Through a translator, Sunbela 2's owner Faten Abojazzara told the Mercury that the move was spurred by a loss in sales during the pandemic. But since moving, the humble shop has become a hub of sorts for East Portland’s Iraqi community.
On one visit, Abojazzara greeted her regular customers like long lost family—eyes bright and hugs exchanged. An Arabic music video hummed in the background, from a TV screen, adding to the ambience.
Abojazzara said that making Iraqi food keeps her connected to her country. It serves as a reminder of family gatherings and good times, staving off the feeling of being homesick. She said she wants to share that with her fellow countrypeople and the other Arab people in Portland, making them feel at home in their new home.
In Iraq, Abojazzara ran a pharmacy, but in 2016, when she moved to the United States, she started over from scratch—due to a lack of English fluency.
She founded the Beaverton Sunbela in January 2021, cooking all of the food while her partner Firas Kaittan handled the baking. After opening Sunbela 2 on SE Division this past January, the couple closed the original location to keep up with traffic at the new spot.
Sunbela 2's main counter is laden with desserts: baklava in assorted shapes, syrup-soaked semolina cake called basbousa, pistachio- or date-stuffed cookies, and petit fours. Iraqis are big on sweets, Sunbela’s manager says. In addition to being served as dessert, these pastries are also eaten with coffee or tea after lunch or midday while gathering with friends and family.
The bakery's menu reflects cuisine from Baghdad: kebobs, shawarma, falafel sandwiches, and rice plate meals with either chicken or a sizable lamb shank. The beef kebob sandwich I tried was tender and flavorful, generously seasoned with sumac.
Aside from digital screens hanging over the counter, there isn’t much signage detailing the bakery’s other offerings, so if you’re curious about something, ask! In a deli case on the side of the shop, you’ll find cold salads and dips like baba ganoush, dolmas, and tabbouleh. Oh, and don’t miss the boxes of meat and spinach pies, some flat like mini pizzas and some folded into triangular pockets.
But the cornerstone of Sunbela is their “stone bread,” or samoon. Traditionally baked in a stone oven, the diamond-shaped samoon is one of the most popular breads (and street foods) in Iraq.
Sunbela hand-shapes and -bakes its samoon daily. It’s sold as-is, ready for you to take home and eat with the filling of your choice, or you can order it as a sandwich.
Samoon has drawn comparisons to Italian ciabatta for its taste and texture, but I’d describe it as a fluffier, denser pita. It’s soft and pillowy with a nice chew to it. If you’re buying some to take home but feel too lazy to make a filling, it's great with za’atar (stir into some olive oil and dip into the mixture) or dukkah (dip into olive oil first, then dip into dukkah). These spice mixes can be found at Middle Eastern/international grocers like Mingala, located right across the street from Sunbela. I also like Cedar Halal Market in Beaverton and World Foods in the Pearl.
As business ramps up in the new location, Abojazzara says she wants to expand vegetarian options, including soups. The bakery currently has no indoor dining, but come summer, she hopes to add some outdoor seating on the back patio.
Sunbela 2, 12503 SE Division Suite D, (971) 294-5303, sunbelasale.com