Peer through the wide windows at Al-Amir Bakery, on the corner of Central and 26th Avenues in Northeast Minneapolis. You’ll see a handful of tables, a pastry case filled with baklava and an assortment of beverages, and huge United States and Iraqi flags displayed on opposite walls.
Go inside and meet Amir, the owner and head baker. His arms bear the scars of burns he’s incurred over his many years of baking breads and sweets. His eyes are warm and deep like a cup of fresh coffee. Before landing in Minneapolis, he spent 12 years in Lincoln, Nebraska. Before that, he grew up in Basra, Iraq, where he learned to bake.
He shows me pictures of his sons while casually making a mountain of Iraqi bread, stacking an endless stream of hot, crispy rounds on the table. Amir makes this bread six days a week. Every time I visit, whether I intend to or not, I leave with a bag full—barely making it to the car before scarfing down an entire round.
The general manager and head cook, Hakim, met Amir two years ago. Hakim was once a well-known boxer in Saudi Arabia, and Amir recognized him while he was working at the former convenience store across the street from Al-Amir. Hakim started cooking everything at the restaurant—from falafel to shawarma.
Hakim is most likely who you’ll interact with at the counter, but there are a few other men that you might see making bread or grilling kebabs. Amir told me that one of his employees has only been in the U.S. for one month, and that he feels it’s important for him to employ people in his community when he has the chance.
Amir walks me through his recipes for date, sesame, and butter cookies, pulling out a greasy notebook that he uses for reference on occasion. As he motions to different ingredients, he shows me the Arabic recipes in the notebook and told me about his cousin and mother, who taught him as he began learning how to make breads and sweets. But he says that today, the recipes truly live in his head.