Name: Ziyad Hermez
Title: Founder of Manousheh
City: New York City, NY
Manoushe is a delicious, affordable and hyper local Lebanese breakfast baked good. As soon I land in Beirut, the first thing I do is eat a manoushe. I still remember when I baked it for my friends in San Francisco, they devoured it in minutes asking for more. I wondered, what if this tasty baked good were to be made and sold in the US? And then I stumbled upon Ziyad. He was making every Lebanese living abroad dream come true. He was bringing our culture and delicious flavors to the most incredible place in the world: NYC. Ziyad's story is one of a brave, passionate soul, who stops at nothing in following his dream with graciousness and joy. Just watching him prepare the manoushe for the customers with his big charming smile, is sure to make your day if not your tummy too.
Photos by: Ruby Yeh
How and when did you find your passion?
By chance, and by necessity. I had been saying for 12 years, someone should do this. At the 10 year mark, I couldn't take it anymore.
I had a need for mnaeesh, I just wanted to eat them. I couldn't wait around for it any longer, and so a friend of mine gave me my first baking lesson. He had been a franchise owner, and wanted to do his own thing because he didn't like all the rules. One day, while over at my house, we were talking about wanting to open a manousheh place, but first we needed to find out if we could get the right ingredients here in the US. and what it would taste like. We looked online for recipes and videos. We tried to make one but it was just not right. The flavors were there, but the dough and the end product were horrible. This intrigued me. I wanted to know what had happened, so I researched. I found out that dough was delicate and alive. I practiced and did more research, videos, books, articles, and more recipes.
I tried it all and still I just couldn't get it right. The dough was good but the end product was not something I could sell. I wanted to know why. Along the way I realized I love this process. Baking was something I, someone who had always thought he would never find a passion, developed a passion for. I didn't just stimulate my mind, but all m y senses.
Tell us more about the transition to doing what you love.
I graduated with a Masters of Science in Information Systems Technology from The George Washington University in DC. I moved to NY wanting to start something in Technology, but ended up here.
I wanted to take it further and train in a firin (bakery) in Lebanon. So when I went during the summer, I searched for a place that would teach me but no one was open and cared. Until one day a friend of mine shared a blog with me. It happened to be the blog of Barbara Massaad the author of "Man'oushe". Her book had been the starting point of my baking success. I contacted her and she loved my idea, of course, because she loves mnaeesh. She introduced me to the first firin where she had learned.
Fares Isaac owner of Mouajaneit Gardenia, in Hazmiyeh was the one to take me on the journey. I learned from Fares what it means to be a farran (baker). He opened his bakery when he was 16 and has been there ever since. He knows almost all of his customers by name and interacts with everyone who comes into his bakery. Mnaeesh are fast street food, yet when you get one, you feel like you walk into someone's home. People talk to the baker about their day, share about their family, often end up speaking to other customers, and sometimes spend even up to an hour just talking and having coffee. Others, just exchange warm greetings, get their order and get on with their days. I loved that about the manousheh, it isn't just about food, it expresses a part of the culture.
I wanted to replicate that in New York. I wanted a bakery where people come in and would either leave having learned something, even want to visit Lebanon, or feel like their cravings are satisfied.
When I finally learned all the skills, and gained enough experience, I baked one more manousheh and decided it was time. So I began searching for a location. It was difficult, extremely difficult. Until one day I came across a pop-up location. I rented the space, and there I tested the brand, food, and concept - the reaction was remarkable. Growing up with the spice, Za’atar, I thought it might be an acquired taste for people who didn't know it, but to my surprise I have not yet met a single person who doesn't like the taste!
The pop-up was rented out during the month of December, so I had to close and decided to go back to Lebanon. While there, I asked my cousins where I could learn how to make a great lahem bi ajine (a thinner, crispy, ground beef option). They said why don’t we just go to the best one, the guy we’ve always gotten ours from.
So we did, we went to Firin Abou Daoud and I asked if he would train me. He opened his arms and welcomed me. I learned a lot from Daoud and Jean, the two brothers running the bakery. On some days, their wives and children would even come and help out. They ran the place like a family and treated people as their own, its like the bakery was one big, long, family breakfast every day.
I knew at this point I wanted to open my own firin in NY, to share the amazing food, but more importantly the experience.
How did/do you hone your skills?
I’m mostly self trained on the equipment, but Fares, Daoud and Jean all taught me important skills.
I wanted to make saj, so I bought a chinese wok and turned it upside down on my stove. That worked nicely, but there is nothing like having a real saj, even heat distribution is very important. I eventually got a real gas powered one and used it for the first time at Smorgasburg Jr, in Park Slope, Brooklyn.
I watched plenty of videos of people making dough, saj, and oven baked mnaeesh. I read books, articles, posted on forums and took baking classes to learn as much as I could.
I just keep baking, tasting, and asking people what they think.
Tell us about a time in your earlier transition to living your passion when you failed. How did you feel? What did you learn?
I’m constantly failing, every day, the important thing is to learn from failures. I’m not afraid of failing, because it leads to success. Experimentations hardly ever begin with success, and I personally had no experience in this industry before that day my friend and I baked our first manousheh.
That first failure though could have easily turned me away. I tasted the right flavors, but didn’t know how to make bread. Instead, the science fascinated and persisted me to learn.
What has been your biggest fear about living your Passion?
Hurting or disappointing others in the process of achieving mine.
How do you overcome your fears?
I try my best to treat people the way I would like to be treated. I try to teach this to the staff that is going to operate each and every store.
Was there a time when you were running out of money? Did you need to give up a lifestyle to pursue your passion? Tell us more about that and how you coped.
I didn’t think about that, giving up of a lifestyle. I mean, I wanted to do this, it was just the next step I wanted to take. It was fairly simple, but most importantly the support I received from my family and friends made it much easier. Running out of money, when are we not? It's running faster than me right now but I’ll catch up!
What is self-love to you? And how important is it to your journey?
Self-love to me is confidence and appreciation for what I have. It's important for me to want more, to strive to be better, but also to recognize who I am now.
Who inspires you and why?
This is an extremely tough question to answer. I have many friends and family who inspire me, I have public figures (live and dead) who inspire me. In relation to the topic, I will choose Steve Ells, founder of Chipotle. He commercialized a brilliant model, and was able to replicate his delicious concept with high quality ingredients. Chipotle owns and operates every one of their stores, maintaining consistency. I would love to see Manousheh nationwide, and even internationally, while maintaining consistency in product and service, firin style.
Is there a community that supports you? Who are they?
My friends and family have supported me through this all the way, from helping with sweat, to helping financially.
On Advice to the Community
Please share a piece of advice with our community of men and women who are looking to leave their traditional jobs and live their passions.
It can be as hard, or even harder than you fear to leave your job to live your passion, but it will definitely be worth it. If you’re going to set goals, why not put your passion at the top of the list? Be certain, and be smart!