By ZEINAB NAJM
DEARBORN — Pita bread, a staple in the homes of many Middle Eastern homes, was popularized in Dearborn by New Yasmeen Bakery founder Mohamad Seblini, 75, who died on Feb. 12.
Seblini became ill and spent about a month at Beaumont Hospital-Royal Oak before he died.
His funeral visitation was held at the Islamic Center of America before commemoration services and burial in his home country of Lebanon. Seblini leaves his wife, seven children and nine siblings.
The New Yasmeen Bakery, 13900 W. Warren Ave, journey began when Seblini learned his bakery skills from his father who was a baker in Lebanon. A political science major and owner of two private schools in Lebanon, Seblini decided to move to Dearborn in 1986 — where his brother Ibrahim was studying engineering and other Arabs lived — with a plan to open an Arabic school.
Once Seblini found out the community wasn’t big enough to accommodate the school he hoped to open, he shifted gears to opening a bakery like the one his family owned in Lebanon.
Seblini is the oldest of 11 children to whom he was a father figure after his father died, his younger brother and bakery co-owner, Hussein Siblini, said.
“My brother wanted security for our family and opportunity outside of Lebanon for a safe haven from the war back home,” Hussein Siblini said. “In 1986 he began renting a 1,000-square-foot space two blocks east on Warren Avenue from our current location to create pita bread.”
Siblini said the better flour quality in the United States made a big difference and was the key success behind their pita bread which became the bakery’s trademark when it opened.
“We would receive good feedback, especially from people who were eager to find something they had back home making the pita bread popular,” Siblini said. “Although we earned degrees in engineering, education and other fields, it was always in our blood that we would work in a bakery.”
With the pita bread success, the brothers built a 1,000-square-foot building next door and began making small spinach, meet, cheese and meat pies.
“The bakery continued to grow as not just Arab Americans would visit, but would also tell their friends who would tell their friends, leading to new customers from the area and local companies,” Siblini said. “There grew a demand for a seating area and people who wanted to eat their pies hot so we looked for a building to expand the bakery.”
Just two blocks west was a boarded up building in bad shape that the brothers purchased and remodeled because they saw it as a good opportunity to expand. In 1991, the new 10,000-square-foot bakery opened with the demanded seating area and deli that featured stuffed grape leaves, cheese, olives, hummus, tabouli, fatoush and sweets.
By this time, the family sold their bakery in Lebanon but Mohamad Seblini continued making trips to visit the country while brothers Ahmad Siblini and Hussein Siblini helped run the local business as partners.
According to a Crain’s Detroit Business article from 1999, the bakery added 5,000-square-feet to the new location for a cafe in 1998. Hussein Siblini said a third and final expansion took place in 2002 by adding hot Middle Eastern food and shawarma sandwiches.
Today, the bakery continues to thrive with the staple pita bread along with its hot pies, cold deli, hot food menu options, sweets, sandwiches, seating area and wide range of clientele.
“My brother Mohamad was very inspiring, gave positive vibes, was very energetic and a problem solver as he pursued the bakery,” Hussein Siblini said. “Those are the ingredients of creating and sustaining a successful business.”
The family also owns a New Yasmeen Bakery in Windsor, Ontario, Canada.
For more information on the bakery go to www.yasmeenbakery.com.
(Zeinab Najm can be reached at [email protected])