Situated on the Mediterranean Coast of Israel, South of Tel Aviv and west of Jerusalem, lies the city of Ashdod, the birthplace of Hanna Schneider, the chef owner of Fresh Start Café in historic Burns Square. Schneider lived in Israel for 21 years and, after serving in the Israeli Army, found herself living in New York City, then Provincetown, Massachusetts. While in New York, Schneider met Rochelle Seldin, a friend of her mother’s family, and the two became fast friends before falling in love. Schneider’s family relocated from Israel to America and chose Sarasota as a home because of its superior school system. Schneider and Seldin followed the family and Schneider went from owning a restaurant to teaching at NewGate Montessori School.  When Seldin lost her job, the couple decided they wanted to open a business together and gravitated toward the idea of a restaurant. Schneider had owned one previously and Seldin had owned a piano bar in New York for many years. 

One day, Schneider was walking with one of her students in Burns Court and saw a “For Lease” sign. “I took it as a serendipitous sign and thought to myself that this would be a fresh start for us, too.”  Schneider and Seldin set out to fill what they saw as a void in the Sarasota food scene—a cleaner way to eat. Dishes are made from scratch, baked rather than fried, and often filled with herbs and hot peppers grown in Schneider’s father’s garden. Schneider also longed for the flavors of her childhood and added key menu items that reminded her of home. The Mediterranean Platter is bursting with falafel, babaganoush, hummus, tabouli, chopped salads, tahini and pita bread. One day, Schneider found herself with an abundance of beetroot so she whipped up a quick borscht. “It was a fluke but people loved it and then they would come in ask for it, so now it’s on the menu. People in Sarasota are adventurous eaters. They are willing to try anything, and then once they like it they will keep coming back for more.” Fresh Start Café also offers a taste of a prolific Israeli snack food with Burekas, a flaky puffed pastry filled with salted cheese or kicked up a notch with the addition of hard-boiled egg, tomato and black pepper. The Shakshuka is a popular brunch item in Israel and Schneider’s lovingly recreated version has become something of a local favorite. Shakshuka consists of eggs poached in homemade tomato sauce flavored with onions, chili peppers and spices like cumin and Fresh Start Café serves it with a choice of chopped salad or fruit and bread. “People speak of leaving a legacy and I feel that this is my print on Sarasota – my Shakshuka,” says Schneider with pride and affection in her voice.