"You helped me share my culture"

Ahmad Aissa wanted to offer a slice of his native culture.

When he moved to here from Syria with his New Hampshire-born wife, he found many people curious about his native country. They were friendly, but their knowledge of the country was shaped by the strife and misery of its civil war. Ahmad wanted to broaden their perceptions.

Ahmad Aissa pours dry ingredients into a mixer

Plate of baklava from Aissa SweetsFinancing from the Community Loan Fund helped Ahmad Aissa buy bulk ingredients and machinery to help him produce more pastries, like baklava, left.

“Maybe it’s better to bring something positive to the table,” he thought. He enjoyed cooking, and had spent long hours studying with a friend who was a pastry chef in a famous Damascus sweet shop. Now he tested what he had learned.

He made a couple of pastries “to impress my wife and in-laws,” he laughs. Their response, combined with his disappointment with the Middle Eastern sweets in stores here, made him consider starting a business.

He rented space in Concord, N.H., and started experimenting with date cookies and baklava, a rich pastry made with filo, chopped nuts, and sweeteners.

By 2017, Aissa Sweets were popular in specialty markets and food co-ops around the state. He couldn’t buy ingredients and produce the pastries fast enough.

Ahmad got a loan from the Community Loan Fund to buy bulk ingredients. Immediately, he was filling orders six times larger than before. He was also connected with a natural-foods consultant and a financial advisor.

“It was a relief to have someone to talk to about the business,” he says.

With a solid business plan, and demand still growing, Ahmad got a second loan this year to buy cookie-making and -packing machinery.

“Without this help, what took us months would have taken us about two years of extremely hard work, and expenses wasted here and there,” Ahmad says.

Instead, the machines are humming, sales are doubling, and the company is hiring. “Things are happening this year,” he says with a huge grin. “Yeah, definitely. They’re going crazy.”

Learn more about the Community Loan Fund's financing options for small businesses.

This story appeared in the New Hampshire Community Loan Fund’s 2018 annual report.