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LET’S EAT: Newmarket bakery offers unique atmosphere, Persian-inspired flavours

BB Cafe offers fresh sandwiches and sweet and savory crepes, among other baked goodies — including an almond orange cake free of gluten, dairy and oil — plus tea served in the traditional Persian way

Whether you go to the BB Cafe on Yonge Street in Newmarket or to the original location in North York, you can expect the same thing: a place where you are treated as a treasured guest and where you can enjoy cookies, cakes and pastries made with Persian-inspired flavours and using the highest quality ingredients.

What is different between cafes depends on the location, but in Newmarket you can enjoy in-person dining with an entire food menu, including fresh-to-order sandwiches and sweet and savory crepes, among other goodies, plus tea served in the traditional Persian way: a tea pot, set over a candle, with a glass cup so you can see the colour of your beverage. You are also given a bowl of sugar, including a saffron-infused cube to sweeten your tea. 

You will also likely be greeted by Khatereh Niaraki, who owns the Newmarket location. Niaraki said many of her customers often grab a coffee or dessert and stay the afternoon.

“The atmosphere is so good,” Niaraki said.

BB Cafe was founded by the Nejad family – Dad, Saeed Nejad, who is an engineer by trade; mom, Fahimeh Dabiran, an accountant by trade; and the couple’s two children: Parisa Nejad, who went to school for psychology and arts, and Sara Nejad, an architect who also teaches the profession at college.

Fifteen years ago, Saeed noticed a North York storefront that he suggested would be a great place to start a bakery and proceeded to start one.

“I had no idea how difficult it would be,” said Sara, who recalled the family watching people walk by their store and silently wishing they would stop in.

“There were two customers at that time,” Saeed said. ”Both of them were my daughters.”

Then one day, they had some sales. “We celebrated by going out for dinner,” Sara said. The next day, they sold a bit more. Today, there are seven BB Cafe locations, with plans for further expansion this year. 

The secret of the BB Cafe’s success, Sara said, is each family member does something they are good at.

“Dad does finances, I am the manager of operations, my sister does cake design and my mom is the head chef,” said Sara. “My mom used to bake when I was child. When she started the cafe, she would do it like home. They way we treated the business was that customers were like guests in our own house. That culture got carried over. It still feels like a larger family business.”

The family started baking in the basement of their North York location, but eventually outgrew the space and purchased a 5,000-square foot bakery and retail space in Thornhill. Today, staff at that location work seven days a week, two shifts a day. There is also some baking done in the North York location and each cafe does something, including in Newmarket, where the cream puffs are filled in-house and cookies are made.

In addition to cookies, including traditional Persian delights, the bakery offers pastries and cakes, including custom cakes. Parisa has created cakes for actor/director Adam Sandler and NBA star Chris Bosh, among others.

Niaraki and her family opened the Newmarket location on May 1, 2019.  Before even announcing the next BB Cafe location, guests were knocking on their door wondering when they would open. 

“We choose the locations based mostly on the locals, where they are and what we can offer them,” Sara said. Guests are also key in deciding what coffee to serve at the bakery. For the first six months after opening a new location, they test different kinds of beans to see what guests like.

“Different areas have different tastes,” Sara said. 

The menu items are also decided locally. The Lakeshore location, for example, is the only one that sells homemade gelato and croissants. Even the decorations found on their cakes is based on guest feedback. 

All of the BB Cafe’s desserts are less sweet and the bakery now offers an almond orange cake that is gluten free, dairy free and oil free.

“This is very popular in this (Newmarket) location,” Niaraki said. 

A few months into owning the Newmarket bakery, COVID-19 hit. As a new business owner, Niaraki said she was worried, but is forever grateful for the support she got from her family – Sara is her cousin – and her guests.

“I love this business. This is my best day, seeing my customers.”

Saeed agreed.

“Customers keep us going. After 15 years, you have something that is good for the community and for me it is very important. I am proud of (BB Cafe).”