Quite possibly the world's coolest cooks, The Bearded Bakers are best known for their unique food-meets-theatre performances in converted shipping containers that tour cities. Oh, and their incredible Knafeh.
Co-founder Ameer El-issa operates the hugely successful business with his brother, Joey, and sister, Mouna. An architect by trade, Ameer developed an early fascination with repurposing shipping containers; around the same time, he found a passion for the cuisine of his Palestinian culture.
Together, they opened Bar Biscotti in the old Arnott's factory in Sydney's suburb of North Strathfield 14 years ago and these days, it's still as busy as ever. Building on the café's success, Ameer also opened a restaurant, showcasing family recipes on the menu. But there was one dish in particular that impressed the crowds: Knafeh.
Think of a warm crème brulee – an oozing, stretchy, sweet cheese and semolina mix topped with a crunchy crumb and finished with fragrant sugar syrup and crushed pistachios. The dessert became so popular that take-away orders for it began to affect the restaurant's day-to-day operations.
To handle the demand, Ameer came up with the idea of launching a new concept specialising in just the one dish – and nothing else.
Today, The Bearded Bakers have three Knafeh shipping containers serving up the sweet treat in Sydney, Melbourne and New York, which they move every two weeks. They still only sell one thing – and they do it with a side of style.
"It's about the whole experience," says Ameer. "People come to us now, asking us to set up on their site. I think our popularity has to do with the fact that we're so different. We're like food theatre," he says, referencing the fact that his bakers sing, dance and interact with customers while preparing and selling their knafeh.
We're storytellers and it's always evolving. Our bakers are like entertainers. They have charisma and charm. It's very authentic and spontaneous."
Given the success of Bar Biscotti and the three Knafeh outlets, Ameer and his partners are currently working on a new food concept, inspired by their late father. Themed The Mechanic and Sons, it will focus on the food their mum once prepared for their dad – think, drive-through, café or take-away joint. "We're excited to see where the idea goes," says Ameer.
This year, the troupe will also embark on a world tour, visiting Ohio in June to star in a pre-wedding production for an American family before moving on to New York and then the Middle East – with a film crew in tow. On top of this, they're working on an idea with UNICEF to take mentoring workshops into Palestinian refugee camps and across Australia's public school system.
"We travel a lot – myself and my business partners, as well as many of our bakers. Of course we're constantly flying between our Sydney and Melbourne Bakeries but we also travel internationally to the US to visit our New York base.
"The other way is through everyday business expenses, such as buying petrol, paying phone bills, checking into hotels and spending on credit cards. Our business concept is a touring model and this means we spend a lot of money on petrol.
"Mostly through flight upgrades. We'll purchase economy tickets outright, then use points to upgrade to business class on Qantas flights. At the moment we only do this for international flights.
"We often transfer points between business partners but also to our bakers when they travel with us to the US. It's great to be able to share the benefits with our team – small things make a big difference. Our bakers feel special when they fly in business class and that sentiment goes a long way."
"For us, the benefits come with being rewarded for doing things that we need to do and that we already pay for. We run our business as normal but get points for many of our everyday expenses, from travel to fuel to phone bills and using our credit cards. It's a no-brainer."
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