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LET'S EAT: Quest to find perfect nuts leads to Newmarket shop

NüStachio Nut Shoppe offers nuts, and more, that can't be found elsewhere in town, say co-owner and nut connoisseur Nina Sawaqed
When Nina Sawaqed and her husband, Ezzat Basha, combined a love of nuts with a desire to open a business that was unique to Newmarket, and opened NüStachio Nut Shoppe last October.

When Nina Sawaqed and her husband, Ezzat Basha, were looking to start a new business, they wanted to do something in food, while also filling a need in the Newmarket community. 

The couple decided to open a nut shop, similar to what is found in neighbourhoods throughout the Middle East. 

“We drove 60 kilometres to get a decent nut,” said Sawaqed said about why they decided to open NüStachio Nut Shoppe at Bayview Avenue and Mulock Drive. And unlike those nut shops, they wanted their shop to smell like nuts not the spices.

“In nut shops in the Middle East, you can smell (the nuts) outside.”

And just like those Middle East nut shops, NüStachio sells a variety of nuts, coffee and tea and some specialty desserts.

“But with a twist,” Sawaqed said.

NüStachio also has a sampling station where customers can try her coffees, teas and nuts to figure out what they like before they buy.

“Why buy blindly? I want people to go home happy. If they taste it, they will use it and enjoy it.”

She also tries to find rare or different items like Jordan candy-covered almonds (not at as hard as their Italian cousins) or yogurt-covered cranberries, where the yogurt is creamy, not fatty. Nuts are both raw and roasted and while some, like the no-salt almond and red-skinned peanuts, are roasted in small batches in-house, others are roasted, also in small batches, elsewhere.

While NüStachio sells walnuts, pistachios – Sawaqed’s favourite – cashews and other usual choices, she also offers some specialty items like cinnamon pecans or chocolate-covered nuts, where the nut is still the star.

Nuts are important in the diet of people from the Middle East. Sawaqed, who emigrated to Canada from Jordan with her parents and siblings when she was in her 20s, remembers having almond trees at her childhood home and eating them right from the tree. 

Everything she cooks has nuts – if it’s not inside it, it’s sprinkled on top. Kri kri, peanuts or chickpeas covered in a flour-and-spice based coating, are eaten as a snack or thrown on top of a salad, offering a nice crunch and less sogginess than that of a crouton. She sells both nut and chickpea kri kri at her shop.

Nuts are also important for people who are vegan and for those eating a Mediterranean diet, used as a replacement for both meat and diary.

“We wanted to make money, but also want people to eat nuts,” said Sawaqed, who said she keeps her prices reasonable, with only the prices of Brazil and macadamia nuts going up. “Why would I increase the price of everything else? Why the greed? I don’t get it. We want to promote healthy eating. We need to keep (nuts) affordable.” 

NüStachio opened in October 2023 to a welcoming Newmarket community.

“Newmarket people have been so supportive. They have been wonderful, and we hope to meet many, many more,” Sawaqed said, whose sons Troy and Aidan also help with the store, as they did with the couple’s other business, a cleaning business that was around for more than 20 years.

NüStachio is in partnership with the couple’s cousins, Gernot and Shirin Behrends-Basha, who live in Vienna, Austria. The goal is to eventually have a Viennese corner with chocolate and other products from that European city in the Newmarket store and a NüStachio Nut Shoppe in Vienna.

In the meantime, Sawaqed sells a Viennese-blend coffee, and she offers other products she thinks her customers may like such as Syrian cookies and Middle East baklava. All the products she sells, including products from gluten-free shop Bunner’s, she has tried herself to make sure she will be able to answer questions and provide honest feedback. 

The store is set up with the main counter selling a variety of nuts. Sawaqed only stocks a small amount of each kind, so the nuts remain fresh. People can pick and chose how much they want and enjoy a variety of nuts rather than spend their nut budget on one type. 

“Nuts are a hidden gem in our diet and people think they are a luxury when it’s not supposed to be. They will find something that meets their budget.”