Imagine a drive along the coast of a Hawaiian island. One minute you see sea turtles washing up on the shore of the beaches. Then you’re swerving left and right along the cliffs and passing by banana and guava trees. You decide to hop out of the car and jump into the most refreshing pond of water, swimming to the waterfall to let it crash over your head. Lastly you drive to see the sunset on top of the mountains. There seems to be nothing but beauty, nature, and relaxation. Hawaii is one of those places in the world where your breath gets taken away. It’s also one of those places where you will never forget how good their food tastes, and luckily, there are some people who have finally brought Hawaii’s exotic tastes to New York City.
Meet Mike and Sunita (Sue) Shiwdin, the couple who owns Mahalo New York Bakery. They met back in high school, when Sue was already dreaming of opening her own bakery one day. Back in Guyana where Sue grew up, there wasn’t much electricity, so you can imagine how having an oven to work with when coming over to the States meant exciting times to bake and make her own creations. After a trip to Hawaii for their honeymoon, she realized how much the food and culture there resonated with Guyana. Flavors such as guava, mango, and hibiscus, as well as friendly people saying hello were all very similar. She and Mike decided to open a bakery in New York City that spoke to this resonance. “We named it, Mahalo New York Bakery,” Mike explained, “which means thank you New York for giving us this opportunity to open this bakery.”
Right in Glendale, Queens, where it is beginning to fill with diversity and people in their 20 to 30s, Mahalo New York Bakery stands out to be a very unique shop. In the beginning, Mike and Sue were often trying new recipes and letting customers sample them to receive honest feedback. While Sue was always the baker and the creator behind the products, Mike was more than happy to be the taste tester. “I can be very picky,” he chuckled. Sue added, “But it helps me change the recipe to make it better!”
With the store still in its early years, there has been a lot accomplished. The couple actively attends different fairs and markets to sell their popular items, luring customers from all over to visit the storefront itself. I asked them what they thought their most requested desserts were, and they explained that their pineapple guava cupcakes (vanilla cake filled with guava jam, topped with cream cheese frosting and chunky pineapple jam) and mango mango cupcakes (mango cake infused with mango puree, topped with mango frosting) were quite a hit. So were the mango/passion fruit whipped cheesecake and hibiscus cupcakes (my personal favorite – a hibiscus and cardamom cupcake infused with a hibiscus and rose milk syrup!) Besides their cake inventions, their shaved ice, Haupia pie, and Malasadas are also becoming popular.
(Photo: Pineapple guava cupcake)
It all just sounds absolutely delicious, doesn’t it? So where exactly does Sue get her inspirations for her concoctions from? Partly they derive from her honeymoon experience. One of their favorite memories was making multiple stops for Hawaiian shaved ice, which led to a purchase of their very own shaved ice machine from Hawaii. You can taste a very similar shaved ice treat at their store. As they traveled on the islands, they also loved the flavors of Haupia (a Hawaiian Coconut Custard) and Malasadas, which are donuts of Portuguese descent and must be made fresh and hot. Both are now being sold at the bakery, but note that if you’re looking to try the Malasadas, they have to be ordered in advance to be made fresh.
(Photo: Haupia Pie)
Besides their honeymoon experience, Sue also explained her childhood memories played a huge role. “My mom had hibiscus flowers all lined up in her backyard. I remember watching hummingbirds drinking from them and wondered what the taste of the flowers were like, so one day I tried them.” Along with this, when she was making the cupcakes and experimenting with flavors, she thought about using herbs and spices to infuse into the desserts. “We thought about Guyana,” Sue explained, “and was inspired by the herb, sorrel, to create the Hibiscus cupcake.” They also experimented with using cardamom in both the Milk Lovers and Hibiscus cupcakes. Having personally tried the cupcake, I have to agree it works wonders.
(Photos below courtesy of Mike and Sunita Shiwdin – from top to bottom: customized cakes, shaved ice, malasada)
With Sue constantly in the kitchen perfecting her recipes and Mike taste testing as well as managing the store, this bakery will only get more popular in the next few years. I asked where they saw themselves in a couple of years. “We wish to have a bigger team,” they explained. “We want to expand our cake line, which is our specialty. We want to continue making cakes that would not only look great, but taste great and not too sweet.” The wonderful part is, you can turn almost any of the cupcake flavors into a customized cake! I think we’re set on our next birthday bash dessert treat. Shall we start the orders?
(Pssst… visit www.instagram.com/lilspirations for a chance to win a $30 gift card to the bakery this Sunday night, 8/14/16!)