Meet the Maker: Najla’s Inc.
If you’ve ever enjoyed one of the many treats in our bakery case, odds are they were handmade by the one of the bakers at Najla’s Inc.
Headed up by long-time baker and local entrepreneur Najla Aswad, Najla’s Inc. employs an almost-all female team (Audras makes the deliveries) of bakers, chefs, and culinary school graduates to make everything from scones, cakes, and brownies to protein bowls, energy bars and breakfast wraps from fresh, raw ingredients.
“It’s never scared me to start from raw ingredient to finished product. You can get so much more integrity in flavor and quality when you do it yourself,” Najla explains.
Before Najla was running a business in Louisville, she got her culinary chops in the hospitality industry. Opening up a small country inn in upstate New York after college, at the age of 21, she used the space to experiment and develop her own cooking style. She got a reputation for creating memorable meal experiences, which put The White Pillars Inn on the map. It also led to opportunities outside of the inn, like selling the pre-made dough for her renowned cookies so guests could enjoy them, freshly-baked in their own homes.
“Food was always a space I felt very comfortable in, very safe,” Najla says.
Coming from a large family that bonded over preparing and eating food, Najla caught the cooking bug from a young age. On Sunday evenings, dinner was held at her grandmother’s house, where she learned how to make Lebanese food. At home, her and her sisters helped her mother prepare meals and desserts.
“My mom cultivated the love of making things,” says Najla. “I had four sisters and we would all sit at her L-shaped counter… We would just watch her and participate as best we could when we were little. The Kitchenaid mixer would go here with my mom, and then three of us would be on one side and two on the other.”
That’s also where she cemented her commitment to using natural, whole ingredients.
“We were not good box-mix people,” Najla jokes. “I always remember the first time my mom got stuck on time and we bought a box of brownie mix. We were making it, but when we went to go throw the box away, we heard this thing jiggling in there. We were like, “Oh my God, it’s the secret sauce!” So we had to quickly get the brownies out of the oven, and pour it in at the last minute. We ended up realizing we could have done something so much better from scratch than out of a box.”
Now, those lessons still influence Najla’s cooking today. Sourcing from local farms and producers as much as possible, she never uses artificial sweeteners, artificial flavors or preservatives. And, every is item is free from hydrogenated and trans fats.
Once solely focused on cookies and frozen homemade cookie doughs, Najla’s Inc. has expanded to include over 180 products. It’s an amount that continues to grow as the Najla team comes up with new ideas and experiments with new ingredients.
“Without these extraordinarily talented professionals, we wouldn’t have been able to grow like we have,” Najla says of her team.
And ultimately, the people behind the food are at the heart of Najla’s Inc, “Kentucky is very connected to its’ people and its’ farmers. Food is about the connection; to the people that grow it and the people that make it.”
The Najla’s Inc. Team: (pictured from the top right) Serrina Teran, Kelly Grimes, Emily Corbett, Kendall Epley, Azra Jakovljevic, Donna Jansen; bottom row right to left: Jessi Mills, Najla, Audras Nixon, Kayla Harp (not picutred: Stasia Hessel, Matthew York, Ximena Santacruz, Cortina Mahon, Martha Wesley, Laurie Tancula, Diana Hererra, Alexis Pritchert)