If you haven’t tried a Malaysian coffee bun yet, you’ll soon have plenty more opportunities to do so in Canada in the near future.
Wife-and-husband business team Sherri Zarandooz and Sam Hakimzadeh, along with co-owner Javeed Somji, opened Canada’s first PappaRoti in Vancouver’s West End at 1505 Robson Street in 2014.
The 55-seat cafe garnered a loyal following, particularly among Middle Eastern and Asian customers, enough for the owners to plan for an ambitious 15-store expansion across Canada. They’ve teamed up with a Toronto developer, who has signed a lease for a store at Bramalea City Centre shopping mall in Brampton, Ontario. A Montreal location will also open at 1235 Bishop Street.
Meanwhile, here in B.C., they’ll be opening 10 stores opening, including in Vancouver, Richmond, Coquitlam, and Burnaby.
One of them will be at Olympic Village’s Shops at West at Columbia Street and West 2nd Avenue in 2017, with two or three more on their way in 2016 or 2017.
The Vancouver-born Zarandooz, who is of Iranian descent, tells the Georgia Straight in an interview at her Robson café that some of the locations will be more grab ’n’ go spots rather than like the café concept of the Robson location, which they tailored for the North American market.
With over 400 PappaRoti locations around the world, including shops in China, Vietnam, Saudi Arabi, Abu Dhabi, UAE, Oman, India, Indonesia, Bangladesh, Australia, and the U.K., it’s a brand that’s well recognized by international travellers.
Zarandooz says she first tried PappaRoti in Dubai when she was drawn to the delicious aroma of the baking pastries.
The coffee bun, or roti bun, bears similarities to the Chinese pineapple bun. It sports a crispy, caramel-coffee exterior, with a soft interior lightly coated with salted butter.
Zarandooz calls it a cross between a pancake and a waffle. It’s similar enough to other Western baked goods to have plenty of crossover appeal.
“It’s not way out there,” she says of the flavour. “It’s a taste that’s kind of familiar but not really, so it’s unique.”
She says they bake the buns every 20 minutes so every bun served has been made within the past hour. They can be ordered with different topping dips, such as nutella, jam, kaya (Malaysian coconut spread), maple syrup, or seasonal specials such as apple pie.
In July, they’ll be introducing a new offering, the Malaysian rolli, which is similar to the roti bun but rectangular and contains either a coconut or chocolate-banana filling.
To top things off, the pastries can be enjoyed with Malaysian karak tea, which is made from black tea leaves ground with cardamom and ginger and served with condensed milk. Zarandooz says they’ll soon add two new karak flavours in July: hazelnut and vanilla.
The tea menu also offers a range of organic teas blended by co-owners working with a tea master.
With new teas added every few months, they’ll soon be introducing a new oolong tea that will either be peach- or coconut-flavoured.
And coffee lovers, rest assured: there are selections for you too, courtesy of JJ Bean.
Although the Robson location has sandwiches, salads, and soup delivered (the small kitchen size wasn't big enough for making other food), future locations will have their lunch menus made in-house.
What has partly helped the business to survive past the challenging first year is that the buns aren’t seasonally dependent like frozen desserts or broth-based eateries.
In fact, she says they’ve had a 20-percent increase in business since last year. “We do get a lot of customers who come from, for example, Richmond and ask us, ‘When are you going to open there?’" she says. "We’re definitely looking and hoping to find a good location…and that gives us the motivation in order to expand.”