to do what I do every day. It’s a fantastic rollercoaster.
—As told to and written by Oset Babur for The Thirty-One Percent