Family tradition has a sweet new twist for Christine Kutlu, who is following her passion and cultural roots with her startup company, B.Baklava.
Kutlu, who is 25 years old, has taken her grandmother’s Armenian baklava recipe and transformed it into a family enterprise where she and her family can work together. This startup—whose name, B.Baklava, stems from Kutlu’s grandmother, Berjuhi Bakalian—officially began in June of 2015.
“[The baklava] was something my grandmother taught my mom,” Kutlu said. “I wanted to keep her spirit alive and have her be involved in this family business by having her name and recipe. I learned how to cook from my mom, and she works a full-time job, so the website I handle and the orders I handle for now, too. It’s a lot of work, but it doesn’t feel like it. When I have any free time, I’m working on something for the business. It’s something I really enjoy doing.”
The company took form as a marketing project in Kutlu’s senior year of college, but it was something Kutlu and her mom had been dreaming of for years.
“My mom told me that when I was little, she tried to sell the baklava to her boss when she worked in a movie theater,” Kutlu said. “I was born in California, and when we were living there, my mom called my grandmother, who was living in New York, and asked how to make the baklava over the phone, so step by step, my grandmother taught her. My mom brought the baklava to her boss, and she carried a tray of it in one arm and me in the other. So it’s interesting for me that it’s always been there.”
Baklava is a pastry made of crispy layers of filo dough with a nut filling. Traditionally, it is made with pistachios; however, in the Armenian culture, it is made with walnuts and a special syrup.
To get the product to the public, Kutlu began at the farmer’s markets in Riverdale, Paramus and River Edge. Each one took place once a week during the summer, and the process to get involved included a special certification and supplies.
Not only did the farmer’s markets bring exposure to B.Baklava, but it also gave Kutlu valuable customer feedback. Consumers continuously told her that her pastries were a lost art, and they were glad to see the product available.
“Doing the farmer’s markets was the best time to really understand the consumer response,” Kutlu explained. “I would start to get repeat customers, and I would ask what they would want on the baklava and what flavors they would want me to try out. Some gave me some new ideas.”
At the start, Kutlu kept the specialties to the walnut baklava that her grandmother had originally taught her mom to make. From there, the young entrepreneur expanded to spinach pies and cheese pies, which are called boreg in the Armenian culture. Kutlu then moved on to more creative recipes, experimenting with different types of nuts and combinations. After receiving feedback from farmer’s market visitors with nut allergies, she developed a s’mores flavor. Kutlu is also cooking up new flavors, including sweet potato and pumpkin, in hopes of mixing modern flavors with her grandmother’s traditional recipe.
“I’m doing this so my mom sees that her recipe is what people go crazy for,” Kutlu said of all her efforts. “She has such a talent and she’s always made her baklava as gifts for people, and people love them. I always tell her, ‘Mom, if this is what we’re supposed to do, I’ll start it up, and I want you to do what you love, instead of working at jobs where sometimes you’re not treated right or are unhappy. This is what will make you happy.’
“(Mom) says she can’t wait to open up a store with me.” Kutlu continued. “She’s excited. She took a few days off of work to be at the farmer’s market with me, and she really saw how people loved her baklava. It’s really for her. I want my sister too to get involved, and I’ll be involved in every step of the way. I want this to be something we can all do together, but they both have their jobs and I’m really taking the risk to start it up.”
The community has also become a big part of Kutlu’s mission. She has received overwhelming support from local friends and businesses. Kutlu was able to use her own skills from school, where she studied business administration with a focus in marketing, to develop her website, design labels and find packing materials. Her friends also contributed, helping as graphic designers and website developers to enhance the look of the site. Kenny Spooner, of Spoony Visions, even developed the promotional video for her website.
“Every day when I’m reaching for my goal, so much support is coming, even when I don’t ask for it,” Kutlu said. “Seeing how much people are reaching out to help is very exciting–and it’s coming from left and right, and it’s so much support. Getting that support from everyone, especially my mom, really encourages me to keep doing what I’m doing. When you do what you’re meant to do, everything else falls into place and that’s the best part; everything is falling into place.”
With that in mind, Kutlu and B.Baklava always make sure to give back to local events and charities. She has volunteered her time at Ramapo College, from which she graduated and where she’s sold her baklava at a basketball tournament and donated half of her proceeds. She also has sold her baklava at events for Play for Kids and donated proceeds there.
Moving forward, Kutlu hopes to eventually open a café, bakery or a kiosk, so that her baklava will be more readily available to consumers. Currently, her biggest challenge is figuring out the right storefront location. While she is looking into a bakery of her own, she’s also thinking of getting her baklava into stores. Either way, she aims to keep the business in Bergen County.
“My dream for the company would be for my family to be a part of the business,” Kutlu said. “I’d like to have my pastries out to everyone and have them really get to know B.Baklava and how great the flavors are. You know how mini cupcakes got so famous? I want my baklava to be the next trend, and that’s something I’m working on. I’m not forcing it; it’ll be something that happens naturally. My dream would be to provide my baklava to big and different events.”
Kutlu is currently working on getting involved in New York farmer’s markets, and she is looking forward to another summer participating throughout Bergen County, while still setting her goals high for B.Baklava. She encourages her customers to do the same for themselves.
“Dream big, and no matter what your dream is, you can achieve anything you put your mind to,” Kutlu emphasized. “If it’s meant to be, then it’ll all fall into place. Most importantly, though, share the love—that’s the company slogan, except that we say ‘Share the Lav.’ It’s both love and baklava.”
Tara DeLorenzo is a freelance writer and frequent contributor of BC THE MAG. Visit http://bbaklava.com to learn more about B.Baklava and how to order the Armenian pastries.