Like many small business owners, Aziz Sharkh is admittedly a risk-taker.
The 25-year-old decided to go all-in last summer to open Talluza Desserts in south-end Ottawa, looking to do baking a little differently than what he has seen around the rest of the city, mixing middle-eastern and western culture to satisfy everyone’s sweet tooth.
“What happens is every group of people will just open their own store and do their own thing,” Sharkh said in a sit-down interview with OttawaMatters.com.
“What we are trying to do here is actually break the wall between all the cultures and ethnicities and mix them all together,” he added, seemingly missing his own baking pun.
Talluza is the name of a small Palestinian village in the northern part of the West Bank, that dates back to the Iron Age, so the idea Sharkh said is stick to his family’s roots but being someone who grew up in Ottawa, also added in a little western spice.
From the traditional kunafa, or arabic cheesecake, to western cheesecake, crepes and waffles, Sharkh hopes the variety means everyone will get what they’re looking for and even branch out to try a new dish.
The kunafa, a mix of phyllo dough and syrup topped with cheese and served warm, has so far been the most popular offering, followed by Taluzza’s pistachio ice cream, a variety of traditional cheesecakes and tiramisu.
He feels many Ottawa restaurants and bakeries tend to be franchises with standard menus, so he and his cousin set out to add what they felt was missing.
“It took us a lot of time to think about it and take the step,” Sharkh said, but “it’s been a great experience…and something I wanted to do.”
On top of the storefront, the business does custom orders and also caters events and parties.
Sharkh is also busy completing his masters degree in Mechanical Engineering at the University of Ottawa, which keeps him busy, but also means he’s been able to be his own repairman when things go down.
“You could spend all day waiting for an expensive service call, or you can figure out how to fix it on your own,” he said.
But how does a guy who loves math with a mechanical engineering degree becoming a baker?
“It’s just a passion. My mother used to always let us help her in the kitchen and by the time you get the grasp of it, you just love the food and you love the happiness on people’s faces when they actually like food.”
Business has been steadily growing as Talluza approaches its one year anniversary, but attention to detail has been the biggest lesson he’s learned so far it terms of running a business.
Marketing has also been something he’s still been trying to nail down in a finicky Ottawa market, where millennials tend to be more reachable on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and other social media, while those slightly older are a little bit more difficult to reach.
“But you have others who don’t use any media, I have some friends that don’t have phones. Those people who don’t use technology, when you try to reach them with flyers it’s a 50-50 chance,” he said.
“The marketing on that end is challenging, but the popularity is getting better and we're pushing hard.”
When asked what he would recommend for a new customer just coming through the door, he laughed and asked “are you on a diet?”
He said most customers who come in are on a diet but end up taste-tasting their way through the ever-changing menu of the day.
“I feel bad for a bit that I ruined their diet, but I made their day,” he laughed.
“Happiness is not weighed in calories.”