Cupcake Kingdom

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Jaber enrolled in a management programme in New York

Jaber enrolled in a management programme in New York

As a young boy growing up in one of Saudi Aramco’s compounds, Fadi Jaber would shun his mother’s traditional Middle Eastern desserts in favour of his classmates’ brownies, cupcakes and cookies. Back then, little did he know that his love of all-American treats would see him become the first baker to bring the cupcake craze to the Middle East.

“All of my classmates would always bring cupcakes, brownies, cookies or something equally delicious to class on their birthdays and I was so jealous because my mum never made things like that. She grew up in Beirut and was originally from Palestine so we would have qatayef and baklava. American desserts were just not part of her repertoire,” he tells Arabian Business StartUp.

Several years later, whilst working as a marketing manager for Unilever in Saudi Arabia, Jaber turned the tables around when he taught himself to bake and started taking his own American desserts into the office. But it wasn’t until Jaber was asked to buy a cake for a relative’s birthday in Jordan that he spotted a gap in the market, quit his job and moved to New York to study at the Institute of Culinary Education in Manhattan with the aim of opening the region’s first all-American bakery.

“I had to buy this awful looking cake with lots of gelatinous fruits on the top because I couldn’t find anything else,” he recalls. “Everybody ate a bit but people literally had a bite and then threw the rest away so it was more like we were paying lip service to his birthday. That’s when I realised that there were no good bakeries in Jordan. Sure there are places that do fancy cakes for weddings and engagements but there was nothing that really tasted delicious and homemade. I saw a gap and I tapped into it.”

Today, his bakery, Sugar Daddy’s, sells hundreds of cupcakes on a daily basis, has a successful franchise outlet in Lebanon with plans to expand further afield and has more than 250,000 Facebook fans. In addition to American-style cupcakes, Sugar Daddy’s also caters to regional tastes using local ingredients such as dates and nuts — Jordan’s Queen Rania is even rumoured to be a fan of the bakery.

Jaber credits much of the success with his decision to enroll in a bakery and culinary management programme in New York. It was there that in addition to learning how to bake commercially, he also learned the management skills required to run a bakery as well as devise a business plan.

“A lot of people think that if you can throw a good dinner party, you can open a good restaurant but its two completely different things being a professional and doing it as a hobby. You really need the proper certifications in order to do that,” he says.

“A lot of owners of bakeries are constantly demanding things of their employees because they don’t understand [the business] whereas my employees can’t tell me they can’t do it because I have done it whereas other owners at the mercy of their chefs. I can challenge and impose my opinions and ideas and it’s legitimate and my chefs respect that,” he adds.

Jaber established his first bakery using his own personal savings and funds from his father and brother in Amman’s Mekkah Street but it soon became apparent that the location was fraught with problems. “It was very industrial, non-residential and I totally missed the target [customer]. It was the worst recipe because it was high rent and low foot traffic. We didn’t even have enough money to pay the next year’s rent,” he says.

In a bid to raise money, Jaber franchised Sugar Daddy’s in Dubai and Lebanon, offering investors his recipes and the right to trade under the company name in exchange for much needed capital. The move paid off and Jaber was able to pay the second year’s rent up front. The location, however, remained a problem and two years into his contract Jaber relocated to Abdoun.

“Here the formula was the exact antithesis; it was a win-win situation. We’ve been making good money here and have a profitable successful business,” he says.

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