When Saif Manna was eight years old, he climbed up on the stool in his kitchen and started teaching himself how to bake and cook using his grandmother’s recipe book.
“It’s sort of evolved as I start to grow older and become more capable,” said Manna, a senior political science major. “I started to become more independent in the kitchen.”
After the COVID-19 pandemic caused Temple University to temporarily shut down in March 2020, Manna decided to use his new free time to open MANNA Bakery, an online bakery he runs from his Temple Nest apartment, which officially launched on March 6, 2021. Manna bakes and sells cookies, breads and cakes, with vegan options for some items.
To place an order customers fill out a Google Sheet with their name, phone number, what they want to order, allergy information and pick up time. When the order is ready, Manna texts the customer to pick up their orders from him at the Nest.
When he started his bakery, Manna made hundreds of cookies at a time by hand, which was physically intense and time-consuming. After earning roughly $400, he used his savings to buy a Kenwood stand mixer, which lightened the workload, he said.
The job is expensive and time consuming and Manna makes slightly less than $2 per baked good sold. However, he isn’t worried about making a huge profit and is content to serve good food and make people smile, Manna said.
“I do it because I enjoy baking and I do it because I enjoy seeing people enjoy food and if it comes from me, even better,” Manna added.
Manna prides himself on using high-quality ingredients, like imported Belgian chocolate, because he believes that the final product is a reflection of the ingredients used.
“If I’m going to use some cheap, low quality chocolate or mass-produced eggs that are made by chickens that are living in a cage and a harmful environment, that sort of emotion feeds into the product they produce and you taste it in the flavor,” he said.
Manna has always been picky about his ingredients and would often go to multiple stores to get what he wanted, said Rula Abu-Lughod, Manna’s mother.
Abu-Lughod originally thought baking was a phase and Manna would grow out of it. Instead, he grew more passionate as time went on, she said. Now she admires her son’s passion and creativity and believes those qualities will help him succeed at whatever he wants to do.
Though Manna runs a bakery and specializes in cookies, he also cooks Chinese, Arabic and Indian food and makes full course-meals at home and for his girlfriend, including juice and appetizers, she said.
“What you guys are getting and seeing there is only a very small portion of what he is capable of,” Abu-Lughod said.
Ei Lwin, a senior tourism and hospitality management major, discovered MANNA Bakery at a pop up event in the Nest’s lobby last month where she bought a sourdough donut and has been ordering from Manna regularly since.
Lwin appreciates Manna’s passion for baking and his creativity, she said.
“He sells it for his passion, and which is why I have been going back and trying every different items on his menu,” she added.
Manna ensures that the baked goods are still warm when he hands them to customers and provides instructions on how to warm them up properly if they won’t be eaten immediately.
Manna’s family is Palestinian but he feels disconnected from his culture because he has never visited Palestine and wants to bridge the gap by incorporating Palestinian food into his bakery, he said.
Most of what Manna knows about Palestinian food and culture comes from his grandmothers who grew up in Palestine but moved to Jordan, he said.
“I felt like I’d be doing a disservice if I didn’t use my talent and my passion to sort of express a part of my culture that’s been lost,” he added.
Manna’s long-term goal is to open a physical store for his bakery in Center City or open a restaurant. If he pursues the bakery and it’s successful, he wants to open a second bakery location in Dubai.
“I would love to have a bakery that is not just a bakery where you come and buy stuff and leave but sort of have a slight place where you can sit and maybe, do work, study, enjoy the baked goods,” Manna said.