Enjoying a good pastry with a cup of cappuccino or tea, has been an Eritrean tradition for years. Bignne, Crosons, Dononats….are the famous pastries Eritreans cannot go without having. It could be for that reason that Asmara is full of famous pastry shops serving its people and tourists.
Today, we invite Mr. Emmaha Araya and His son, Finan, to talk about the pastry business. Now 78, Mr. Emmaha has been in the bakery business for almost all his life. He worked with Italians who left him with a profession of a life time. He has now passed down his legacy to the new generation.
- Thank you for your time. How long have you been in the pastry buisness?
Thank you for having us. I started working when I was a 12 year old boy. I had worked with Italians for years until I started my own business. But I have been in the pastry profession for almost 67 years now.
- You also had a passion for sports besides bakery?
Well yes. I enjoyed cycling, but the thing is that we only had the passion for sports at that time. It wasn’t the right time for the Eritrean youth to become anything they wanted, we were financially troubled and we had to work extra hard to be financially stable. We had to make so much effort to participate in sports since we had to work. We used to train early in the morning and went straight to work hoping we were not late. However, I became the chairperson of the cycling committee under the Ethiopian rule for five years, and we were the champions for five years.
- Establishment of Bar Vitoria…
It was established a 100 years or so ago. It is one of the oldest bars and pastry shops in Asmara. It used to be owned by Italians. I bought it in 1988. I had it repaired for two years. But it was opened after the independence of the country in 1991.
- Vitoria’s Pastries…
The Italian pastry is known for its quality and taste. They have shared the pastry experience with us, making Eritrea one of the few places where good pastry is found. I learned from the Italians and had the experience working with them. Maintaining the quality is what most lack. We still use the recipes from Italy. We make different types of pastries with ingredients from Italy. Fortunately, we managed to keep our consistency until today. We have worked hard in upgrading our pastry standards by improving our stoves and machineries.
I have shared my knowledge of baking and making cakes with my kids and employees. Most of my employees have been with us for more than ten years.
- The whole family participates…
That is what pleases me the most. Everyone does their part here. It is a family business, which is how it should be. Everyone can make a pastry while administrating the café.
- When did you start working at the pastry?
Our father has trained us carefully and interestingly since were young kids. Now, we all can make any type of cake or pastry. For instance, I was trained when I was a 12 year old boy. And I thought that since I was able to make a decent pastry I was going to start working immediately with the experienced employees. However, my father thought differently. He believed that in order to be a good baker chef one needs to be perfectly aware of cleanliness. It turns out I was in the cleaning team for a year. So I cleaned for almost a year and when he made sure that I was good, then I started to bake. Again, by the time I was back from Sawa is when I seriously started to do the job. My father got it from the Italians and I got it from my father, I hope someday that I can do the same with my kids.
- How hard is it to manage a pastry business?
Everything is hard at first but it gets easier when you actually start to do it. It is tiring of course; running a pastry business isn’t an easy job. You start your day early at 4am and only get to sit down at 10am to have breakfast. Not only that, it requires so much attention and persistence to make the exact amount of good pastries. Every type of cake requires different recipes and that requires an accurate memory. So I would say that I can be hard at times, but it gets better when you see customers enjoy a bite of a cake.
- You have various designs for cakes…
We work to develop and update our standards. I try to learn new recipes and designs from books or the internet. So, I have artists helping me with the outlines which makes it easier to get the desired design accurate. We make unique designs for special occasions. We don’t accept too many orders at the same time as the cakes take time to make, but we manage to make as much as we could most of the time.
- Do you also have a passion for sports?
Yes we are a sports family. I am a car racer and my little brother is a cyclist. The whole family supports him unconditionally. But as for me, I want to continue my pastry profession, car race is just a hobby for me.
- Thank you for having us.