Dining Out | Local

New cafe at UA Hillel blends modern cuisine, kosher traditions

Chefs Mike Felde (left) and Alan Sanchez outside of Fuison'z Cafe at the University of Arizona's Hillel Foundation.

Fusion’z Café is offering a new take on kosher favorites, from dressing up falafel with wild mushrooms and caramelized onions to offering five variations on avocado toast. This is not your grandma’s spread.

Fusion’z is the new installment inside the University of Arizona Hillel, replacing the Oy Vey Café, offering students and the community a place to have a full kosher meal. It’s innovative and fresh menu is inspired by the chefs’ kosher experience and creative minds.

Chefs Alan Sanchez and Mike Felde are not new faces to the kosher diners of Tucson. They have been working together for 14 years and have spent 11 ½ of those at Handmaker, where they both still work as well. Fusion’z gives the chefs a bit more freedom with their food. “That’s what chefs want to do — create,” says Sanchez. Although neither of them are Jewish, they’ve been perfecting and delivering on kosher cuisine.

“It’s a challenge,” says Sanchez.  “We’re breaking the stereotype of what people think they might get here.” To fight preconceived notions of what one might expect when eating in a strictly kosher kitchen, the chefs made sure their menu reflects their creative direction. It includes savory breakfast bowls, loaded nachos, and Asian-inspired wok creations. “We’re executing your favorite dishes, just without meat and dairy,” says Felde. And they’re still whipping up traditional favorites such as hummus and bagels with lox.

The cafe is currently open for limited hours, 8 a.m. to 3 p.m., Monday through Friday, but the chefs have plans to expand. Their next big draw will be brunch the last Sunday of every month.  “We’re bringing in a smoker to use out on the patio,” says Sanchez. “Since it’s out on the patio and not in the kitchen, we can smoke brisket and have a fun Sunday brunch.”

Fusion’z has just opened its own kiosk located in front of the building on 2nd Street. The kiosk, “Fast-n-Fusion’z,” offers a variety of easy grab-and-go food and drinks. Fusion’z Café also delivers to your door.  Download Uber Eats or Tapingo, kick your feet up, and wait for the feast to be delivered. These new ventures will help to increase revenue and bring more newcomers into Fusion’z.

Fusion’z also has a blossoming relationship with Hillel.  Beyond sharing the same building, Fusion’z caters Shabbat dinners and most of Hillel’s events.  “Hillel is so excited to have Fusion’z Café in our building,” says Executive Director Michelle Blumenberg. “The food is excellent and has been receiving a great response by students and the campus community.” Fusion’z and Hillel also partner on the Jewish Penicillin Hotline, which gives parents or friends the opportunity to order kosher matzah ball vegetarian soup for an ailing student.  For a small donation, your loved ones are delivered the healing powers of matzah ball soup.

Sitting in Fusion’z, you can see that once a customer takes their first bite, they’re in love. “It’s been a great experience here,” say Sanchez. “We have a lot of return customers and have had an increase in covers and revenue every month. 

“We’ve heard so many good things about the food,” he adds. “One of the best was when a student said they found us when they were looking for a ‘diamond in the rough’ and have kept coming back since.”

Fusion’z Café is located at 1245 E. Second Street, Tucson, AZ 85719. See their menu at fusionzcafe.com.