Kamal Izadeen 28 years of service in baking at Khaleej bakary Image Credit: Ahmed Kutty/Gulf News

Abu Dhabi: From its humble beginnings when it opened 40 years ago in Abu Dhabi, in what was then a vastly different city to what it is now, Khaleej Bakeries and Pastries continues to be one of the capital’s most well-known establishments and one of the few that can lay claim to being a part of Abu Dhabi’s history.

“The registration of Khaleej Bakeries was made in 1978 and since then the bakery has been serving customers in Abu Dhabi without stop. It was a completely different environment back then in terms of the customers, the menu and so many other things,” said Tony Raee, the Syrian general manager who took over the bakery in 2015 from its previous owners.

“I’ve been involved in the catering business for 27 years so I knew a lot about Khaleej Bakeries and its long history and that’s what really attracted me to the company when it was available. I feel a sense of responsibility and motivation to keep the shop going strong because of its long history, there is that weight on my shoulders,” he added.

“I am happy to say that business is going good; we are going to be opening a new branch in the Khalidiyah area soon, and so definitely Khaleej Bakeries is still going to be a part of this great city,” Raee said.

Having such a long history behind it also means having a strong loyal customer base, according to Raee, who says that some of the shop’s customers have been coming for than 20 years.

“We have so many long-term loyal customers who come to the shop because they know it so well. There is a trust that forms because people know about the name Khaleej Bakeries and because it’s been in the city for such a long time.

“Some of the customers I have talked with tell me that their grandfather used to come to Khaleej Bakeries, and so it’s generations of customers that are coming to the bakery,” he adds.

Raee says the need to adapt and change with the times is especially important in order to ensure the long-term success of the bakery.

“It is definitely challenging because the needs of the market today are not the same as before. The environment nowadays is more competitive because you have more bakeries in the market, and so this means you always have to be at the top of your game or customers will go to another bakery.

“The population of Abu Dhabi has also seen a very big growth and so this means a higher demand than before, which you have to keep up with. There’s also new tastes and demand for different products and so we have to cater to that as well adding new things to our menu,” he added.

Raee says the shop’s menu has expanded to more than 163 food and beverage choices to keep up with demand.

“The menu has more than 163 items that we sell now, and these include the main manakish options such as manakish zaatar or manakish beef along with a variety of sweet and cake options.

“We also cater to different nationalities as well, and so we make manakish styles suited for Indians, Filipinos, Pakistanis and Arabs. This is something very different compared to before when you basically had just one style you would go with, you now have to be aware of different tastes suited to different nationalities,” he explained.

Long-serving employees

Adding to the bakery’s historical feel is its long-serving employees who still work with the bakery, some of whom have been with the bakery for 30 years.

“Keeping our long-term staff is a part of our business model, they are a big part of the success behind Khaleej Bakeries. It’s amazing when you see employees who have been with the bakery for 20 to 30 years,” Raee said.

One of those long-term employees is Kamal Izadeen from Syria, who has been working as a cook at the bakery for 28 years.

“I have been with Khaleej Bakeries for almost three decades now and so it’s become like my family, I don’t just see this as a job. I feel very proud to have been with the bakery for such a long time, I’ve seen a lot of changes and so many different customers,” he said.

“As a cook, one of the main changes I have seen is the different types of manakish we make. There are so many options for the customers now, before there used to be just three options that we cooked and they were manakish zaatar, manakish cheese and manakish beef. Now we have manakish falafel, manakish chicken, manakish spinach and so many others to choose from,” he added.

Izadeen said that he has no plans on stopping anytime soon.

“This is something I enjoy doing, it is my passion and I still feel good so I don’t see why I need to stop. I really enjoy teaching new cooks as well; I have been here for so long I have had the chance to meet many other cooks who came to work at the bakery.

“Two cooks who had previously worked with me went on to open their own bakeries, and so that gives me a lot of pride as well. I like to help other people and when they come back and say thank you to me, I feel very good,” he added.

Olyat Abu Bakr from India is another long-term employee who has worked with the bakery for 30 years, serving the company as a storekeeper.

“I have spent a large part of my life with this bakery, I have seen the bakery change along with the city,” he said.

“We get much more orders now because there is more customers, Abu Dhabi has grown so much in 30 years and that is reflected also in our business.

“I’m happy to keep going, even though I have been with the company for a very long time I still enjoy it and I’m happy. When you work at one place for 30 years you build a connection with it, you don’t feel that you’re just an employee, you feel more than that and that you are also a part of the shop,” he adds.

“The company also makes me feel special, everyone gives me a lot of respect because they know how long I have been here and that’s a very nice feeling as well, to know that you are appreciated,” he said proudly.