EVERETT — Nechirvan Zebari was 5 when his family immigrated to the United States as refugees. Among their belongings were recipes for traditional Middle Eastern flatbreads — pita, naan and samoon.
Baked in tandoori (clay) ovens, flatbreads are a staple in the Middle East, said Zebari, whose family is from the Kurdish area of northern Iraq.
With few Middle Eastern bakeries within reach of the family, they made bread at home, said Zebari, who grew up in Lynnwood, the third-youngest of eight children.
A few years ago, his brother, Ali, and sister-in-law, Khalida, taught him how to bake, and Zebari, by then a nurse, added baker to his resume.
“I just like to try new things whenever possible,” said Zebari, 28.
In 2017, while still working full time as a nurse, he opened Alida’s Bakery at 607 SE Everett Mall Way in Everett, hoping to introduce customers to the tasty breads and desserts he’d grown up with. Alida is a combination of the names of the two family members who taught him how to bake.
“A lot of the world can come together in the love of good bread,” Zebari said.
In the beginning, the bread came out of the oven “different every day,” said Zebari, who spent months perfecting his recipes. “You’d have a good batch, a bad batch, and then it all comes together.”
Flour, water and yeast, bread’s main ingredients, is a temperamental brew, he said. (They might be called flatbreads, but recipes call for a small amount of yeast, Zebari said.)
Add too much yeast and the dough puffs up like a balloon.
Water too hot or too cold? The dough won’t rise or “poof” as it should.
Then it’s important to let the dough ferment for 12 hours so that it rises gradually, which gives the bread more flavor, he said.
Today the bakery’s staples include naan pita pocket bread and Iraqi samoon, a puffy, football-shaped flatbread that’s made from the same dough as pita.
Baklava, the traditional honey-drenched Middle Eastern pastry, klecha, a sweet, date- and nut-filled pastry, and babousa, a creamy, sweet cake are some of the items that fill the pastry case at Alida’s.
For three years, Zebari juggled the two jobs — full-time baker and full-time critical care nurse at the Swedish Medical Center campus in Edmonds. His mother-in-law says he’s the hardest working person she’s ever known.
But last year, stress brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic prompted him to leave his nursing job and focus on the business he’d founded in 2017. “I was burnt out,” Zebari said.
He’s hardly alone. Some 40% of U.S. nurses have considered leaving their jobs, according to a study by Vivian Health, an online job market for health care workers. Most of the 1,300 nurses surveyed agreed that the pandemic has negatively affected their mental health.
Zebari is content being a business owner and baker, and the married father of two young children.
“I felt like this is my only opportunity to make something like this work,” he said. “I can always go back to nursing.”
Alida’s Bakery occupies a small corner shop at a crowded Everett strip mall. Just follow your nose. Zebari and his crew bake several times a day to keep the bakery stocked and supply wholesale customers in King and Snohomish counties.
Dee Waluk, shopping at the mall on a recent afternoon, stopped in.
“I saw people coming and and out and I thought I’d better give it a try,” said Waluk, who lives in Sultan.
She tried the za’atar manakish, pita bread seasoned with thyme and other dried herbs, and pita topped with diced tomatoes and onions.
A few minutes later, Sam Edmark, a mall security guard and regular customer, swung by and picked up a cheese-and-jalapeno pita.
Can’t stop by Alida’s? Imran’s Market in Everett, JD’s Market in Lynnwood and Byblos Market in Lynnwood are among the outlets that carry the bakery’s products.
Janice Podsada; email@example.com; 425-339-3097; Twitter: JanicePods