Let me introduce the ONO bar and Moran Strassler, the man behind it. Behind the idea, the design, the implementation, the investment, the management and actually behind the bar counter too. A young open minded designer from Israel with the passion for hospitality invested everything in his idea: to create a stylish coffee-bar to interconnect people, ideas, inspirations on the sunniest Greek island, Rhodes. Despite of his talent and the really unique concept he has to face with lots of challenges on the way – like everyone who is brave enough to create out of the box and go against the mainstream.
The bar is very young, still in its growing phase as it opened in November 2016 in the heart of Rhodes town. I am sure that it will gravitate its crowd within a short time, because it has a strong core and an instinctive concept. It’s character represents authenticity in all of its qualities which makes it really one of a kind. Starting from the unique interior built and designed personally by Moran.
The place has a strong cozy ‘family vibe’ on the one hand because of the lots of personal objects from Moran’s family house including the collection of matchbox cars, vintage radio and bakelite players, famous old school and classic records collected by Moran’s parents throughout their teenage years, and a lot more. If you sit in the bar you are surrounded with all of these objects filled with their own histories and stories. And this personal touch balances perfectly the urban quality of the industrial design.
The family vibe appearing also in the presence of Moran’s parents in the bar. One should really taste his mother’s, Ilana’s homemade cake and – on some lucky days – her amazing humus. Also she adds to the creative vibe with her own handmade jewelleries in the bar. And you can always have a nice conversation with her husband, Eitan who is a real enthusiast about Rhodes and Greece, and as a musician himself he is always the passionate audience of the live music nights in the bar.
The name of the bar refers to the roots as it is the name of Moran’s hometown in Israel. And the last important quality of the place that I would highlight is the open-mindedness. Means that it is ready to welcome all different kinds of people and to give space to conversations and inspirations in different ways. This is how I got the opportunity to exhibit my jewelry collection in the bar as a Hungarian woman with my amateur creations in a very professional and welcoming environment. Which opportunity gave me a lot especially as a self-made artist who is also trying to create on this island as a foreigner.
Because of the whole concept I am the fan of this bar, so it is a pleasure to share my conversation with Moran about his story, visions, experiences after 20 months of operation and hard work and investment.
Mariann Lipcsei: Why did you choose this location inside Rhodes town for your bar?
Moran Strassler: I think that this street (28 Octovriou) is the up-and-coming street in Rhodes town. You can see many new places popping up in the street and all the way down to Amarantou. This corner shop at the meeting of these two streets can be a central point for everyone who would like to drink coffee in the morning and have some drinks at night.
ML: What about the quality and the selection of your drinks?
MS: I am not compromising with the quality – not in the morning, and not in the evening. This means that if you come in the morning you can have very high quality of coffee, and in the evening you can find here for example unique wines from small local producers. Some of them are really unique, which you cannot find easily in many places, like the one infused with honey from Rhodian grapes. And of course you can find stuff that I bring from Israel, like the Arak (anise liqueur, traditional alcoholic beverage in the Middle East – editor’s note) – I think it’s the only place in Greece where you can drink it by the way – and the black coffee from Israel.
ML: Who are your guests?
MS: One of the magic of the place is that it is very multicultural. People from all over the World say that they feel very comfortable here. They can be Greeks, locals from the island, people from Scandinavia, people from London, or from the States and so on.
ML: Why do you think that they feel comfortable here?
MS: First of all you have to love people. You have to have patience for them, you have to be able to communicate with them, not just to give them service. I think you can feel the warm vibe here. Even the different live music programs that I have, they add to the multicultural feeling with their diversity.
ML: So how does the diversity of your guests and your programs shape the character of your bar?
MS: It does give a certain character to the bar and I am happy about it. This is the character: the multicultural platform for many creative men and women. This is their place.
ML: Was this your purpose from the beginning to create a multicultural atmosphere, or did it happen naturally?
MS: I think it is a part of my personality so this came naturally. I love to travel. In my twenties I was travelling to South-East Asia, Vietnam, Cambodia, Nepal, Thailand. And then I travelled to most of the European countries. Two years ago I travelled to Central-America, to Mexico, to Belize, Guatemala. So I think it’s part of my personality to be open and welcome different cultures.
ML: So you went around the World let’s say and you decided to move to a Greek island. Why?
MS: Look. I think the World is a big place, a beautiful place. There are so many cultures, so many places to see, so many people to meet, so many things to do. So maybe in a year from now, maybe in few years from now I will be in a different place that will attract me for different reasons. Specificly to this island I came to look for a house for my mom and dad because they moved here to their retirement, and I just decided to stay. As simple as that. Nothing complicated, nothing dramatic. No falling in love, nothing like that. Rhodes is a one hour flight from my home town, and it’s an experience, it’s an adventure.
ML: What did you leave behind that time in Israel when you made this decision?
MS: Alcohol was a hobby of mine and during my bachelor degree I was working as a bartender instructor in the biggest bartender school of Israel. In the past few years before I came here I made it as my job, and I was working in the marketing team of a large distributor company of alcohol in Israel. After 3 years in this position I decided that this is not the career that I want to pursue, so I left it. I was living in Tel Aviv and we were seven good friends from back home. That time three of them took a job in London, and one in Amsterdam. So the decision to try something new in a different place and to relocate my life – from that aspect – was easier.
ML: What made you to design and build a bar by your own?
MS: My bachelor degree is architecture design and I worked for many years in architecture offices where I designed bars and also private properties. My bar was my first project that I designed from the paper and actually built it by myself. It was also a learning process for me to see and understand how things are being made and how do you make them come true.
ML: Don’t you miss the design related projects since you are managing a bar?
MS: I think this place gives me the opportunity always to create and to change. If I want new lights, so I build them. If I want new tables, so I build them. This bar gives me the opportunity to combine my passion for the design and for the hospitality. I also hosted a jewelry exhibition of a young artist not so long ago, so this place could be an open platform to everyone who wants to be creative and wants to show it. I would like to attract people to the bar who love to sit down and get the full experience of good drinks, a warm multicultural atmosphere and unique design. I would like to inspire people to create, to travel, to dare.
ML: What inspired you when you designed this bar?
MS: The concept was to do something different. Not to buy something that is mass production. Because mass production, or something that you can buy for example in IKEA, you can see it all around the Earth.
First of all I am not from here. So I brought my own history, my own way of thinking and you can see it in the design of the place, also in the personal items that I have here. So the feeling inside is a very warm atmosphere and energy. This is one fact. The other fact is that the bar is unique because I built it pretty much by my own. Which means that before it was a shoestore and I transformed it into a bar. Everything was built from scratch and all the wood, the metal, the floor in the bar are handmade. Of course I had some help in some specific areas. But even the toilet is not a standard toilet, it is a handmade one with industrial design.
I designed the place according to my own style. I wanted to design a place where I would go as a customer. A place where I would sit and drink. By the way maybe from the business point of view it is not the smartest thing to do…
ML: Didn’t you make a research before you started this business? Were you just following your instinct?
MS: Exactly. I didn’t do any market research. Probably the best place to build on this island would be an ice cream shop. But I had something in my head and went with it. From a business point of view this is a very bad move, because in general if you start a business you need to see what is missing from the market and you need to create a ’product’ according to the market that you are in.
ML: So how did you have this courage and this very different way of thinking about enterpreneurship?
MS: This was my inner truth and this is the only way that I know how to move forward. I wouldn’t build something where I wouldn’t go as a customer. I wouldn’t build something just form a cold business point of view. I built this place and I am optimistic that people will jump on the boat and follow me. This is me. It is what it is.
ML: How is it going so far? Are people jumping on the boat?
MS: ’My product’, my bar probably would be a great success in any big modern capital cities from the start, I believe. But in Rhodes I cannot see a huge demand for cool hipster creative places. It is not exactly what most of the people are looking for here. It’s a big challenge to open a place in such a small market. There are not many people living on the island and the competition is very high. It is also very difficult that you have to fight the system to do something good. Good means to open a business to move the economy, to inspire other people to do it so, to hire locals… It’s a slow process. I see new faces all the time and I see also old faces who are coming back to the bar. So these two sings are making me optimistic. Everytime when I get positive feedback, it gives me the energy to move forward.
ML: What is a positive feedback for you?
MS: Positive feedback about the general experience from the moment when someone steps into the bar. It can be about the music, about the drinks that people have, about the service, the good talk they had, about the unique and inspiring design, about my personal story that I came from a different country and made a bold move to make a change in my life.
ML: What about the future? What are your plans about the bar? Any business plans?
MS: This is the beauty in future: nobody can see it. I have no idea what will happen. At the moment I am here and everyday I take a small step, I am developing the business, I am making it better and better. And it is a learning process. In the future I just want to see the bar full of happy people. As simple as that.
the ONO bar – Rhodes, Greece
28 October street & Amarantou corner
photographs and written content copyright © Ilios art by Mariann Lipcsei