Ziyad Hermez brings Lebanese manousheh to the streets of Manhattan.
It all began because of a hankering for manousheh that just wouldn’t leave Ziyad Hermez alone. He was craving the kind he remembered eating in the streets of Beirut, but no one in New York City, his adoptive home, was getting it right. So he decided to make a batch in his own kitchen. The results of his first efforts were lamentable, he admits. But he kept trying. And trying. And trying. And finally, he got it right.
Now, that relentless search has flowered into Manousheh, a stylish new bakery in the West Village focused exclusively on one product – you guessed it, manousheh. Though it opened just a few months again, Manousheh is as much a hit with native New Yorkers as Arab expats. The bakery has won a rare five-star rating on Yelp, with one user writing, “After tasting one bite while walking out of Manousheh, I had to turn around and shake the owner’s hand. This is phenomenal food.”
Hermez’s pursuit of the perfect manousheh eventually took him back to Beirut, where he worked alongside master baker Fares Isaac, of Mouajaneit Gardenia in Hazmiyeh, to learn the trade. Once he’d returned to the States, he set about tracking down the kind of authentic ingredients Isaac used. Some 5,000 miles from Lebanon, it was a challenge, but eventually he found reliable importers of za’atar, sumac and halawa—plus fresh, thick labneh and wonderfully briny akkawi from a Lebanese-run company located in California. After several years on the pop-up food circuit, including a seasonal stand at Brooklyn’s Smorgasburg food market, his first permanent location promises to become a lunchtime institution.
Hermez never expected he would end up a baker. The son of Lebanese parents who grew up in Kuwait, he earned his masters in information technology from Washington D.C.’s American University. But as his passion for manousheh grew, he found the work satisfied him in ways that he couldn’t have imagined—certainly far more than any IT job he ever pursued.
“I love the process of experimentation,” Hermez says. “This work engages all my senses, not just my brain.”
For Hermez, his mission does not stop simply at producing flawless, Lebanese-style mahousheh. During his time in Beirut, he witnessed firsthand how much the pleasure of manousheh depends on the care and attention bakers like Isaac offer to each customer. They don’t just provide physical sustenance or fleeting gustatory pleasure. They treat each customer as members of a kind of extended family.
And so, back in New York, Hermez added a new ingredient to his secret sauce: call it humanity, or generosity of spirit, or love. In New York’s hyper-competitive, profit-maximizing culture, his joint offers a much-needed oasis of calm and civility. And even hardened New Yorkers have taken notice.
“There’s a palpable sense of hospitality and desire to share a culture,” writes New York Magazine, “ingredients as essential and soulful as any at Hermez’s disposal.”
193 Bleecker St., Greenwich Village, tel. 347.971.5778, manousheh.com