By Jamie Feldmar
Banker-turned-baker Umber Ahmad is rewriting the bakery rules.
Mah-Ze-Dahr isn’t like a lot of bakeries. To start with, there’s the name. Mah-Ze-Dahr is derived from the Urdu word that describes the magic or essence that makes something special—there’s no direct English translation, but for owner Umber Ahmad it describes that ephemeral feeling of falling in love. Then there are the pastries, which feel at once familiar and somehow luxurious—intricately marbled dark and white chocolate black-and-white cookies; a French-style almond tart brushed with orange blossom water; perky gold-dusted chocolate choux. This is all to say nothing of the bakery itself, which forgoes a homespun aesthetic in favor of a sleek, cool design heavy on the gray and marble.
Finally, there’s the fact that there’s a bakery at all, given that Umber started the business as a mail-order passion project out of her New York City apartment some four years ago while still working in the upper echelons of finance.
So, where to begin? Well, to understand Mah-Ze-Dahr Bakery, it’s helpful to understand Umber, a fiercely driven entrepreneur for whom baking was not part of the plan. Umber grew up in Michigan to Pakistani parents, studied pre-med at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology with hopes of becoming a surgeon, and instead ended up earning a master’s degree in business at Wharton and crunching numbers at Goldman Sachs. After a half-dozen years working her way up the Wall Street ladder, Umber launched her own investment and advisory firm with clients in healthcare, aerospace, and—in case you’re wondering where this is all going—the food world.
“I had always loved baking and used it as a stress reliever,” says Umber. “I’d stay up until three in the morning making cakes, and read cookbooks cover-to-cover like they were novels.” After one of her financial clients—chef and TV personality Tom Colicchio—tasted the leftover birthday cake Umber had made for a mutual friend, he declared it some of the best pastry he’d had in his life, and broached the idea of going into business together. Ever the planner, “I told him I wanted to create a long-standing luxury brand in the global market,” says Umber, and thus, Mah-Ze-Dahr was born.