Zookz – Inspired by Grandmother Berdjoui
I couldn’t possibly talk about Zookz without first introducing you to my grandmother, Berdjoui. She is the reason Zookz came to be.
Berdjoui raised my 3 siblings and me after our mom, her daughter, died while we were young. I was born in Egypt but, we grew up in Tripoli, Libya, right on the Mediterranean Sea, back when King Idris and the Italians were there. Tripoli was a very European city – beautiful boutiques, restaurants, beaches – and my childhood was wonderful, full of travel and adventure. Berdjoui, who spoke 6 languages and loved to travel, was always coming back from her trips with something for us.
It all started when Berdjoui returned from a trip to London. We met her at the airport and noticed that she was carrying this contraption in her hands. “What is that,” the 4 of us wanted to know? She proceeded to explain to my 3 siblings and me that it was for us, and with it she was going to make us the best sandwiches we had ever had. We were not excited. After all, the last time she had returned from one of her trips, she had brought us something we could really appreciate — the new Beatles album.
The Zookz is Born
When we got home, Berdjoui made us our very first Zookz. She buttered a slice of bread and put it on one side of the contraption – she made a hollow in the bread with the back of a tablespoon, then she cracked an egg right into the hollow of the bread, topped it with shredded gruyère cheese and some prosciutto and another piece of bread that she also buttered, and then she squeezed together the two sides of this new contraption and held it over a gas flame. The result was delicious . . . the smell of the melted butter, toasted bread and melting cheese.
The sandwich was crunchy and soft inside, and it became to me the ultimate comfort food. I use to crave those sandwiches – after eating one, my world would always feel somehow safer. It wasn’t just the sandwich, it was the love that went into them. I grew up in a family who were all about food. Whatever the problem, “let me make you something to eat and then we’ll talk.”
I remember coming home after being out, no matter the time, Berdjoui would be waiting up for me in the kitchen. “Sit, I’ll make you a sandwich – tell me … did you have fun tonight?” and she would listen and ask questions. I would go to bed feeling so at peace with the world – my stomach and soul both full.
We asked Berdjoui a number of times what these sandwiches were called, but she didn’t have a name for them. “We asked but the people you met in London who told you about them, what did they call them?” She didn’t know the name, but she said she knew the minute she bit into one that she couldn’t wait to share them with us.
We named them “les sandwiches un peu comme ça and et comme ça.” (French because that was our 1st language) which meant “the sandwiches a little like this and a little like that.”
A Zookz by a Different Name?
A few years later, I attended a summer camp with kids from all over the world. My roommate was from Australia. One day I was telling her about the sandwiches, and she said ” you are describing a Jaffle” – “are they round and toasted and look like a belly”? “Yes,” I said, “Do you know them?” She said she did, “They are called Jaffles and my friends and I love them!”
I later met a woman from South Africa and she too knew them as Jaffles. I searched for years for an electric version of my grandmother’s toasting contraption but never found one. I wanted to open a restaurant and share those ” sandwiches un peu comme ça and comme ça” /”Jaffles” with the world.
There was no way I could open a restaurant with the handheld version. After many months of work, we were able to engineer the handheld device into an electric version. It has been, and continues to be, a whole lot of the most enjoyable work I have ever done – my one regret is that Berdjoui isn’t standing next to me in the kitchen at Zookz. She would have so loved being a part of all this.
ZOOKZ has been, and continues to be, a whole lot of the most enjoyable work I have ever done – my one regret is that Berdjoui isn’t standing next to me in the kitchen. She would have so loved being a part of all this.
If you are reading this, then you are here at ZOOKZ … Welcome! We are so happy to see you!