DES MOINES, Iowa — If French is the language of love then the French food being cooked inside this Heartland Presbyterian Church in Clive could be considered a first date.
“I love French cuisine. I love cooking. We used to go to Paris for vacation when we were kids,” said Nadia Ahissou the creative mind and baking force behind Nadia’s French Bakery.
The French pastries she’s been selling at the Downtown Farmers’ Market in Des Moines have customers falling head over heels. “I’ve got the chocolate one, the chocolatine. People, they love it. Everyone loves chocolate,” said Ahissou with a laugh.
A native of Benin in West Africa, Nadia came to America in 2011 before settling in the Des Moines area in 2015. “In my country, we speak French, bonjour,” said Nadia.
Downtown Farmers’ Market manager Megan Renkle says unfortunately for customers the passion market-goers seem to have for her melt-in-your-mouth pastries burns fast and fierce. “We had a lot of patrons coming asking ‘Where’s Nadia? I want a pastry. I need a croissant.’ To get that reaction from people coming to the market was really exciting,” said Renkle.
Baking hasn’t always been Nadia’s profession. Up until 2020, she was an accountant. Ahissou said, “I lost my job in 2020 because of the pandemic.”
Having time off during the pandemic, like many others across the globe, with her two children and husband at home she turned to baking to keep the family’s spirits high and appetites fed. “They asked, ‘Mom why don’t you bake for us every day?’ Then I started,” Ahissou said.
Word quickly spread from family and friends. “When I give it to them they are always like we love it, we love it. So if you guys love it we love it too. We can do something with this,” said Nadia.
A new opportunity rose through the Greater Des Moines Partnership in 2022 as the Downtown Farmers’ Market noticed an area it could improve. Renkle said, “Our market vendors weren’t accurately representing our community. We wanted to actively do something about that.”
Nadia joined the inaugural Spark DSM Minority Business Program. “We pay for their booth spaces, their supplies, their tents to come to the market and figure out if they have a good product business that people want to be invested in,” said Renkle.
The program gives primetime exposure to small minority-owned businesses in front of over 25,000 visitors each week at the Downtown Des Moines Farmers’ Market. Suddenly, Nadia was faced with the reality of baking in bulk of over 500 items. Ahissou was in disbelief and said, “I was so scared because 500, I never did that before. I could do two, three dozen but 500? It was a lot.”
Because of the volume needed to sell at the market, Nadia needed help and through the Spark DSM connections, the church stepped in to offer their kitchen for preparation. “We started on Friday morning and we were working all day with my kids,” she said.
After baking all night with the help of her husband and children the proof was in the product for the 7:00 a.m. opening day bell. Nadia said, “Every Saturday we went to the market we sold out before 9 a.m. I doubled the amount and we sold it. It was the beginning of the adventure.”
The success wasn’t a handout. Before she joined the Spark program Nadia received business coaching and development at the Evelyn K. Davis Center by enrolling in their Small Business Boot Camp. It is now a key piece to Spark DSM participants. “To watch her business grow has been really exciting to share with other Spark vendors. We actually made the small business boot camp one of the pre-requirements just because we’ve seen so much success from Nadia,” Renkle said.
Nadia and the Spark program’s second farmers’ market season saw similar success. “For me, I know God is good for everything and God has a plan,” Ahissou said.
That plan will soon have Nadia working in her own kitchen, inside her own store opening in December along Grand Avenue in Des Moines. The dream comes true today because what they want me to be I am now and I’m ready to serve my customers in Des Moines and in Iowa,” said Nadia.
Renderings show indoor and outdoor seating with awnings and an outdoor patio. Renkle is not surprised to see the quick success. “She had the talent, that was never the problem. But to get her those building blocks was fun to watch,” Renkle said.
A romantic story filled with a labor of love, hard work, dedication, and a dash of inclusive partnerships creating a recipe for success. Nadia said, “Don’t think about language barrier, don’t think about people being scared about other people, just go for what you want and go ask. People are ready to help you.”
Nadia says her store will be called Nadia’s Bakery and will open sometime in December. No exact date has been set at this time. The bakery will be located at 2705 Grand Avenue in Des Moines. Just south of Ingersoll Avenue and across the street from Hopkins & Huebner Law Offices.