From wholesale roots, LA Bakery grows in all directions
LA Bakery is expanding faster than a chocolate souffle.
The Carson City bakery started life almost four years ago as Shirini Shop, selling pastries and other sweets to a long list of area restaurants and grocers and to consumers at local farmer’s markets.
In June, Ali Arbabha and Leila Tavakoli, the husband and wife team who own and operate the business, opened a storefront bakery in a small house on John Street, where Molly’s Gourmet Catering once was located. The shop, which offers a breakfast and lunch menu as well as cookies and cakes, this month closed off part of its patio to offer indoor seating for 20 patrons. The remaining outdoor space features seating for another two dozen in warmer weather.
Eventually, Arbabha says, they’d like to open a second location, possibly in Reno.
“We’re still thinking about it,” says Arbabha.
Thinking about it is probably all the young couple has time to do. Both work 12-hour days, six days a week to run the bakery, a growing catering and special-order business and its online counterpart (www.labakerycafe.com), not to mention the original wholesale business that includes customers such as the Atlantis Casino Resort Spa and Reno’s Whole Foods.
“We were at a farmer’s market and the general manager of Whole Foods (for the western region) bought our baklava,” says Arbabha. “He didn’t say who he was, but he came back 10 minutes later and said would you like to be part of Whole Foods? Uh, yeah.”
Both the Atlantis and Whole Foods sell the bakery’s traditional Turkish pastry, a recipe created by Tavakoli and made of almonds, walnuts, pistachios and filo dough, and a thing or two extra.
“It’s secret,” says Arbabha. “But the syrup is very special.”
The baklava also contains no trans fat, is vegan-friendly and, for Whole Foods, is baked with organic ingredients. The bakery offers many baked goods that are gluten free or sugar free.
Arbabha is now talking to Costco and Walmart about carrying the bakery’s signature creation.
The couple launched the business in 2009, when the economy took a nosedive and Arbabha, who has a master’s degree in civil engineering from the University of Nevada, Reno, was out of work.
“My wife and I had to do something to live,” says Arbabha.
They decided to go into the food business, something they could do together with Tavakoli, a pastry chef and culinary school graduate, as the baker. The couple started selling their goods wholesale to businesses in northern Nevada and California, and to consumers at farmer’s markets in Reno, Gardnerville and Carson City.
“A lot of people asked us to go into retail,” says Arbabha.
So the couple opened LA Bakery in Carson City, where they live. The shop offers breakfast items such as the Wake Up Bagel while its lunch menu features quiches, sandwiches, salads and soups, including the greek quiche, gourmet grilled cheese, tabouli salad, and coconut corn sweet potato chowder.
Its baked good goods include muffins, cakes, cookies, sticky buns, cream puffs, toffee and, of course, baklava. The shop also sells brewed, acid-free coffees made with beans from Reno’s Hub Roaster, as well as espresso, cappuccino and smoothies. The store employs five people who work on food prep, serving and baking.
Customers can custom order all kinds of pies and cakes at the store or online. The Web site has been up and running for about four months, says Arbabha, and has had about 10,000 visitors.
And then there’s the catering business, mostly to state offices and the nearby Carson Tahoe Specialty Medical Center. The bakery has even catered a legislative event before the Legislature convened.
With all that on their plate, is there any area where the couple is not expanding the business?
“We’ll probably only do the Carson City farmer’s market from now on,” says Arbabha.
Heather Ashbridge, who started with Nevada State Development Corporation in 2008, previously served in several roles with the organization, including assistant vice president and loan officer. She is based in NSDC’s Reno office.