Angela Swartz/Daily Journal
Jougert Bar owner Robert Tabz, left, works in his new Burlingame Avenue shop.
A new health-focused quick service shop serving Greek yogurt, with savory and sweet fresh toppings, coffee, tea and salads just popped up in Burlingame and it comes with a very personal story.
Robert Tabz, owner of Jougert Bar (pronounced “Joe-gert”) on Burlingame Avenue, hadn’t planned on working in the food industry, but that all changed after interactions with his mother who was suffering from Alzheimer’s disease. At 1:30 a.m., two weeks before his mother Sedi, a chocolatier, passed away, she was in a coma.
“I told her, ‘mom this really sucks, you’re 65, you didn’t get to enjoy your life and this is how it’s going to end?’” recalled Tabz, who ultimately opened the store on Feb. 1. “‘You didn’t get to retire or relax; you’re not a good example for me right now. I asked her, ‘please somehow show me there’s a reason to move on and live. Give me some hope.’”
He said at the time, she gathered everything she had, woke up, opened eyes said “OK,” then went back into a coma. That in itself was happiness for him, he said. A 20-minute ride home took him an hour and a half because he was so disoriented.
On Nov. 28, 2012, he said his mother came to him in his dreams, telling him he should create a quick service healthy food restaurant with Greek yogurt and healthy toppings. At the time he was working for Oracle, but he had grown up with a sister and mother who were both chefs.
“I went to Oracle exhausted and my wife was getting her master’s and said ‘no, you’re being depressed, go to work, come home and we’ll talk about it,’” he said. “Two hours into my shift, I knew I had physically, mentally and emotionally quit Oracle. I stayed on board with them, but by that evening, I had written 15 pages of a business plan and research.”
Tabz showed the plan to his wife, Veiss, and she cried saying, “this is so Sedi.”
“I went back to work thinking ‘oh my gosh my wife is supporting me in this,’” he said. “The creative juices started flowing.”
Weight loss through yogurt
With the loss of his mother, he gained 36 pounds through binge eating.
“A friend told me, ‘you look like crap, you need to get a hold of yourself,’” Tabz said.
So, he dedicated himself to eating healthier, exercising three times a week and eating Greek yogurt before each of his meals. He ended up competing the internal biggest loser weight loss competition at Oracle. On April 4, 2013, he separated from Oracle with seven days left for his final weigh-in, but ended up winning the competition of 288 participants by 1.6 percent body fat. The outcome of becoming so healthy through eating Greek yogurt helped reinforce his belief in his store idea.
“Seventy percent of the reason I won was because of diet,” said Tabz, who lives in the South Bay. “Greek yogurt eats away fat cells and has protein, making muscle. It was awesome to see myself get back into shape physically and mentally.”
‘The right place’
He then began his quest to open a Greek yogurt shop. Unable to find a good location, he came to visit Burlingame because his aunt owns Encore, also on Burlingame Avenue.
“I said ‘this is the right place,’” he said. “It has a very European feeling, a friendly neighborhood, everybody knows everybody and sure enough there was a shop open. The name of the store Manijeh, which is important because that was the name of my mom’s best friend through high school until the end of her life.”
He signed the lease for the 996-square-foot space on his mom’s birthday, Aug. 9.
“So much all these miracles were happening right before my eyes,” he said. “I cried in front of the landlord and said ‘it’s my mom’s birthday; I’m signing the lease to my dream.’ ‘That’s so serendipitous,’ he said.”
He said throughout the whole journey, his mom has been with him from the other world talking to him. He recounts working 17 hour days and being really exhausted. One night driving home. He asked his mother why she was making him do all this. He looked up and saw a billboard which read, “Courage is in every CEO’s DNA.”
“I said ‘mom you never stop,’” he said. “If you open eyes, you’ll be able to see a lot of these things you weren’t able to see.”
He said this has all been a great journey.
“Where I get my energy every day, the positive attitude, comes from when I went to visit my mom,” he said.
Tabz said it’s also important to him to do something in this lifetime to help find a cure for Alzheimer’s disease.
“Her (his mother) and I were really, really close,” he said. “One time I went to give her a hug and she punched me in my mouth because she didn’t recognize who I was. It was the most difficult thing I experienced in my life. She wouldn’t let a feather land on me. What the hell is this disease that robs you of your life and family?”
He said dealing with the disease was the biggest test in his life.
“You leave the world without saying goodbye to relatives,” he said. “It’s so painful to get punched in mouth by your mom; Mike Tyson’s left hook doesn’t have anything on that. I don’t want anyone to go through that.”
The 1115 Burlingame Ave. shop specializes in both savory and sweet yogurt dishes, including Sedi’s Touch, which has yogurt, walnuts, dill, rosebud raisin, cucumber, mint, salt and pepper. Sweet concoctions include the George Washington with yogurt, Morello cherry and mint syrup.
For more information visit jougertbar.com. The store is open 7:30 a.m.-9 p.m. on weekdays, 9 a.m.-9 p.m. Saturdays and 9 a.m.-5 p.m. Sundays.
(650) 344-5200 ext. 105