We sat down with the minds behind one of the most delicious vendors you’ll find at Midtown Farmers’ Market: Hanadi and Jamaal, the founders of Asali. Asali is a local bakery that specializes in creating beautiful and delectable desserts. In this post, you’ll hear how they look to the farmers’ market for inspiration, what they have planned next, and learn about one unexpected offering.
You’re in your first year of Midtown Farmers’ Market. How did you become involved?
Hanadi: We have family in this area, and we used to come out for the Thursday night concerts, and it was then that we heard there was a morning farmers’ market on Saturdays. We had done the Raleigh Farmers’ Market around 2004, but we both worked full time then, and we stopped doing it because we had young kids at home. Toward the end of 2015, my “side business” started taking up more and more of my time as we began to get more orders from friends and co-workers and positive feedback. I took that as a sign to focus all my energy on Asali.
Jamaal: Hanadi has always looked at baking as her passion, and we decided it was more important for her to do what she loves versus continuing to work in the pharmaceutical industry.
What drove you to choosing Midtown Farmers’ Market?
Hanadi: North Hills is a nice area and has a good mix of people. At first, we wanted to be in a storefront or retail location, but we could never find exactly what we were looking for. A farmers’ market is a great way to get recognition, get our products in front of more people, and use word of mouth to help spread the story of what we do. We offer something different for a lot of the farmers’ markets we are a part of, and that seems to be what people are looking for.
What is it about being at a farmers’ market that inspires you?
Hanadi: I feel the markets are a great thing for many businesses because you can hear directly what the people want, because you can have a true connection to the customer. It’s a more personal interaction, and you can build a good relationship with your customers. Even when we have a storefront, we’ll still be participating at farmers’ markets because you can’t replace that one-on-one interaction.
Jamaal: I also think people want to get to know the “person” behind the business. We can use the time at the market to meet people without the pressure of them buying. Because they’re not in a line waiting to give their order, you can have a conversation with them or offer free samples.
For the people who aren’t familiar with your goods, what are the best sellers?
Jamaal: A lot of people try our baklava because they are more familiar with it. But ours is different because we don’t use honey. Honey is overpowering and all you can taste when it is added to food or drink. We follow an Arabic recipe that uses a type of sweet syrup, which we can add different flavors like orange blossom to, which makes ours unique. When you bite into ours, you can taste flakey phyllo dough, the walnut mixture, and the sweet syrup.
Hanadi: According to the people who try it, they say it’s the best they’ve ever had. But people also rave about the Lady Fingers and the Kullaj.
What type of dessert is Kullaj?
Jamaal: It’s a phyllo pastry dessert that is filled with a type of sweet cheese, which tastes like a custard. It looks like spanakopita, if you’ve ever had that before.
Hanadi: Other customers who have had it will tell new customers to try it, and they’ll take one piece or a sample, and I can see them walking away and taking a bite, and almost always they come running back saying, “Oh my, this is heaven.” I would say regardless of what a customer tries for the first time, they’ve been happy.
Jamaal: We like to offer things that are different than what you would normally find at a farmers’ market so we stand out more. Eventually we’d like to start offering more phyllo pastries like you would find in North Africa.
Hanadi: But once people start talking to us, we always point them to our Instagram or Facebook account where they can see we do traditional cakes and cupcakes as well.
What other ideas do you have planned for the future?
Hanadi: Other than eventually opening an actual store, preferably somewhere in Apex, we have been doing something a lot of our customers aren’t aware of. We aren’t just baking desserts … Asali also provides event planning for any type of event. We’ve done full weddings, including the décor, centerpieces, flowers, linens, and furniture. We want to combine both events and desserts because they go hand in hand, as most celebrations have sweets. Our website was just updated to show some of the events we have done, so we encourage people to visit it. If you click on one of the small pictures, you can scroll through all of them to see the details much more clearly.
Where can you find Asali when you’re not at Midtown Farmers’ Market?
Jamaal: We are currently at several farmers’ markets in addition to Midtown’s, such as the Western Wake Farmers’ Market in Cary and Morrisville and the Apex Farmers’ Market. A full list of where you can find us is on the website as well. We also take custom orders, and you can request a consultation on our website at any time.
Finally, I have to ask, where did “Asali” come from?
Hanadi: Asali is both of our last names combined … mine is Asad and Jamaal’s is Ali. We like to think the shared “a” in the middle represents both of us as partners in life and business. And, if you Wikipedia the name, you’ll find that this is also the Persian and Arabic word for “sweets” and “honey.” It’s a perfect choice for us, and we feel it’s also a perfect choice to represent the elegance of our desserts and the events we create.
Dying to taste a piece of Kullaj or baklava as much as we are? Stop by the Asali booth any Saturday at Midtown Farmers’ Market to meet Jamaal. Bring your appetite so you can try the desserts they have on display. And if you can’t make it to the market, visit Facebook, Instagram, or the Asali website to learn and see more!