Mah-gical Deliciousness with Mah Ze Dahr
Mah Ze Dahr, a term in the Urdu language, encompasses not only the taste and essence of food, but also its flavor and enchanting qualities that render it delectable. There is no direct English translation – but the meaning is conveyed as soon as you sink your teeth into a delicious brioche doughnut with vanilla bean cream filling or take a bite of the decadent chocolate ganache cake.
Located at the center of National Landing, this bakery and coffee shop is rooted in culture and community. It all began with the flagship bakery in New York, established in 2016 by Umber Ahmad, a baker originally from Michigan and the daughter of Pakistani immigrants.
When Ahmad was creating her business she was in the brainstorming stages of coming up with a name for the bakery. As Ahmad and her team were playing around with different names she kept saying, ‘You know, it just doesn’t have that Mah Ze Dahr to it.’ Eventually, her team pointed out that she kept using this phrase but no one knew what it meant. For Ahmad, it was the standard to which she measured everything. Her bakery has been Mah Ze Dahr ever since.
Tim Bingaman, born and raised in the DC area, serves as the Director of Operations at Mah Ze Dahr. When Bingaman was attending culinary school in New York, he met Ahmad and immediately established a connection. From the start, Bingaman and Ahmad discovered a shared vision for food and hospitality. The Mah Ze Dahr flagship store needed a manager and Bingaman began working there in November of 2017.
As Bingaman recalled his earliest memories of baking he remembers making chocolate chip cookies from scratch in the kitchen with his mom. What began as a hobby ended up being a nudge into a career.
“I was one of those college students who didn’t know what they were going to do with their life. I tried a lot of different things but I’ve always loved food and I kind of thought baking would be a hobby. Then I got into office culture and thought, ‘you know this is not for me.’ I dived into hospitality from there which started from just doing what I really like to do – and then I found a career in it.”
Despite the challenges posed in the pandemic, Mah Ze Dahr managed to open five locations. While it was a difficult time, Bingaman said that the Mah Ze Dahr team really felt cared for by their community and the loyalty of their customers.
“What pulled us through and allowed us to survive was that we had a built in core base with our community. We would have neighbors come by and check in on us saying ‘we want to make sure you’re still here, we want to buy cake for our birthday.’ For us that sense of community is important. We feel like if we take care of our guests, they will take care of us as well and that definitely came through in the pandemic. We were able to stay afloat because of the loyalty of our guests.”
When opening new locations the Mah Ze Dahr development team looks for neighborhoods and communities that they can envision becoming part of. ‘We want to connect with our regulars on a daily basis, it makes the job more fun. We want to have those same friendly dogs walking in,’ said Bingaman. With a clear vision, the team decided to open locations in Virginia and DC because they saw the potential to be part of the neighborhood and are anticipating a lot of growth in the area as Amazon opens its headquarters.
“I think one thing that sets us apart is that when we create a menu, when we create an experience for a guest, we want to create food that we want to eat. We want to create food that we won’t get tired of. So if you look at our menu, you see doughnuts, croissants and chocolate chip cookies. It’s food that a lot of people have tasted before but our goal is to make the best version of these things. For example, for something as humble as banana bread, we look at the flavor, the texture and the presentation and think of ways we can elevate it to the best that it can be.”
For those looking to see what Mah Ze Dahr is all about, stop by this bustling bakery on 1550 Crystal Drive, Arlington, VA and bring a friend or a pet. All are welcome!