Local Spotlight: Pita Queen
By Sandy Beck
Some dream their lives. Others live their dreams. Israel Artzi was never the type to sit around dreaming.
At the age of 14, he fell in love with a beautiful girl named Yocheved. Resourceful and self-assured, even at that young age, Israel walked right up to her and said, “You’re going to be my wife.” And, true to his style, he made it happen.
Twenty-six years later, Israel and Yocheved emigrated from Omit, Israel, to the United States. They settled in Thomasville, Georgia, and bought land just a couple of miles from town.
Israel found work in the construction business, a skill he had learned in Israel. He also built a beautiful family home, named their road “Artzi Drive,” and, in the cul-de-sac, placed a monument to honor his parents.
He also planted a huge organic garden, another skill Israel brought from his homeland.
When the housing market took a dive, Israel focused on his garden. He built a separate kitchen and food production building and began to produce handcrafted Israeli gourmet breads and dips made with his own organic vegetables and herbs. Pita Queen LLC was born.
Meanwhile, Yocheved had dreams, too. She enrolled at Thomas University and received a B.A. in clinical psychology, then a graduate degree in marriage and family therapy at Valdosta State University. This accomplished and very busy woman, who speaks four languages, went on to become a prolific author and establish a private practice. She is also half of the Pita Queen.
“We’ve been together since we were 14,” Israel says. “We do everything together.”
When I entered the Artzis’ kitchen, I noticed a familiar sound from my childhood—snap, crackle, pop. But this was the sound of “talking” chickpeas, not Rice Krispies. When finished soaking, the chickpeas would become the basis of their unique hummus dip and falafel.
The Pita Queen’s signature product is not the chewy cardboard-like pocket bread that you may be used to. This pita bread—fluffy and delicious—is, indeed, suitable for a royal table.
“What makes your pita bread so different, so flavorful?” I asked.
“We make it just like it was made 5,000 years ago, and there are no preservatives. Everything is organic,” he said.
The Artzis purchase organic whole-wheat flour in bulk from New Leaf Market and bake in a large, circulating oven—a modern touch the ancient bakers probably wished they’d had.
They also produce rye bread that is to die for, using fragrant dark rye flour imported from Israel. The pita bread is available in the New Leaf Market next to the pastry section.
You can purchase the Artzis’ other breads—handmade rye bread, bagels and challah (braided egg bread)—as well as fresh falafel at the Grower’s Market at Lake Ella every Wednesday from 3 p.m. to dusk.
I first met Yocheved and Israel as they were tempting shoppers with samples at New Leaf Market. I tasted the Pita Queen hummus, hot pepper dip, yogurt dip, horseradish dip and Mama Ganoush eggplant dip (located in the deli grab and go case) on little pieces of pita bread. I went home with a container of each and two bags of pita bread.
My favorite has to be the horseradish. When Israel showed me the organic horseradish he grates for their dip, I understood how this potent root vegetable got its name; it’s as big as a horse!
As we stood in the garden, knee-deep in rows of Vidalia onions (that will soon find their way to New Leaf Market), I noticed fresh turkey tracks in the earth and felt the perfect balance of this idyllic setting. A place where wild turkeys and free-range chickens, not chemicals, gobble up pesky bugs so we can enjoy uncommonly good organic food—and a couple of kids from Israel get to live out their dream.