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Danielle Issa 21 Aug 2014

Lebanon’s First Wheat-Free Artisanal Bakery: BreadBasket Square

BreadBasket Square (BBS) is the first wheat-free artisanal bakery in Lebanon. Based out of Tripoli, BBS uses high quality local products like spelt which are reviving ancient grains and empowering local small-scale farmers. This first-of-its-kind bakery arose amid ambiguity over the gluten-free craze seizing the food scene, as well as a desire to shed light on the benefits of alternate grains.

Beirut.com had the chance to sit down with Soumaya Merhi, who returned to Lebanon two years ago from Montreal to launch this unique concept. Merhi feeds us the scoop on BBS and the grand plans she has for making it a model in the Middle East’s alternative health food industry.

Beirut.com: Who’s the team behind BreadBasket Square, and from where do you source your grains?
Merhi: My team is made up of five Lebanese men that come from Tripoli. We harvest our grains–uniquely rye, spelt, oat, and barley–from farmers in two regions in the Bekaa and Sir El Dunieh and make our own flour, thus ascertaining its freshness.

Beirut.com: What ingredients do you use in your products? Are these ingredients locally-sourced or imported?
Merhi: Our ingredients are a mix and match between local ingredients, specific imported organic products, and GMO-free flours.

Beirut.com: What unique treats do you bring to the Lebanese table?
Merhi: BBS is a bakery that aims to give our traditional baked goods a twist. For example, we craft vegan maamoul and locally made healthy energy bars, the taqabar, inspired by an old Lebanese pastry. Our Arabic bread is wheat-free and square in shape. We also produce cookies, granola, kaak and buns. Ultimately, the goal is to offer a variety of products for individuals who are health-conscious or athletic and who desire GMO-free products and products free from synthesized sugars.

Beirut.com: What is the taqabar, and how long did it take to perfect its recipe?
Merhi: Taqabar, our newest product, is a natural energy bar made from dried fruits and nuts. (Taqa in Arabic means energy.) It took me the whole of last summer to perfect my recipes. We have four bars: Almond Rose, Pistachio Orange Blossom, Hazelnut Cacao, and Coconut Lemon.

Beirut.com: Are you yourself allergic to gluten?
Merhi: I am not allergic to gluten, but I do have wheat intolerances. I was raised on alternative health with an emphasis on nutrition all my life, so it’s an inherent part of me. That being said, I also worked in the organic industry in Montreal and gained much of my experience under the supervision of a Marilu, a Japanese Pastry chef.

Beirut.com: How are you advertising your products? Do you sell directly to customers, or do you push your products through vendors like pastry houses, other bakeries, and health stores?
Merhi: I mostly rely on B2B (business-to-business) because I work in distribution to supermarkets, food health shops, gyms, and yoga centers. I also utilize catering, Souk El Tayeb, and Coffee Cycle Café (in Fakra) as marketing platforms with direct sales.

Beirut.com: Is there any local competition for wheat-free products? If so, who are they?
Merhi: At the moment there is no direct competition, but there is rising competition in the gluten-free sector.

Beirut.com: What is your vision for the company one year from now? Five years from now?
Merhi: In one year, I want BreadBasketSquare to become the end destination for anyone looking for a healthy-baked good that tastes divine and is used as a resource for athletes to refuel. Five years from now, I want BreadBasketSquare to become a recognized brand of healthy conscious baked goods across Lebanon and the Middle East. It is to be a model in the alternative health food industry.

Beirut.com: Does BBS take all your time, or do you juggle other employment?
Merhi: I am fully committed to BBS with heart, soul, and passion. I work and I love it.

Look for BreadBasket Square’s products at the following locations: Goodies, Aziz (Kantari & Zalka), Dar, Suz Coffee Bar, Joanna’s Kitchen, Ginette, Tawlet, Bike Generation, Crossfit-B, Pova Nova, Exhale Gym, Fahed Supermarket (Furn El Chebbak), Jbeil Supermarket, Khoury Supermarket, Viva Natura Tripoli, Edde Sands, Coffee Cycle, Stop & Shop (Naccache, Adonis), Carpaccio (Naccache), Rabih Salameh (Jbeil), Cozy Foods (Beit Meri), ALTCITY, Rita’s Health Food Shop, Maison de la Sante, Nutrition and Health, Livey Health, BioNatural Foods, Kataleya, and Marqet.

And for more information, visit BreadBasket Square on Facebook.