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Life & Work with Najmia Manjoo of BREA

Today we’d like to introduce you to Najmia Manjoo.

Hi Najmia, can you start by introducing yourself? We’d love to learn more about how you got to where you are today?
Hi! I’m a pastry chef and I’ve been in the industry for 18 years! I’m a graduate of the California Culinary Academy, and I’ve worked as a pastry chef in fine dining restaurants as well as casual cafes. A little over a decade ago, I started a catering company working with brides, event planners and even establishments like Dave & Buster’s and Lucky Strike, bringing them cakes, buffet setups and macarons (before macarons were a thing). I went into retail when cupcakes were blowing up, and from inception to ribbon cutting, I started Wildflour Cupcakes, a busy cupcake bakery in Fullerton. Owning my own bakery was an amazing experience that taught me so much about my capabilities, and how to power through the hard stuff. It also brought me a few minutes of fame on Cupcake Wars and so much experience baking and decorating thousands of cakes, cupcakes and cookies. After several years I sold my retail location and began to focus on direct sales through social media. The landscape has really changed how businesses work and I’m trying to keep up with that while also focusing on trends in pastry and baking.

We all face challenges, but looking back would you describe it as a relatively smooth road?
Definitely not! Owning a brick and mortar store alone was a challenge. There is no one place a small business owner can go to just set up shop. There are so many hoops I had to jump through, permits to pull, people to negotiate with. Doing business in a simpler setting like I am now still comes with struggles. I have had Instagram for a decade now, and I didn’t think much about growing followers initially. My first 900 or so just happened, but since I started using it to market my bespoke cakes and cookies, I have come to understand just how difficult it is to get people to engage. Don’t get me wrong. I am plenty busy, but I wish my following could grow as fast as the orders pour in. Another challenge is the competitive nature of social media that can wear you down, but overall it’s been an experience that I appreciate and I know is part of my bigger story.

Thanks – so what else should our readers know about your work and what you’re currently focused on?
I make sweet treats. That’s what I do, and I do it well. I specialize in cakes and cookies, but I can make anything from chocolate and sugar art to bread and pastry. I’ve trained in all of it, and I’ve worked in most of it. I’m most proud of the work I’m currently doing because it’s all me. I don’t have employees to bake and prep like I used to, and I’ve really gotten a chance to perfect my techniques and my recipes. I love making and decorating cookies. That’s what is really challenging me right now and I learn something new with each set that I create. I also like to try new things with cake. I recently made a gravity defying Nutella cake and I’ve been experimenting with stencils and chocolate spheres as well. I have lists of ideas in my notes and I’m always up late researching my next projects, so my focus is on creating.

So maybe we end on discussing what matters most to you and why?
Integrity matters most to me. If I use a recipe that isn’t mine, I credit it. If I don’t know how to do something, I take the time to educate myself about it. I like to keep up with trends, but oftentimes that means doing what other bakers are doing, so I always try to give my creations my own spin. My name is behind everything I bake, so all of it needs to come from a place of caring for the process from start to finish. That means I use the best ingredients, I often spend more time than I should on my cakes and cookies, I’m very particular about packaging, I obsess about deliveries and shipments, and finally, it all has to stand up to the taste test.

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