Shereen’s Bakery makes Guyanese cuisine and culture thrive

Scarborough’s beloved spot provides the community with baked goods, goat curry and a pepper shaker


Samuel Engelking

Growing up, there was always Guyanese bread on the counter. Visitors commented on how different it looked from the average white or whole wheat bread. The Guyanese bread, which my family had with tennis rolls and buttered toast from immigrant establishments like Norman Sue or Naraine bakeries, is longer, wider and chewier. The dough looks braided, which is why it is also called braided bread.

Scarborough has no shortage of Caribbean restaurants. But finding authentic Guyanese food and, more specifically, Guyanese baked goods like cassava pone, pine pies and braided breads, wasn’t as easy as getting your hands on a hot plate of jerk chicken. or oxtail.

Shereen’s Bakery (1063 Midland, @shereensbakery), with its wide selection of Caribbean dishes, changes that.

On weekends, Shereen’s offers special breakfast items like fish cakes, cassava dumplings, pastries and salt fish and something the Guyanese call boil and fry, which is a mix of plantain, sweet potato and dumpling – plus all the baked goods I have and so many other Guyanese kids have grown up.

Goat curry and roti
Samuel Engelking

Every day of the week, the take-out lunch menu is filled with dishes like stewed fish, curried goat, bhaji, chicken, and a wonderful chow mein that my grandmother has been giving my grandmother a hard time. But if it’s actually a restaurant, why is it called a bakery?

“We started as a bakery,” Shereen explains. She switched to a take-out restaurant at the behest of her loyal and grateful customers, a group of people she says she just can’t say no to.

“At first, I had a small hot table and took out a few items each day. And then over time, it got bigger and bigger. We started cooking, but we never made it. People who knew we were cooking would call ahead and order and we would cook it for them.

A few weeks ago I walked into the Shereen Bakery for the first time. I had been following the bakery’s social media account for at least a year and had spent an embarrassing time scrolling through the mouth-watering videos and pictures of hot homemade food.

Stay social and family

It’s rare for bakeries in Guyana to be on social media, which was one of the first things I noticed. Caribbean bakeries have long operated solely by word of mouth. There was never a need for paid ads or corny ads or even an Instagram page. Bakery owners could trust their customers to spread the word. For decades, that was enough to keep these companies afloat. In many cases, this is still the case.

But with Shereen’s children heavily involved in the operation of the bakery, they knew it was important to have a social media presence and they ensure that the Instagram page is active, maintained and that requests from customers are treated.

Serving hot plates at Shereen's Bakery
Samuel Engelking

“Every day we received inquiries about what we had on the menu for the day,” Shereen explained. “So now we’re making a video of our hot table and listing the items for everyone to see.”

When I asked Shereen what drove her to start, she shared the sentiments of so many immigrant entrepreneurs – wanting better for her family.

“I didn’t want my mother to work in a factory,” she says simply. “I knew I had always wanted to be an entrepreneur and run my own business. So when the company I worked for was doing layoffs, I begged them to fire me. After a while they did. I took time to enjoy my children and decompress.

But when Shereen started planning her next move, there were obstacles ahead of her. Becoming an entrepreneur was not easy. She sold her house, considered the idea of ​​franchising, paid someone for a small table in a bigger store, and made a few financial mistakes along the way until she felt that the universe compels him to do something bigger and find his purpose.

Sixteen years ago, she settled in a Midland square nestled between Eglinton and Lawrence.

“I chose Scarborough because of the community,” she said. “I wanted to be in Pickering but the rent was too high. When the owner told me the price, I said ‘You don’t get much from this immigrant!’ »

Shereen is proud that her shop is a place that brings people home, even if it’s just for a moment.

The bakery caters to students from nearby St. Joan of Arc Catholic Academy at lunchtime. “It’s so cool to see all the Guyanese kids come with their girlfriends or boyfriends and buy snacks to teach their partners about their culture. It gives me great joy when people come in here and tell me they have the impression of being back in Guyana.

Goods packaged at Shereen's Bakery
Samuel Engelking

Food, culture and community

And it makes sense that his customers feel that way. For so many immigrant communities, food is a portal to their homeland. The memories and nostalgia attached to dishes and snacks, if only their smell, are unparalleled. And for communities where so many dishes are rooted in tradition — like pepper, Guyana’s national dish — it can unlock so many memories.

Pepper pot is a slow-cooked stew that is a Christmas staple, served with freshly baked Guyanese bread. Almost every Guyanese family I know has the extra-large Guycan pot. In December, it’s filled with meats like beef, cow’s heel and pigtail, cassareep, and the multitude of other ingredients that make up the pepperpot’s distinct taste. My dad would stay up all night on Christmas Eve, checking the pot every few hours to inspect the tenderness of the meat. Christmas morning presents and the pepper shaker are childhood memories woven as tightly as braided bread.

Shereen described an instance last Christmas where a customer walked in and explained that her mother-in-law had died and since her death her husband had not been able to enjoy a nice helping of pepper shakers. Then she asked if Shereen would do it for him, which she agreed to. But it wasn’t just any pepper shaker – it had to be vegan.

For such a meat dish, Shereen had a challenge ahead of her. But she managed to create a beautiful set of tofu and beans and make it as close to the taste and appearance of the traditional meat dish as possible. When the customer walked in, she asked him to try it on right away.

“He had a spoonful of it and you could see in his eyes how grateful he was to be able to experience it again,” she recalled.

Hearing this story warmed my heart. I’ve often thought about what my siblings and I will do once my dad isn’t around cooking his famous Christmas dish. It speaks to the importance of preserving cultures, which its location in Scarborough also enables it to do.

Initially, Shereen wanted to open a European bakery. “That’s what attracts me,” she says. “But every time I went out, I realized that there weren’t enough Guyanese bakeries. So finally, I said to my family: ‘We keep this Guyanese in his own right. I do not care.'”

@stephanie_hinds

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