Asali Celebrates Four Years in Business 

Asali co-owner Jamaal Ali, left, explains the shop’s various confections to Laura Tolbert, center, and Jill Canady. More than a dozen delicacies are featured every day, and they reflect the owners’ cosmopolitan influences.

Asali owners Hanadi Asad and her husband, Jamaal Ali — both proud children of Palestinian immigrants — knew very early on in their marriage that they wanted to go into business together.  

“My family was in the fast food business, and Jamaal’s family came from retail,” said Asad. “We decided to offer handmade Mediterranean desserts, like baklava, and we officially started our licensed home-based bakery business in 2001. Our business expanded, and we slowly started incorporating other items like cupcakes, birthday cakes, custom cakes, and elegant wedding cakes. We always dreamed about a storefront, and we finally got one in 2019!” 

Asali Cafe, located in Cary’s MacGregor Village, is truly a family affair — with the eldest three children working in the cafe and the younger two helping out from home and occasionally cleaning and straightening the dining area. Despite unexpected challenges over the last four years, this hardworking local family has stuck together through thick and thin.  

On May 30, Asali will celebrate its four-year anniversary. To commemorate this accomplishment, we spoke to Asad to learn more about this unique international gem.  

Where did the name Asali come from? 

Asali is a combination of my last name (Asad) and Jamaal’s (Ali). We knew from the start we wanted our business to be a reflection of our names, our love for sweets, and our love for each other. We thought of several combinations of our last names. We eventually decided on AsadAli minus the d — Asali! The “a” in the middle is a shared “a,” symbolic of our partnership and love. 

Describe what you serve — and where your recipes come from! 

Both our mothers are great in the kitchen! We learned more about sweets from Jamaal’s mother, Salma, and my mother taught us more about cooking and savory items. We spent a great amount of time quantifying their measurements to standards we can repeat time and time again. 

What’s your favorite thing on the menu, and why? 

Some of our favorites happen to also be bestsellers, like our unique baklava cheesecake (handmade layers of filo dough, baklava walnut filling, and popular cheesecake recipe), chocolate tahini tart (served in our handmade Oreo tart shells), and our cheese kenafa (flaky shredded filo filled with delicious mozzarella cheese, served hot with a side of sweet syrup to drizzle on top)! 

What has your experience been like running Asali for the past four years?  

We opened up eight months prior to the Covid outbreak and had to close our dining room. Imagine — our very first business, and we lost nearly all our staff, with a huge reduction in sales. We quickly shifted and figured out ways to keep our business alive. I made a uniquely shaped toilet paper cake. This alone generated a lot of buzz and helped generate a lot of takeout traffic. Jamaal helped by scouting out local neighborhoods interested in weekend orders/deliveries. Needless to say, we survived. I have learned so much and continue to learn every day, reminding myself of all the grit and perseverance necessary for success.  

Why would you encourage locals to visit Asali?  

Our cafe is truly a gem. You will not find the amount of diversity in any food establishment anywhere, period. All age groups enjoy Asali — even seniors, which we love, because they too deserve a space where they can have a change of scenery and meet with friends and loved ones. We have so many unique and artistic desserts. Our vibe is unique and incredible. We’ve heard from so many people that our cafe reminds them of gorgeous cafes they’ve only found in popular European and Middle Eastern cities. 

Anything else you’d like to add? 

If you haven’t tried us yet, what are you waiting for? We’re open 7 days a week, 9 a.m. to 9 p.m.! Follow us on Instagram and Facebook to keep up with our creations, updates, closings, etc.

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