Shirini ROAD Interview
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Hana and Nela Salehi, Founders of Shirini Bakery, tell ROAD about growing up in an immigrant family, starting their business, how COVID has impacted their company, their idea of the American dream, and their advice for other entrepreneurs. This interview has been edited for length.
My name is Nela and my name is Hana and we are sisters, and we are based in Atlanta.
We started Shirini with the hopes of wanting to share something super sweet that was blossomed within our home. So when we were younger, our dad would bake these Persian desserts, and anyone and everyone that came to our house was trying them, and I would see their faces light up. And I was like in seeing that joy in their face, sparked a joy in us, and I think -
I've always loved baking too.
We were able to incorporate our Iranian upbringing with, you know, our mom always cooked, our mom and dad, always cooked, you know, these Persian cuisines with these spices and all these really unique flavors.
We have our American style flavors, they are birthday cake and everything, but then we also have our Zire, which is cumin infused macaroon. I personally though would say that the cinnamon twist is, which is our holiday flavor, is my absolute favorite because it tastes, it tastes somewhat like a cinnamon toast crunch and a churro almost.
Having our first online purchase was probably the most overwhelming feeling. You would never think that macaroons could make you cry, but here I was when we had our first purchase. Um, it was like, okay, so this is, this is really happening, it was very exciting, definitely like it was, it made it feel real
Every single day is something new and being able to tackle on, you know, obstacles, projects, you know, meeting people and all of it being able to do that side by side has been something so sweet just in itself. So we're, we're so grateful that we have the opportunity to be able to grow something into that started from a truly a dream.
I was born in Iran, and both of our parents are Kurdish. When we moved here to Georgia and, you know, and then Hana and our little brother came along and we have always been a really tight knit family and having that culture was very important.
Going to Iran actually for the summers and coming back home to in Georgia, we were able to, you know, keep the really special things such as like cuisines very important.
How we've kept our cultural life and at home, I mean, with our parents being, you know immigrants and her being an immigrant herself, it's been a lot easier for my parents to maintain that cultural experience, I guess you would say within our household. Because, you know, we always had like Persian music playing and we'd have your own TV set up. So like, it didn't really feel like we were losing a part of it. I definitely had, we've had a lot of times when our parents would put us into like Kurdish cultural centers here in Georgia to like, learn more about our history as, you know, Kurdish women.
The pandemic hit us in a way where we had a lot of, you know, partnerships aligning and with coffee shops and restaurants because we wholesale as well. And once they closed, we were no longer able to provide to them, which really, you know, hit us hard and we weren't expecting it.
Especially we also rely a lot on like events just because we are an online business, trying to get out in front of people has been like really important to us. And that's why like, you know, with farmer's markets and having like small events come back around into play has been very beneficial for us because, you know, we want people to know our faces. We want people to know that, you know, we're a small business and we care about our community.
Thankfully, thankfully it was, we were able to come back out on the other side stronger. But it took a lot and we think we had the resources for it as well to be, you know under a wonderful home and, you know, have the safety and know where our meals were coming from.
I am an Iranian woman that was able to come to America and have a limitless amount of opportunities. And just like you said, you know, these, these moments where you feel like is this really, you know, is this really happening? That happens often for me because to think that I was able to move here with my family, and go to school and learn and have the freedom to be able to be who I want to be and start business as an Iranian woman. That is huge. And for me that is the American dream. I can't believe that every single day I get to wake up and be my own boss. I get to say that, you know, today I have the option and choice to say and be how I feel, you know, and, and I think that that's taken for granted a lot. Um, and even for me, you know, um, you have to take a step back and remind yourself of what you're given like all these opportunities are something that not everyone is given and so that is such a dream to me. And just being able to live that out has been, has been such a blessing that I'm grateful for every single day.
I love being able to have that advantage to going to go vote is something that I am so, so proud of. And I'm so excited to do every single time and I'll wait a million years and align in order to do so, because, you know, we know that that opportunity isn't for everyone, it's not always taken seriously for everyone.
I think American dream is all about being, uh,an active member of your community that creates your life for the better and, um, the pursuit of happiness. And I think that's exactly what the American dream stands for, which is incredible. I'm so grateful to be part of it.
Take scared out of your vocabulary. That is something that it feels, you know, everything feels terrifying. Cause it's, especially if you're new to being an entrepreneur and starting new to starting a business and you don't really know what's going on or how to go about things, everything's scary. And it feels, it feels like, you know, almost impossible, cause like, Oh, I can't do this or I've never done this before, but of course, you know, we're not unfortunately starting now. So don't be scared. I think that being able to just push yourself to take that jump, take that jump and run with it. Don't hesitate. We always say we have one life to live. Let's just do it.