We had the good fortune of connecting with Sahar Shomali and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Sahar, every day, we about how much execution matters, but we think ideas matter as well. How did you come up with the idea for your business?
It all started with one bread: Barbari. For years I have been living in Los Angeles, home to roughly half a million Iranians, and I could not find authentic Barbari anywhere. There is a version of Barbari sold in Middle Eastern stores (and more recently found on food blogs and in cookbooks) but none are the real thing. Real authentic Barbari, is a sourdough semi flatbread, with a very thin crunchy crust and a chewy crumb. It resembles more a Neapolitan pizza crust than a Focaccia. This was the bread I wanted to have and could not find. So, I studied, tested, and developed a recipe for the Barbari I grew up eating in Tehran. During this process I started learning about other Bread from Iran, regional bread made using local ingredients and simple cooking techniques. I wanted to try making these bread, to document them and to introduce others to them. This is how Kouzeh Bakery was born.
Alright, so let’s move onto what keeps you busy professionally?
Kouzeh Bakery has been both extremely Fun and extremely difficult. I’ve built this business based on only making bread that is originated in Iran, Which means new an exciting product that most people have never heard of. With that comes the challenge of replicating these items here in Los Angeles, to make them as close to the original as possible. Sometimes, changes have to be made, to accommodate for the fact that we live in LA. For example, some regional Iranian ingredients can not be found here, and they need to be replaced. Sometimes there are ingredients available here that are healthier than what the original would be. Making these decisions, what to change and what not to change is one of the biggest challenges. How much should my own taste affect the final product? For every change, whether small ( like how sweet a product should be), or big ( like replacing Vegetable oil with Avocado oil), I spend weeks testing. Checking the texture and flavor of the bread, first on my own and then a select few people to get feedback. So at the end, if a change is made, I can stand behind it. Another challenge is drawing the distinct line of only making Iranian bread. It seems easy, but it means not making familiar items like Pita or Naan. As many times as my customers ask me for these items, I have to explain that as wonderful as these bread are, they do not Originate in Iran. So I can not include them in my products. It might be difficult, it might be overwhelming at times, but the feeling of finding a new bread product, something different, that I can make and introduce others to, is what I will always love. The joy and excitement I see on my customer’s faces when they try a piece of Kouzeh bread and fall in love with it, is an amazing feeling, and worth all the hard work. That is the energy behind my business, and I will strive to keep it that way.
Any places to eat or things to do that you can share with our readers? If they have a friend visiting town, what are some spots they could take them to?
I always start a Los Angeles tour in DTLA. starting with the Music Center and Disney Hall, a walk in Grant park and seeing City Hall. Then a short walk down to GCM for a fun meal. after that, it’s about what more interests the visitors. DTLA has it all: shopping, people watching, architecture, … Another fun spot I like to show visitors is my neighborhood of Miracle Mile, and the surrounding areas. Home to Museum Row, we have LACMA, the Tarpits, The Automotive museum, CAFAM, and more… with some interesting food spots sprinkled around the neighborhood. Then a walk along Fairfax will take you from Little Ethiopia, to the family friendly Grove, and then up to the trendy shops of Fairfax and Melrose area. And of course there is Canter’s Deli, a must visit. last, there are the beaches. You can’t really go wrong with any of them. Santa Monica is the touristy one, but still fun. Venice is more interesting, Huntington and Redondo beaches more family friendly… a stop at any of them would definitely make the list. And a few spots in between : Old Town Pasadena, The Griffith Observatory, Kenneth Hahn Park, Downtown Culver, Sawtelle ‘s food scene, Abbot Kinney Blvd. And Farmers’ Markets! As many Farmers’ markets as one can fit into a visit. You should not leave LA without having been to one.
Who else deserves some credit and recognition?
I have been blessed with an incredibly supportive family and group of friends who have been there for me in more ways than one. They all deserve a shoutout: My parents for always supporting me and my rebellious tendencies (Love you!). My Sister and Brother for always being there (You are the best). My group of industry friends and colleagues who are my first stop whenever I encounter a business dilemma (Thank you!). My previous employers, Amazing Women who gave me jobs throughout the years and gave me room to learn and grow ( Sherry, Della, Suzanne, Caroline, April. I appreciate everything you have ever done for me). And every author whose book helped me in my studies and research .
Leah Choi, Sahar Shomali