Everyone could benefit from more grandmas in their lives, since it's well-documented that grandmas are the best people on earth. If only the hurting, stressed-out people among us could borrow an extra grandmother to bake us cookies, dole out hugs and gently caress our cherubic faces as we fall asleep under crochet blankets, the world’s problems would certainly vanish. Fortunately for North Dallas residents in need of more grandmotherly baked goods, grandmas Sherry Ghafar and Ashraf Hosseini opened a bakery in October at Preston and Frankford roads. Against the advice of their children, they named it Grandma’s Bakery.
Ghafar, who has 35 years of real estate experience in DFW and leads the Persian ministry at Prestonwood Baptist Church, is well-known among the Iranian-American population of Dallas, a community she estimates to be anywhere between 30,000 and 65,000. To her children, it made sense to use her name in the bakery so she could draw upon her established network. But as Ghafar argues, the word “grandma” conjures memories for everyone.
“We hear all the time, ‘My grandma used to make the best …’ So with this name, we are bringing back memories,” Ghafar says.
It wasn’t only the name of the bakery that concerned some of their children. New businesses started by women over the age of 60 are rare, so when the pair signed a five-year contract for their storefront at ages 65 and 66 — a time when most grandmas are retiring — their families had questions.
“We proved everyone wrong by starting this business,” Ghafar says.
On the whole, their families and friends are supportive, they say. Ghafar’s 12-year-old grandson trained the women on their Square Point of Sale system. Friends from Ghafar’s church created their website and added the business to Google. Ghafar’s daughter designed their logo, and Ghafar’s mother fills in around the store just about every day. Both of the women’s husbands have picked up cooking and cleaning duties at home while Ghafar is making her Persian-style baklava and Hosseini is busy at the oven with cakes, Persian cookies and assorted pastries swelling with whipped cream.
Unlike Greek and Turkish baklava, Persian baklava is made with almonds instead of walnuts, simple syrup instead of honey and cardamom in place of cinnamon. It's also made with rose water, a classic dessert ingredient that’s been used by Persians since the early part of the Common Era, and Ghafar completes her chef d’oeuvre with costly saffron. The result is an aromatic dessert that smells as good on the journey into your mouth as it tastes once it’s inside. If there’s time for sitting at one of their two tables, ask for a thick, slow-brewed Turkish coffee or enjoy it with a sweet Persian black tea brewed in a fancy-looking samovar.
Hosseini’s pastries, which include flaky cream puffs and Napoleons blanketed in homemade whipped cream, also pair nicely with a cup of coffee or tea. Maybe try a slice of her whipped cream loaf that’s made with sponge cake and comes out resembling a vanilla Swiss roll. Or try something else uniquely Persian, like the zabans. Translating to the “tongues” they resemble, zabans are puff pastries brushed with honey and topped with crushed pistachios.
Traditionally, Persian cookies are the hallmark of New Year celebrations that occur on the spring equinox of each year in Iran, but you can enjoy them year-round at Grandma’s. They’re named by primary ingredient and include flavors such as almond, rice, coconut, chickpea and walnut. They are all naturally gluten-free and can be made sugar-free with an advance request. The grandmas are already brainstorming plans for how they will fulfill this year’s expected orders on March 20.
Hosseini considers her specialty to be her fondant cakes. When she emigrated to the United States in 2001 for her children’s education, she had no desire to continue teaching math as she did back home, so she found work teaching crochet and cake decorating at Michael’s instead. When her crocheting class was canceled due to enrollment, she went on to earn a Wilton certification in cake decorating after noticing her cake-decorating classes remained full. She still finds time to teach there today.
While Ghafar and Hosseini share a common background in their race, language and grandmotherhood, they are also different. Ghafar left Iran at an early age to pursue her masters in structural engineering and has lived in Dallas since 1982. It was after she moved here that she converted to Christianity after surviving a severe car wreck.
Hosseini, on the other hand, was the last of her family members to leave Iran and arrived at a time when transferring capital is beset by U.S. sanctions and declining exchange rates. Unlike Ghafar, Hosseini maintains her Muslim faith and keeps her prayer schedule by taking a moment to give thanks when she’s baking in the kitchen.
Both women are success stories in more than one way — they’ve become new business owners late in life and they’ve developed a working friendship despite religious and philosophical differences, proving once again, grandmas are the best people.
Grandma's Bakery, 17977 Preston Road (North Dallas)