Maya Fezzani of Oasis Baklava and LeVant Dessert at the Oasis Baklava counter in Sunnyvale. Courtesy Oasis Baklava.
By Kate Bradshaw
Momentum was just starting to build for Maya Fezzani, a Menlo Park resident and dessert maker who grew up in Lebanon, Syria and England, in late February 2020.
At the time, she'd been working with the owners of Sultana in Menlo Park, leasing commercial kitchen space and slowly expanding her business at pop-ups and by catering dessert tables at weddings, baby showers and bridal showers.
But two weeks later, the COVID-19 shutdown orders took effect and she shuttered her business, giving up her commercial kitchen lease and letting go of her baking assistants.
Then, about a month later, Ramadan began. And her hungry, fasting customers began to push back.
"What do you mean you're not an essential business?" she recalls her customers asking her. "We're in the pandemic and we want desserts!"
Knafeh, made with ground dough, melted sweet cheese and cooked on a stove, from LeVant Dessert. Courtesy Maya Fezzani.
So she convinced her family members to help out to meet demand, making deliveries throughout the Bay Area to provide desserts to help customers break their nightly fasts.
She was then approached about a possible business opportunity: The owners of Oasis Baklava, a baklava wholesaler in Sunnyvale, were planning to sell the business. The bakery was founded in a home kitchen in 1977 by the Bahnasy family and was sold to the owners of the Dishdash Restaurant Group. They asked if Fezzani was interested in buying it.
"It was a really hard decision, but I decided to go ahead and purchase the business," Fezzani says.
After acquiring Oasis Baklava, she spent about six months learning about the business. Meanwhile, she continued to run her own baking business, LeVant Dessert, from the Oasis kitchen.
The baklava cheesecake from Oasis Baklava. Courtesy Oasis Baklava.
She made a few changes to the baklava operations, sourcing nuts directly from farmers and pushing for more precision and consistency in the baking process. The staff at the Oasis kitchen also took an interest in the desserts she prepared.
"They got excited with my business, and I got excited with what they have – a great product made from basic ingredients with no strange additives," she says.
Fezzani continues to offer specialty desserts through preorders, available for pickup in Menlo Park.
Among the desserts that she prepares for LeVant Dessert are puddings, take-and-bake knafeh, petit fours and ice cream, alongside sweet cheese rolls, katayef (a folded pancake stuffed with cream or nuts) and baklava cheesecake. Many of her desserts are unsweetened, and customers receive an orange blossom sugar syrup to drizzle atop their desserts, allowing them to customize their dessert to their preferred sweetness level.
"Everything is on the lower sugar side," she says. "I like to taste other flavors besides sugar."
Fezzani is now hoping to open a sit-down cafe and dessert shop and is actively looking for a location. The Oasis Baklava location is a storefront with baklava available for purchase and limited seating.
[www.oasisbaklava.com Oasis Baklava, 907 E Duane Ave. Unit 2, Sunnyvale; 408-962-0840, Instagram: @oasisbaklava. LeVant Dessert, back of Sultana Restaurant, 1149 El Camino Real, Menlo Park; 650-402-2525, Instagram: @levantdessert.