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Family-owned bakery hangs on in Bed-Stuy

It was 1971. Muhammad Ali faced Joe Frazier at Madison Square Garden in "The Fight of the Century." Idris Comry, 18, watched the match, and his idol, Ali from a theater in Brooklyn. "Of course I was a big fan," he said. "Who wasn't?"

His favorite boxer's chances looking slim, Comry's attention diverted to the program. In it were the players' bios and vital stats amongst other things. Comry, who comes from a family of seven brothers and sisters who love to cook, was drawn towards Ali's choice in food.

"Muhammad Ali's favorite dessert was apple cake. It had a recipe for it. That sparked my interest in baking," he said.

Today, Comry, 59, is the owner of Abu's Bakery, a family-run bakery in Bed-Stuy, and "Abu" is Arabic for father. Straw baskets line the counter top in the store. They contain a variety of pies including their specialty, the bean pie -- An African-American Muslim delicacy that is made with navy beans and resembles custard.

"The bean pie is what makes this place unique and original," said Afifah Scott, a customer.

Comry started the bakery 12 years ago. Back then, before he opened the shop, Comry taught American history and politics at a local junior high school. To earn more money, Comry sold homemade cheesecake to his co-workers.

"My older brother went to cooking school," he said, "He gave me the recipe. I would sell three dozen a day at $3-$4 each." The positive response made him realize the possibility of owning his own business.

Since the shop's s opening, Comry has seen his business grow and the neighborhood diversify. "Two Caucasian women came in here the other day looking for bean pie," he said, "That would never have happened 10 years ago."

Comry welcomes the diversity in his neighborhood, but acknowledges the difficulties that accompany it. "Earlier, you could rent a room for $50 a week in this area," he said, "Now it would be hard to find a place for $150."

Last year Abu's s Bakery closed down for four months for renovation. When it returned business slowed down considerably. "We experienced a 20 percent loss when we reopened" said Idris Braithwaite, Comry's older son.

Abu's was not prepared to take on the competitive market forces around them.

"Four months is a long time to remain closed," said Comry, "Especially in an area where the government promotes big corporations and franchises."

Comry believes that it is the support of their loyal customers that is slowly helping restore business to pre-renovation days.

"Sometimes if a customer didn't have the $25 they owed, I would ask them to pay me back later," he said, "When you trust people, they always come back."

Customers are attracted to the homey feel of the bakery, and the attentiveness of the staff. "The people here are always very nice, and the products are so very fresh," said Marvelie Tribie, a customer.

Comry also credits the consistent efforts of his two sons in the growth of Abu's Bakery.  They have been promoting Abu's on Twitter and Grubhub. And over the summer Braithwaite signed a deal with Super Foodtown, a local grocery store, to sell their pies.

"There is a certain benefit to working with your family. There is no sense of overtime. Sometimes you work eight hours, sometimes 15," said Comry.

Comry's sons, Muhammed and Idris, hope their efforts will help restore the business completely, and expand it eventually. "We are currently in talks with Whole Foods," said Braithwaite.

September 18, 2012 - 6:15am


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