Decadent snacking isn’t something we feel allowed to experience on a regular basis. There seems to be an unspoken rule that fancy food is for big meals and that hunger throughout the day should be sated with packaged granola bars or bland crackers. Amir Hosseini wanted to change all that by infusing North American snack time with a Persian twist: fresh, dry-roasted nuts and fruits. With his father, chef Ayoub Hosseini, he opened Ayoub’s Dried Fruits & Nuts in North Vancouver in 2009. Since then, the Hosseinis have opened four more locations in Vancouver, Burnaby, and Coquitlam, with a sixth on the horizon.
In Tehran, Iran, roasted nut shops can be found on almost every street corner. Before emigrating with his family in 2004, chef Ayoub ran one such shop in the Middle Eastern city. “This is what we do,” says Hosseini. “We took the business my father started in Iran and brought it here.” As Hosseini finished up business school at Simon Fraser University, he envisioned opening a chain of nuts stores that would bring a little flavour of Iran to Vancouver. It began with chef Ayoub’s nut roasting techniques and recipes for mixes and flavours, which he passed on to his son. “I learned how to roast nuts from my father,” says Hosseini. “I did some culinary training in Australia, but with cooking, you’re always learning.” Ayoub’s serves up cashews, almonds, hazelnuts, and pistachios as well as dried apples, apricots, and dates. Traditional flavour offerings include Ayoub’s signature lime and saffron, while innovative mixes comprise, for example, lime and pepper, and a Greek blend with garlic, rosemary, and oregano. “It was something we could play with,” says Hosseini. “A fusion of the Middle Eastern recipes with some twists to make it more suitable for people’s tastes here.”
Walking into an Ayoub’s location is like stepping into the lobby of a palace. Chandeliers hang over custom handmade silver bowls that host the selection of nuts and also boast beautiful engravings. “More than anything,” says Hosseini, “I wanted to give the feeling of a Middle Eastern shop.” Baskets of Turkish delights, nougats, and cookies line the shelves that encircle the room, and weaving between the displays, one can’t help but feel transported.
The luxury of Ayoub’s extends, of course, to the process of production: there is deep attention paid to quality and detail. “We source all kinds of fruit and nuts from over 20 different countries,” Hosseini says. All the nuts in the store are roasted fresh daily at each location, by hand, in small batches in a gas-powered roaster. “We are trying to create that culture of healthy snacking,” says Hosseini. “There should be a bowl of nuts on the table in every house.”
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