Local hummus brand Baba’s new cafe is nearly ready to open on Lyndale Avenue. Owners Rana Kamal and Khalid Ansari, the Palestinian American sister-brother duo behind the brand, have transformed a vacant building into an airy, modern hummus house and mana’eesh bakery outfitted with rattan lamps, a curved counter, and colorful murals and textiles. The cafe will open Saturday, August 5.
Baba’s defines itself as “modern Middle Eastern,” a label that Kamal said is rooted in the siblings’ Palestinian heritage and American identity. Raised in Minnesota by Palestinian immigrant parents, Kamal and Ansari grew up immersed in the world of their parents’ restaurant, Mediterranean Cruise Cafe. “My mom was super young when she came here — she was 18,” says Kamal. “She didn’t speak a lick of English, so my first language was Arabic. It was really important for them that we knew that we were Palestinian, first and foremost.” They spent summers in Jerusalem with their grandparents.
In 2015 — while Kamal was working as a TV host for the CW, and Ansari was general manager at Mediterranean Cruise Cafe — they began toying with the idea of creating a hummus brand. “We knew that our hummus was amazing,” says Kamal. “Of course we were biased, but it was everything that we knew as Jerusalem-style: super creamy, super velvety, lots of flavor. We hadn’t seen something like that on the shelf. It was big-box retailers that were making hummus.” In 2018, they launched five hummus flavors in a handful of local grocery stores. Now, Baba’s hummus is sold at more than 500 retailers across the Midwest. “Our flavors — like our dill pickle, our ranch, our truffle, our Serano — it’s a representation of us. It’s that mesh of the Palestinian and American sides coming together,” says Kamal.
Baba’s hummus bowls — made popular at the 2021 and 2022 state fairs — are at the heart of the cafe’s menu. “When you go to Jerusalem, there are so many street vendors where you get a plate of fresh hummus and the toppings are on the side,” says Kamal. “You’ll get your shatta, which is an Arabic hot sauce, and your olives. Of course the most important ingredient is olive oil — we’re all obsessed with olive oil. So tons of olive oil, and then fresh pita.” Kamal’s favorite is the minced beef shawarma hummus bowl; another, the Super Green hummus bowl, is blended with herbs and topped with falafel, edamame, pistachio, and green tahini.
The cafe also has a coal-fired pizza oven churning out fresh mana’eesh, a flatbread that’s especially popular in the Levant. Other menu highlights include spinach tabbouleh and a falafel sandwich layered with pickled cabbage, eggplant, tahini, pickles, and potatoes. Kamal and Ansari’s mother is contributing a pistachio-encrusted vanilla halva to the menu, while Ansari’s mother-in-law is contributing a turmeric sponge cake.
Baba’s partnered with local firm Little Box on the restaurant’s design. Hibaaq Ibrahim, a local artist, painted the wave mural; a collage of artwork by Alizée Castel occupies the north wall. Local studio She She designed the olive leaf, fishnet, and Arabic slang wallpapers. The cafe also has a marketplace section, where it’s selling tubs of Baba’s hummus, spice blends, za’atar, and hot sauce, plus a number of products from Arab, Arab American, and Muslim brands.
Baba’s will be open daily from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. at 2220 Lyndale Avenue S., Minneapolis, MN 55405.