The possibility that cooking could be a career was never on my mind early on. Rather, food has always been a language of sorts, a way to get to know people. I grew up as the daughter of Pakistani parents among Scandinavian immigrants in Michigan, and I found food helped me understand different cultures and my own place in the world.
In my early career, I was a management consultant, working with health systems. It was during those years that I realized you can have the greatest intentions, but if you don’t have the means to fund your vision, you’re at the mercy of others. Knowing that I wanted to better understand finance, I went to Wharton. Although food helped me forge some of my best friendships there — through dinner parties, restaurant outings, and cooking for each other — it continued to be a passion, not a professional consideration.
After completing my MBA, I went into investment banking and ultimately co-founded an investment advisory firm with like-minded friends. Over time, my scope expanded from a focus on improving society through health care to how the brands and companies we were serving could have meaningful, positive impacts. I had my breakthrough moment when a client — celebrity chef Tom Colicchio — learned that I enjoyed baking. He asked me to cook for him.
It was daunting to think that I — baking informally in a one-bedroom apartment — could create something worthy of his palate. But I forged ahead. Over a period of three days, I made everything I could, from pastries to cakes to scones to confections. When Tom was done trying my desserts over those days, he said: “What do you want to do with these creations? You have to do something.”
At my firm, I worked with brands to amplify their presence and build significant market share. At Wharton, we learned to calculate opportunity and risk. We were also taught to create the space for meaningful endeavors. Together, those experiences and Tom’s encouragement gave me the confidence I needed to take a leap and essentially become my own client. I would build the next great heritage brand, and I would do it with my food.
It’s been eight years since I started Mah-Ze-Dahr Bakery and nearly five years since we opened our first brick-and-mortar location in New York. We’re expanding thoughtfully, with a new bakery now open in Washington, D.C., and more locations coming this year. It’s my hope that our food can be an avenue for people to strengthen their connections with one another and to know the world as their own, just as food has created a language with which I have forged some of my own greatest bonds.
Published as “Just Desserts” in the Spring/Summer 2021 issue of Wharton Magazine.