You could say that Organic Bytes has been a hit from the start: After the launch during the pandemic, the Canadian company’s beautiful confectionery quickly proved popular for the “cake food” tradition of the Instagram era to celebrate a baby’s first birthday with a dessert made especially for sweet, messy chaos.
But the photogenic design aside, the desire to make healthier treats for the whole family was one of the main motivations behind Food Start, which was co-founder of sisters and self-taught bakers Yasaman and Samira Haj-Shafiei, based in Toronto and Calgary, respectively.
“With my two young children, I always try to deliver healthy food to them,” says Samira, who began making birthday cakes for her own family parties after noticing that the typical – with their acute sugar rush – would let her eldest daughter shop hyper .
The sisters had a long-standing common goal of making beautifully executed, better for you cakes for a company, and the moment finally felt right: the pandemic had freed up for a while, and Samira, a chemical engineer, was on maternity leave from her university research and teaching job. Yasaman brought his entrepreneurial instincts and a background in wellness.
They went to their respective kitchens to focus on perfecting their recipes. All refined sugar and white flour went out. But perhaps even more important than removing these ingredients was adding a long list of nutrient-dense substitutes, including organic almond, coconut and oatmeal, natural sweeteners like honey and maple syrup, dairy alternatives and nuts and seeds.
Some ingredients were the ones they had grown up eating often, like dates, a food that is also rooted in their Muslim background. “Muslims fast during Ramadan, and dates are one of the first things they would break their fast with,” Yasaman says of the cultural significance.
Changing ingredients presented some challenges. Take the frosting flavors that come in cashew vanilla, date chocolate and coconut vanilla. “They are harder ingredients to work with, to make them look the way we want them to,” Yasaman explains. “For example, it’s so much easier to smear buttercream as opposed to the cashew cream we use.”
Despite all the difficulties, they have pulled out sophisticated designs, such as the edible flower cake (decorated with live flowers), white on white (looks practically sculptural) and cashew paint strokes (resembling a pastel-sprayed canvas). “We were both in love with painting when we were younger, so we get inspiration from our childhood as well as fashion and decor,” says Yasaman.
Shortly after the launch of Organic Bytes, word of mouth among friends — especially moms who planned all of the aforementioned bibs — quickly led to a waiting list. Cakes are now available to order in Toronto and Calgary, but the sisters are already looking to expand to more cities (timeline TBD) and potentially launch a home line of dry goods and blends. Right now it’s a two-person show, though the sisters are planning to hire the new year. “Honestly, I do not feel it is work,” says Yasaman, “because I love it so much.”
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