Reem Hanna, 36, is well known in the downtown Lansing community for her Middle Eastern baking. Tabouli, kebabs, fritters, falafel sandwiches and, of course, her hummus and pitas are just some of the typical cuisine she keeps on her menu. And, despite the economic turmoil Michigan faced, Hanna’s business is prospering.
When Hanna married her husband, Mike, 10 years ago, she moved from Palestine to his home in Lansing. They bought 1456 E. Michigan Ave. and rented it out to a family friend who wanted to create a Middle Eastern bakery. In 2005, however, The Jerusalem Bakery, which at the time was only serving prepackaged, frozen foods, was not making any money.
And so, in late 2005, Hanna and her husband reopened The Jerusalem Bakery under their own management. Advertised as a “family business,” the only employees are Hanna and her husband. Occasionally she will hire a nephew if she needs help, Hanna said.
On top of their cook-to-order menu, they sell a selection of groceries in the front of the store. Everything from kosher cheese to curry, chickpeas to hookahs. However, the groceries are not the bakery’s main attraction, Hanna said.
“Michigan Avenue is a busy street,” Hanna said. “I concentrate on my food. It was always a bakery, but we add a lot more.”
Most of the customers that come through the doors of The Jerusalem Bakery are young college students. A majority are Americans, looking for something new and exciting, Hanna said.
Allison Alvarado, 19, is a business sophomore at Michigan State University. She said the unique and exciting atmosphere is what enticed her to start shopping at the bakery.
“As soon as we got in here we found so many new and interesting things, we just keep coming back,” Alvarado said.
Scarlett Kinshasa, 22, is a zoology senior at MSU who also frequents the bakery. The real attraction occurred when she discovered it sold baklava, she said.
Alvarado and Kinshasa, who are both Puerto Rican, said the bakery sells several items that are used in their family’s traditional cooking.
“I bought fig jam today,” Kinshasa said. “My family loves to use fig jam with our crackers. You can find that in stores but it’s better [at the bakery].”
This does not surprise Hanna, who said she has several Hispanic customers that come in for the same thing.
“I have a good variety of cheese,” Hanna said. “Different than you find at Meijer, they are unique cheeses.”
Even after the economic crash of 2008, Hanna is optimistic about her business.
“People are going to keep eating,” Hanna said. “We were down a little bit but last year I got more new customers introduced to my food.”
Since then, the bakery has flourished. Hanna has started a delivery system out of her bakery and is now selling her pita breads and hummus in Horrock’s at 7420 W. Saginaw St. and Goodrich’s Shop-Rite at 940 Trowbridge Rd.
“And I know we are going to make it,” Hanna said.