Alumna Nour Ben Hmeida just opened Oea Bakery, a baklava sweets shop. Courtesy | Nour Ben Hmeida

Libyan baklava shop Oea Bakery launched online on Feb. 1, sharing Hillsdale alumna Nour Hmieida’s heart for her family’s deli­cious, unique pastry recipe and beloved culture. 

Oea Bakery, named thought­fully as a ref­erence to the ancient Phoenician city Oea, sold about 60% of the available batch on the first day. The rest sold out before the end of the week and will be restocked on Feb. 15.

The bakery’s sweet pastry is made of 40 layers of thin phyllo dough packed with almond filling and soaked in honey, cut into a diamond and topped with a roasted almond.

“It’s funny because it was kind of an accident,” Hmieida said about her new business, laughing. “It kind of wasn’t part of my plan, really.”

Her interest in business was piqued during her senior year at Hillsdale, after spending four years studying bio­chem­istry and planning to attend medical school.

“At the very end of college, I decided to do some­thing dif­ferent,” Hmieida said. “I’ve always been really — I guess you could call it cre­ative. I like to paint; I like typical cre­ative outlets, so I was always really inter­ested in some­thing entrepreneurial.”

Hmieida felt inspired to sell her baklava more for­mally after requests from friends and cus­tomers for more and more of it. 

“When I saw how much demand there was and how much people wanted me to con­tinue doing it, I was like, ‘Okay, let’s turn this into a business where people can buy this baklava whenever they want,” Hmieida said. 

When Hmieida was younger, baklava was strictly a dessert for special occa­sions or guests. Her mother, Nahla Sharif, first taught her how to make baklava and shared the sweet dessert with Hmieida and friends throughout their time at Hillsdale. 

The summer of 2019, Hmieida began making and selling baklava through Instagram, friends, and the Hillsdale County Farmers’ Market. Beginning to pursue entre­pre­neurship and starting to “learn through doing,” she recon­sidered her post-grad plans and used the funds from market sales to enroll in business courses. 

Before opening Oea Bakery, Ben Hmeida sold baklava at the local Hillsdale farmers market. Courtesy | Nour Ben Hmeida

“The cus­tomers at the farmers’ market seemed to like it,” said senior Rachael Kiti, Hmieida’s roommate the summer she began selling baklava. “We sold every­thing that first day.”

Kiti cur­rently serves as pres­ident of the Inter­na­tional Club, the position Hmieida held during her time at Hillsdale. She described Hmieida as “the sweetest person you could ever talk to,” and “very hum­bling, very welcoming.” 

“Her culture, how she shares it, is dif­ferent and unique,” Kiti said. “She could have chosen any business just to benefit, and just her choosing to cook and share the culture, I think that’s really sweet.”

Had Kiti tried the baklava? 

“Oh, yeah,” she said, smiling. “When your roommate is the one making it, you don’t question that.”

After grad­u­ation, settled in Col­orado and working full-time in mar­keting, Hmieida decided to move from casual sales to an online bakery that restocks every two weeks. 

“I am excited to see it grow and to be sharing the recipe and the culture,” Hmieida said. “I’m hoping to incor­porate more cul­tural stuff in the future too. I hope people enjoy them.”

Oea Bakery cur­rently offers a “Friend’s Plate” with ten pieces as large as the palm of a hand. An order includes free shipping and a 30-day refund guar­antee if not sat­isfied with the product. 

Sharif and Hmieida form the two-person team behind the business. Sharif makes the baklava, and Hmieida manages logis­tical mar­keting and sales. Since the bakery is an e‑commerce model, it doesn’t require a store­front, and the Col­orado Cottage Food Act permits them to operate out of a home rather than a com­mercial kitchen. 

“A big part of the mission is cel­e­brating the culture of Libya and sharing it,” Hmieida said. “So of course we want to sell baklava, and people love the recipe, but we also wanted to share more about the country or culture, how rich it is. I thought this would be a cool way to do that.” 

The baklava recipe includes a unique ingre­dient brought from Libya that is similar to rose water and unavailable in the United States. Honey, as a natural preser­v­ative, keeps the pastry fresh as it travels to a customer.

“I enjoy getting the oppor­tunity to share a small part of our culture and her­itage,” Sharif said in a text. “Libya is not very well known in the west, and I’m excited to help shine a pos­itive light on our country.”

Hmieida said she is very thankful for the support she’s received so far, and hopes to even­tually incor­porate phil­an­thropic efforts into the business.

“No matter how dif­ferent people and coun­tries are, sharing unique recipes and food can be a pow­erful way to bring people together,” Sharif said. “I’m excited to do that with baklava!”