Popular New York City bakery Mah-Ze-Dahr opened a shop in Navy Yard today, taking the first step in an expansion plan to bring the D.C. region its celebrity-endorsed cookies, cheesecakes, dark-chocolate brownies, and brioche doughnuts widely recognized as some of the best NYC has to offer.
Mah-Ze-Dahr’s first location outside of Manhattan sits at 1201 Half Street SE, directly across the street from the Center Field Gate at Nationals Park. Umber Ahmad, the baker and founder behind the brand, says simple, unflavored coffee and espresso drinks made from La Colombe beans complement the shop’s selection. She says a vanilla latte is unnecessary when customers can pair their coffee with a brioche doughnut that incorporates vanilla from Madagascar.
“Food is the star. We look at coffee and tea like wine. It enhances the experience and makes it better,” Ahmad says.
Her scones and devil in ganache cake drew early notice from Oprah Winfrey and Top Chef judge Tom Colicchio, who maintains an advising role in the brand. Other items making their way to D.C. include cheesecakes that Grub Street has ranked the “absolute best” in the city and gourmet granola made with rolled oats, dried cherries, and extra-virgin olive oil.
“We are opening with our classic pastries, cakes, and cookies,” says Ahmad, a semifinalist for the James Beard Foundation’s Outstanding Baker award in 2019.
Its best-selling pastries sit behind a sleek glass display case, propped up on gold cake stands. There’s no open kitchen, Ahmad explains, because pastries are highly sensitive to temperature and humidity.
“We’re thrilled with talent that appeared in D.C. Great, young, smart, eager pastry cooks,” says Ahmad, who plans to oversee operations herself during the initial opening period.
To start, Mah-Ze-Dahr’s hours are 7 a.m. to 5 p.m. Wednesday to Friday and 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. on weekends. The shop is closed Mondays and Tuesdays. There’s limited seating indoors and outdoors. Customers can place takeout or delivery orders through the bakery’s online ordering system or third-party apps such as UberEats, Doordash, and Tock.
Menu descriptions for the baked goods include details about preparation methods and tasting notes along with any relevant press accolades. Croissant monkey bread — small bites of croissant dough tossed together in sugar, baked, and topped with vanilla and apricot glaze — become “the caramelized croissant of your dreams.” A dark-chocolate brownie promises “a rich, intense chocolate experience.”
Mah-Ze-Dahr has a cakes department to supply celebrations, and catering boxes will be available for offices.
Ahmad turned her buzzing wholesale operation into a standalone enterprise with the opening of the first Mah-Ze-Dahr in Greenwich Village in 2016. Mah-Ze-Dahr’s name is rooted in an Urdu word, referring to the “magic that makes food delicious.”
Knead Hospitality + Design, the restaurant group behind Succotash, Mi Vida, and the Grill on the Southwest Waterfront, announced plans in 2018 to partner with Ahmad and incorporate her bakery into a restaurant at the West Half development. Gatsby, the main component of two-part, 9,000-square-foot complex, will serve American diner food and desserts from Ahmad like cinnamon buns and seasonal pies. Mah-Ze-Dahr has its own space, including a separate entrance. Knead is working on leases for three more D.C. area locations, with plans to open another Mah-Ze-Dahr by April.
Ahmad says she met Knead co-owner Jason Berry at business school 20 years ago, and the longtime friends always wanted to open a project together. Ahmad was an investment banker before she made the career switch.
Knead Hospitality + Design has already lured two other big-name chefs to town as part of its three existing properties: Edward Lee at Succotash and Roberto Santibañez at Mi Vida and the Grill. As previously announced, Knead plans to open more Mah-Ze-Dahr units inside restaurants down the line.
Mah-Ze-Dahr is the third out-of-town bakery to set up shop in D.C. in the past few weeks. Tatte Bakery and Cafe’s first location outside of Boston has seen long lines a packed patio at its West End location. New York-based Levain Bakery, known for its giant cookies, opened a Georgetown shop on the same day Mah-Ze-Dahr made its debut.
The baseball stadium is not allowing fans inside for games during the pandemic, but the bakery is working on its own version of Cracker Jack. Ahmad’s recipe throws in cashews spiced with Aleppo pepper, which she says adds a naturally warm heat “without too much spice.” When game days resume, she also plans to roll out family-friendly specials on lattes and cookies.