Baking Sustainably into the Business
Sales were slow at first, but Bilal knew there was a market for his vegan cookie, which he called the “No Cookie.” When a San Francisco store stopped carrying his cookies, Bilal was contacted by a representative of the actor Danny Glover, who was a loyal No Cookie fan. Bilal then knew he was onto something.
“If this famous person loved our cookies, that made me believe that it could work,” says Bilal. He started reaching out to Whole Foods, doing demos, and shipping his cookies throughout the country. Made with love and care using minimal ingredients, the No Cookie is now in 200 stores nationwide, and loved by vegan and nonvegan customers alike.
Sixteen years ago, Bilal met his wife, Rafia, while on a trip to Ghana. When she moved to the United States, she began working at the bakery, but she became restless and wanted to do more out in the community.
“I told Bilal, ‘We need to start doing farmers markets. I’m going crazy!’” says Rafia, who had worked at markets in Ghana. “Once I started doing the markets, I was happy. I got a chance to say to hi people and get feedback. I love the community and the workers.”
Since then, she has become the face of Delightful Foods at Bay Area farmers markets, and has pushed Bilal to start selling his pies again in a variety of fresh, seasonal flavors, from bean pie and sweet potato pie to blueberry cheesecake and peach cobbler.
“Whatever your passion is, don’t leave it alone,” says Rafia. “Go after it.”
Weathering Eviction and the Pandemic
In the cut-throat Bay Area food landscape where businesses come and go, Delightful Foods’ ingredients of success include developing delicious, tried-and-true products and growing sustainably without debt.
“We strive for excellence,” says Bilal. “We have to be so much better than other people because we were at a disadvantage and didn’t start out with any money. We still don’t have any money, but we operate with no debt. We realize that we won’t grow like some companies who borrow, but we have contentment. Even if with a pandemic or anything else that may happen, we will still stay in business. No one will force us to close.”
Three months before the pandemic, Delightful Foods was put to the test. Due to a sprinkler issue in the building, they received an eviction notice for their commercial kitchen in Fruitvale of 29 years. Bilal tried to remain optimistic, despite his worries. “If we lose this place, at least we still have our customers, our equipment, our recipes, and our help. We can just go to a different place and bake. I could keep smiling, but deep down I was still feeling this sadness, this feeling that this isn’t right.”
Even as they began packing up the bakery, the Sabirs and their neighbors hired a lawyer and fought back. They won and were able to keep their kitchen.
So, when the pandemic hit in March, Bilal and his family felt prepared to take on anything. “We have six of us in the house right now,” says Bilal. “All six of us go to the bakery every day. Since we don’t have other employees, we don’t have to wear masks because we live together. We go to the bakery and we come home. That’s our life right now.”