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Sweet Pillar & Co.’s Nadia Hubbi Gives Us Her Story and Some Ramadan Chocolate

Everyone who knows me also knows that I love chocolate– as many women do. I’m not, however, a lover of all chocolate. In fact, I’m not a fan of chocolate companies who fool consumers into thinking they’re getting real chocolate when in fact they’re getting a hefty dose of things like high fructose corn syrup or unhealthy fats and oils added to it to make it cheaper and just higher quantities of it.

It takes people who respect the pastry arts and the consumer to really put out a high quality dessert that is special and beautiful at the same time. I like that about Nadia Hubbi, founder of Sweet Pillar & Co., a California-based company selling chocolate covered dates and traditional ma’amoul cookies artfully crafted in the same way her Syrian grandmother used to make them.

I first tasted her dark chocolate covered dates last year at the American Muslim Consumer Conference where they were at our tables as we sat down in the ballroom to attend lectures. They came two in a box per attendee- such beautiful blue boxes that I thought someone was giving away jewelry, not suspecting these delicious and unique surprises.

Nearly a year later I had the great blessing to be able to speak with Nadia about her journey towards the creation of what is now a growing company uniquely positioned to reach Muslims during special occassions like Ramadan and ‘Eid as well as anyone at all at any time of year who is interested in these all-natural, very traditional yet modern pieces of edible art.

Here’s our interview, which is followed by a very generous giveaway of Sweet Pillar & Co. goodies for our readers:

MHK: Nadia, can you tell us a little bit about yourself, such as what is your ethnic heritage and what prompted you to begin a business in food? Do you have a background in the pastry arts?

Hubbi: Actually my background is not in pastry arts at all, but I’ve always had a passion for baking and cooking since I was a little girl watching my mother working wonders in the kitchen. Middle Eastern culture and society is heavily centered around food and eating, which I think is a great thing! My favorite childhood memories are around the kitchen table.

I decided to start Sweet Pillar after I got married and I suddenly felt this sense of responsibility to preserve my family’s traditions and culture. But I also wanted to infuse it with a modern feel in a way that spoke to our generation and was readily available at local shops and supermarkets.

MHK: Why did you choose dates and mamool cookies? Can you also explain to our readers what exactly is mamool and if the name has any meaning in Arabic?

Hubbi: Dates have been a staple in Middle Eastern desserts since biblical times. Not only are they nutritional and extremely good for you, they are also deliciously sweet. Mamool cookies are a special type of cookie made with Semonila flour (a specialMiddle Eastern flour) and rose water filled with various fruits or nuts. They are made using elaborate molds with intricate designs, so that each mamool cookie is unique!

MHK: Your website for Sweet Pillar & Co., demonstrates a real connection to the beautiful city of Damascus. Can you tell readers (who may not be familiar with the place or who have never visited) about the richness of Syrian sweets, especially in the heart of Damascus?

Hubbi: Damascus is the oldest inhabited city in the world, so naturally it has been shaped and influenced throughout history. As each era of rule passed through Syria, it added to the richness of the cuisine. So there are obvious influences from European and African cuisines which make Damascus famous throughout the Middle East for its food.

MHK: Are your sweets sending a message to customers – Muslim or not- about the richness of cultural or religious traditions? What would you say to people who are unfamiliar with the culinary traditions of eating dates in Ramadan or of eating sweets during ‘Eid’ celebrations?

Hubbi: Sweet Pillar is not so much about sending a message; it’s more about introducing something amazing and delicious from one culture to another. And I think the idea of exposing ourselves to different cultures and ideas is increasingly important in today’s global landscape. Dates are something of a novelty in the US but they have been commonly used in food and desserts on the other side of the world. Specifically during Ramadan, it is favorable to break one’s fast with a date. A date is packed with protein, sugar, and different vitamins so it’s a perfect snack after a long day of fasting.

MHK: I understand you live in sunny, California (masha’allah)! How is Sweet Pillar & Co taking off there? Where can readers find your products in stores on the West Coast?

Hubbi: Thank you! I am very lucky to live in sunny Southern California. California has been a great place to launch Sweet Pillar for several reasons. SoCal is home to one of the largest date farms in the country. We actually get our dates from the Coachella Valley which is a few hours east of the coast. (The history of dates and how they ended up from the Middle East to California is rather interesting. All the information is on our website) I frequently visit the farms where we get our dates from and make sure the dates are of the highest grade and best quality and are in line with our standards at Sweet Pillar.

We find our California consumers are extremely interested in Sweet Pillar, Muslim and non-Muslim alike because of the great taste, health benefits and experience.

We are currently being sold in select Ralphs, Wholesome Choice and specialty stores. For more information and addresses, visit our website www.sweetpillar.com.

MHK: What are your hopes for Sweet Pillar & Co.’s growth in the future? Where and how would you like to see it grow?

Right now our focus is on continuing to deliver the highest quality product to our customers and hopefully offering our products nationwide.

MHK: You’ve been generous enough to offer a giveaway to MHK readers. Can you describe to us what is in the beautiful giveaway package that you’re offering this Ramadan?

Hubbi: We are offering a 24 piece dark chocolate Bon Date in a beautiful gift box which makes for a great gift for someone else or for yourself! We’ve also included our 7 piece Bon Date Happy Ramadan boxes which are great to give out to coworkers, friends, teachers/students or just throw in your purse for a quick snack.

MHK: Is there anything else you’d like to add, mention or promote about your company?

Hubbi: Thank you and your readers for this great opportunity and support! We’ve been working extremely hard perfecting our product and are extremely proud of it. We hope everyone enjoys it as much as we enjoy making them!

Be sure to sign up for our newsletter and like us on facebook . In the next coming months we are going to begin taking orders online so make sure you are being kept up to date!

In order to help promote us to your local stores, if there is a store in your area that you think is a good fit for Sweet Pillar, please go to our website under the store locator tab and print out the “store request letter”. Take it to your local store and make sure you give it to the store manager and we will do everything we can on our end to make it available. THANK YOU again!

 

How do you suggest presenting and/or sharing a gift like this, whether it’s for your Muslim neighbors, non-Muslim co-workers or someone who just loves to try new and unique things? Think about how you would explain it to someone who has never tried a date before or may not even think they’ll like the taste.

Deadline is August 27, 2011 (12:01 am)

Please follow the guidelines below to enter yourself into the  giveaway for the Sweet Pillar & Co. Bon Date Happy Ramadan box.

US Sweeps will randomly choose a winner selected from those who follow the giveaway eligibility guidelines.

Giveaway ends at 12:01 am on August 27, 2011.

To Enter the Giveaway:

1) Leave a relevant comment after this post that answers the question above.

2) Subscribe to receive MHK updates via email

3) “Like” the MyHalal Kitchen Facebook Page

4) “Like” the Sweet Pillar & Co. Facebook Page

 

Entries (comments plus other requirements) must be received by 12:00 am on August 27, 2011

How do you suggest presenting and/or sharing a gift like this, whether it’s for your Muslim neighbors, non-Muslim co-workers or someone who just loves to try new and unique things? Think about how you would explain it to someone who has never tried a date before or may not even think they’ll like the taste.

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20 comments

  1. Chocolate covered dates sound yum..great idea MashAllah..I would put the box out on my desk at work..I know my co workers will try chocolate anything especially once I extol the virtues of dates..Healthy indulgence..No Brainer!..
    I hope I can get to try them InshAllah..x

  2. I personally am a huge lover of Dates. Just recently I was telling my friend how much I love Dates, and she had suggested trying Dates covered with Almond butter. I never heard of that before. All this time I only had tasted the joy of simple plain Dates.

    To introduce such a product I would simply share it with others in my home when guests/friends come over, bringing it as a treat to other people’s houses or business meetings, study groups…etc. I would explain how Dates is a Middle Eastern fruit as Apples are an American fruit. Just how many fruits such as apples, strawberries, cherries are eaten covered with almond/peanut butter or chocolate to create an extravagant sweetness; Dates too can be eaten the same way. Many of us have tried new foods from different ethnicity and places. Without hesitation, I’m sure people will try Dates plain or not. All of us have some sweet hunger within us!! :)

    I’m so excited about Sweet Pillar!!
    <3

  3. I thought I could only devour them in Saudi Arabia. I didn’t know I can now enjoy them so so far away from Saudi :) and help my kids make those special memories as I did when I visited Saudi Arabia.
    I hope I can get them.

  4. They sound so yummy and look so good, they really could be mistaken for jewels! ;) The packaging is also very pretty. I like how she ties her products to her heritage, the food in Damascus really is unbelievable and a big part of the culture!

  5. The best way to share/present a gift like this is to share it with our non-Muslim neighbors as an Eid gift from our home to theirs. I would wrap them attractively and attach a note to them with a short explanation about the significance of dates in breaking our fast during Ramadan as a way to keep ourselves nourished as they are a good source of iron, potassium & selenium and help us boost our energy. They are so essential to a Muslim household that it is a tradition to give them to households that cannot afford them during this blessed month of fasting and charity in a way to say thank you to God for all our blessings including the Qur’an which was first revealed during this time. We believe it was the first nourishment that Prophet Jesus was given by his mother Mary when he was born and symbolically I would like to think it is a way to nourish our relationship as neighbors and members of the same community. I thank God for the blessing of having you as my neighbor and hope that you enjoy these sweet treats that are similar in texture and taste to that of other dried fruits like figs and raisins which are only enhanced by the addition of chocolate. Oh and because it is me you know there is going to be a bunch of colorful curly ribbon decorating the package because that is how I roll :O) LOL!

  6. Best times to present a lovely box of these sweets would be Eid or during Ramadan to co-workers or neighbors. A note or card can be attached to the box explaining how dates are used in the Islamic tradition to break the day long fast and provide a sweet, natural taste to end the pangs of hunger. Presenting these high quality sweets as a treat is sure to create some conversation, smiles, and joy.

  7. I have always wanted to promote Islam through meaningful interaction and find that there is no way better than with a product catering to 4 out of 5 of our senses; sight, smell, taste and touch!

    I would print out useful health info on dates as well as highlight the importance of them as a complete diet used by muslims years ago and make it into an attractive brochure with pictures and catchy sayings.I would share gift boxes of them with these brochures with non muslim neighbors and friends and co-workers in Ramadan and on eid just as they give out their edibles on Christmas. I think the unique nature of the gift would truly touch their hearts and add important knowledge previously not known to them!

  8. This sounds tasty! I like the idea that she is using natural ingredients. I just love dates and chocolate so the combo of both must be simply delicous. I am very interested in the promotion of Muslim companies so this is a great opportunity! I would love to try her chocolates!

  9. I think one of the best ways to promote Muslims holidays is through gift giving! — Who doesn’t like receiving gifts?? — I have always received gifts from friends and co-workers during their special holidays and I personally like to give gifts during my special holidays! Therefore, I like having a nonchalant and casual approach when it comes to sharing presents such as these — because more than anything else it creates the desire within my neighbors, co-workers and friends to want to know more about why they are receiving gifts!

    When they start asking questions or just stop in to say thanks, at that point I like to tell them about the holiday in question and how wonderful dates are, both in taste and in nutrition ;)!

  10. What a wonderful way to introduce non-Muslims to the joy of eating dates and their special meaning to Muslims! I would invite them to an iftar and give them these beautiful and delicious dates when breaking our fast so that they would develop insha’Allah a liking of dates and an interest in learning more about Ramadan and Islam.

  11. Alhamdulillah. I am fortunate to live in a place where dates are quite widely known and available, even if normally only in dried form. They do not require a lot of explanation, and one of the most common places to find them is at health food stores, so that their health benefits are also in some way known. Chocolate is also very much favored here. So basically, all I need to do is say the words ‘chocolate-covered dates’ and I’ve hit a home run. Regardless of the time of year.

    That having been said, I live in an area with only a handful of Muslims. That I know of, there are perhaps three hijabis in the entire city of nearly a million people. And there are very few people fasting during Ramadan. In fact, of the three such people with whom I am personally acquainted here, only one is a Muslim. So I would probably serve them at Iftar as a special treat imported from the States. It would be treated as a very nice ‘care package’ :)

  12. nice! i would give individually wrapped pieces out to teachers, neighbors, etc. maybe attach an explanation of ramadan and eid with it and how we wish to share the joy of our holiday with those special people around us. as far as tasting dates for the first time, maybe explaining it as a huge rasin lol. mmmm really makes me want to taste chocolate covered dates !

  13. This would be a great way to start a conversation about Ramadan. Let them try a delicious dessert! I will call my cousin who lives in California, and ask her to purchase and send me some Inshallah. I can’t wait to taste and share with everyone!

  14. PS I am not a Muslim, but I often find myself in a position of explaining to people I know various Islamic customs, what they do and do not mean, what Muslims do and do not believe. Certainly if someone is observing Ramadan and plans to break their fast in the traditional way, they can invite people in their surroundings to take part, and explain what it’s all about, if they don’t already know.

  15. Chocolate covered dates sound delicious!

    It would be pretty easy to have mostly anyone love this as it is covered in chocolate! I’d love to give this to the host of the Eid party I am attending.

  16. I “like” MHK and Sweet Pillar on Facebook.

  17. these pics have brought water in my mouth during fast.

  18. Chocolate covered dates are an excellent way to introduce dates to someone not familiar and discussing chocolate is usually a great ice breaker to help get the conversation going.

    Like Sweet Pillar and My Hallal Kitchen on FB.

  19. I forgot to post as part of my entry…if it’s not too late I’ll say that dates combined with chocolate may seem exotic, but they are so, so delicious, stuff an almond, and you’re in heaven!
    This product line would be a fabulous gift to bring to an iftar. I’ve had people ask me what would an appropriate to bring to a Muslim home, and now I’m adding these confections to the top of my suggestion list.

  20. Mashallah! I have been looking for an amazing chocolate covered date ever since my supplier (aka my friend! :)) left Egypt earlier this year. I look forward to ordering from you! Ramadan Mubarak! :)

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