Monday, July 22, 2024

Ayham Haddad and his Mahalab Bakery at a farmers market. (Photo: Ayham Haddad)

Mahalab Bakery, known for popping up at area farmers markets, is getting a permanent home near Cambridge’s Porter Square, in the storefront the Violette bakery vacated when it moved into the former Upper Crust pizza space nearby.

The store, at 1786 Massachusetts Ave., should be open sometime in the first two weeks of April, said the owner, Ayham Haddad. (Update on April 20, 2024: The store opened April 19.)

The menu reflects Haddad’s mission of fusing the Middle Eastern flavors he grew up with and Western baking techniques. It has three sections: breads, savory baked goods and complementary spreads and dips. The breads include country sourdough pitas, made by hand, and three kinds of focaccia: zaatar sourdough, garlic and roasted bell pepper, and olive oil and rosemary. The Mediterranean baked goods have fillings including cheese, cheese and veggie, meat, and meat and veggie, plus non-dairy and vegan options and are often inspired by seasonal ingredients, like a butternut squash, shiitake mushroom and leek version inspired by fall in New England. The spreads and dips include hummus, labneh and ajvar.

Originally from Jordan, Haddad said he has been interested in baking since he was 14. Later, “I worked in sourdough and Western artisanal-style baking, and learned a lot about natural fermentation and a lot about the complex flavor of different grains,” Haddad said.

Combining that knowledge of new ways of bread making with the flavors of Jordan was the spark. Mahalab Bakery was born in January 2020. “I wanted to take a stab at creating something different,” Haddad said.

He started selling at the Cambridge Winter Farmers Market in 2020. That summer, he expanded to the Central Square and Davis Square markets, as well as one in Copley Square. In the years since, he has made appearances at Union Square and Charles River markets, plus others in Boston and beyond. Now that Haddad has a permanent place to sell his goods, he said he’s looking forward to getting to test new products and see how customers feel about them.

“I wanted a store where people can see the production,” he said.

The opening, which Haddad announced on Instagram, was met with a slew of comments from fans: “SO EXCITING!!! congrats,” one wrote. “Yes! Now I have a reason to come back to Boston!” another said.

The bricks-and-mortar location will let him engage more regularly with the community. “It will be interesting to see how people respond to the store,” Haddad said

He remains focused on simple ingredients and the flavors from using local grains, which he said has largely disappeared with commercialization, and on making products that are unique.

“Bread seems so simple, but it’s actually so complex, and can be so flavorful,” he said.

Mahalab Bakery is coming to 1786 Massachusetts Ave., Neighborhood 9 near Porter Square, Cambridge