Aissa Sweets expands with cafe in new Concord location

  • A tray of date-filled cookies are seen at the new Aissa Sweets storefront on Hall Street in Concord on Tuesday, Nov. 15, 2016. (ELIZABETH FRANTZ / Monitor staff)

  • The new storefront of Aissa Sweets is seen on Hall Street in Concord on Tuesday, Nov. 15, 2016. (ELIZABETH FRANTZ / Monitor staff)

Monitor staff
Sunday, November 20, 2016

In his new storefront on Hall Street in Concord, Ahmad Aissa is expanding his offerings beyond the Syrian pastries that he already sells to shops throughout New England.

The South End business park location has allowed Aissa, a 31-year-old who immigrated from Syria in 2011, to establish a new venture: a sit-down cafe.

The cafe’s mainstay will be Aissa’s wraps, which use classic Middle Eastern ingredients encased in a nontraditional way. He’s using the light and crispy homemade filo dough he has perfected in his pastries as the bread for his wraps, instead of the usual breads, such as pita bread, which are easier to make.

The beef kebabs and chicken shawarma on the inside have the same flavor they would in the old world style, he said, but it’s amplified.

“When you bite into the sandwich, there’s way more flavor than the actual sandwich you could have in the Middle East,” he said.

In the past four years, Aissa moved his business from Dover to Concord and within the city from North State Street to 128 Hall St. in April. Although he’d eventually like to be located downtown, he’s happy to have a spot that is big enough to host a retail operation and that’s more convenient for shipping.

Aissa’s pastries, chiefly his baklavas and date cookies, are sold at dozens of locations throughout New England, including at Whole Foods Markets.

In Syria, filo dough is typically used only in these kinds of baked goods and never in wraps, he said, but the new utilization makes perfect sense to him.

“I do feel very good about this new shape of product, and I feel it makes sense to me, even though I’m really accustomed to the Syrian food,” he said, noting that he always has a fresh batch anyway for his pastries. “I just like the crunchiness in it and how light it is.”

Part of the reason this filo dough approach isn’t more popular, he said, is because of the labor it entails.

“Mothers in Syria cook good food, but they try to avoid the overwhelming process of baking, particularly filo bread,” he said. “You can make it at home, but it takes forever and it’s also a big mess.”

Aissa, who took up baking for fun, enjoys it, though. He’s working mainly by himself, sometimes with the additional help of his wife, a Manchester native whom he met and married in Syria, who helps to challenge his process and offer advice, he said.

“She is my window to the American culture,” he said.

Most people here are familiar with the classic recipes, but not necessarily his individual style, he said. That was on display at a multicultural fair he attended in Laconia a few months back, he said.

“I was like really, really encouraged,” he said, as customers tried his new recipes and offered him his first feedback. “People would come back and order it again. There’s a guy who came four times in one fair.”

The cafe is located at 128 Hall St., Unit H. It’s open Monday to Friday from 8 a.m. to 5:30 p.m., and Saturday from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. In addition to wraps and desserts, it serves soups, salads and beverages.

(Nick Reid can be reached at 369-3325, nreid@cmonitor.com or on Twitter at @NickBReid.)