Sima Sahar Zerehi – The Iranian plaza on Yonge north of Finch is composed of a bunch of crammed shops brandishing Farsi language signs and ethnic looking logos. The window displays are busy with store promotions and littered with posters advertising upcoming Iranian pop concerts and newly released music albums. The frenzy of eye-popping signs in bright neon colours seem to be attempting to elbow each other out of the way as they scream for attention and compete for the patronage of passer-by. Quietly nestled amongst these storefronts is a quaint café, a relatively new addition to Tehranto’s growing businesses.
Unlike its neighbours, B.B.’s Café doesn’t capture customers with a shout, but with a whisper. The café is a stylishly decorated storefront, with walls adorned by a chocolate brown floral wallpaper that envelope the space, tastefully arranged small wooden tables and chairs create a comfortable seating area, and the glass storefront bathes the small shop in a warm afternoon glow.
In the back of the store, a plethora of traditional and non-traditional sweets are displayed in glass casings. On the opposite wall, bins of dried nuts and fruits, boxes of chocolates and treats from various regions of Iran and other parts of the world are artfully arranged for the taking.
Like most small businesses in Tehranto, B.B.’s café is a family run venture. Today Sara Khakbaz, the eldest of two girls, and an architect by training, and her mother Fahimeh Dabiran, an accountant, are the ones speaking about the family run café and how they turned a personal hobby into a booming business.
“I never had any professional training in pastry making,” admits Dabiran, “I always enjoyed baking, so when the opportunity arose to pursue this as a business and open a shop here I took it.”
Khakbaz chimes in, “my mom was always baking for us back in Iran, for our birthdays and celebrations, but there was never a place to sell her pastries.”
Today, the café employs various chefs to prepare the shop’s wide array of cakes, cookies and pastries. The offerings at the shop are extensive ranging from traditional Iranian sweets such as Zoolbia & Bamieh (sticky golden coloured Iranian sugary treats) to basic chocolate and vanilla cakes more familiar to Canadian customers.
B.B.’s Café attempts to marry the tradition of the ghahve-khooneh (traditional Iranian coffee shop frequented by men) with the modern concept of a café that caters to entire families. The aim of the Khakbaz family is to provide a venue that’s a true gathering place, a place of respite, rejuvenation, soulful conversation and quiet reflection in a strip characterized by frenzied activity.
In fact, the greatest asset of B.B.’s Café is its prime location in the centre of Tehranto’s shopping area. The welcoming seating area located in the front of the shop is strategically designed to overlook the Iranian plaza allowing customers to watch the comings and goings of the busy centre as they enjoy a piece of pastry and a hot cup of aromatic Iranian tea.
With such a prime location, and a niche market, it’s no accident that while most small businesses struggle in their first years, B.B.’s Café has been able to not only stay afloat since opening its doors in February 2010, but to thrive.
Dabiran speaks about her family’s recipe for success. “One of the things that has allowed us to be successful is that we are open to criticism and suggestions from customers.” She adds, “We don’t only try to listen with an open mind but we also act on the suggestions provided by customers on how to improve our products.” Dabiran concludes, “When customers see that we value their opinions, they return.”
The other secret to the Café’s success is the owners’ dedication to providing exemplary customer service. In B.B.’s café you are sure to be greeted like friends in a warm family oriented space.
“When someone comes to our Café we treat them more like guests at our home than customers frequenting our business,” admits Khakbaz.
“We know and remember our customers and establish a rapport with them, they are always surprised when they realize that I remember their preferences,” adds Dabiran.
Khakbaz continues where her mother ended and notes, “we try to establish dialogue with the various demographics of customers that we have; for example we always have someone available at cash who can speak Farsi to cater to the needs of older customers who may not be comfortable speaking in English. Similarly, we also make sure that we have staff who can speak English to serve the needs of the English speaking Canadian customers.”
The owners of B.B.’s Café know their customers and they are strategic about creating a space that meets their needs and specific tastes. “In our Café we want to create the same feel that you get in the cafés in Iran,” states Khakbaz. “We try to play the same kind of music and create the same overall atmosphere that many customers are nostalgic for.”
In fact, the name B.B.’s Café is homage to a famous pastry shop in Tehran in the Yousefabad region. Iranian’s familiar with Tehran, are sure to recall this iconic pastry shop and its famous namesake mocha cake which is known not only to residents of Tehran but to Iranians all over the world. Although, B.B.’s Café in Toronto is not formally affiliated with the B.B.’s in Tehran, the Tehranto business does import some goods from the Iran-based pastry shop.
“We’ve tried to gather delicacies from each region of Iran in the store so that we have something for every customer; we have customers from various cities in Iran and each customer comes to us in search of their local sweets,” explains Khakbaz.
“Also, if a customer comes in search of something that we don’t yet carry, we often take their order and try to import the treats in the future” recounts Dabiran.
Yet the Café owners don’t settle for just any Iranian products. “We always try to select the best brands of goods from Iran,” boats Dabiran.
The owners of B.B.’s Café have been able to grow their business into one of Tehranto’s destination spots in less than a year. During extremely challenging economic times when most businesses are grappling to survive, the Khakbaz family is enjoying steady growth and making plans for future expansion of their family business.
“Although I studied architecture, I have always wanted to open a café” explains Khakbaz. “Our plan in the next five years is to open other branches of our business in Toronto,” she adds.
“We hope to open a location near one of the universities in Toronto; on Yonge Street near Ryerson or close to UofT,” states Khakbaz. “My parents get so excited when we have groups of students in our Café, they love to see young people come here to study after school,” she states.
With a passion for customer service, a flare for business and an eye for detail, the Khakbaz family is sure to succeed in future ventures as they have with B.B.’s Café.