As a young girl growing up in Baltimore public housing, Ayeshah Abuelhiga fondly recalls her dad taking her, along with her sisters, to the H&S Bakery Outlet store for 5-cent bread.
“We’d drive down Fleet in my Dad’s old Grand Prix,” recalls Abuelhiga. “He used to get traffic tickets because we liked standing up and putting our heads out the big windows just to smell the bread.”
After graduating from George Washington University, she worked corporate jobs, but wasn’t fulfilled.
“In college, I worked multiple jobs and always ended up being in restaurants. It felt like home,” says Abuelhiga, whose mom is Korean and dad, who passed away last year, was Palestinian-Israeli. “It was a melting pot.”
Despite her heritage, the family ate Southern-inspired food. “We always ate American comfort food,” she says. “My mom hated the smell of lamb, my dad hated the smell of kimchi, so it was like, ‘Fried chicken, it is.’”
At Thanksgiving it was biscuits, which Abuelhiga learned to make for her younger sisters. So, when the 35-year-old entrepreneur thought about starting her own venture, a biscuit business seemed like a natural fit. “I realized I could make them as a breakfast item and sop it up with gravy or do them with fried chicken,” she says.
By 2014, with $27,000 raised on Kickstarter, she opened Mason Dixie Biscuits Co. as a pop-up sandwich spot. Over time, the business moved to a full-fledged brick-and-mortar location in the Shaw section of D.C. Because she was selling out daily, Abuelhiga began preparing her biscuits ahead of time and freezing them. Soon customers were taking bags home. “It took on a life of its own,” she says.
In 2015, Whole Foods came calling for her all-natural products. Before long, Mason Dixie biscuits were stocked on store shelves, including all Whole Foods Markets nationally, as well as Wegman’s, Harris Teeter, and Mom’s Organics in the Baltimore area.
Sadly, in June, Abuelhiga shuttered her shop due to the pandemic, though Mason Dixie is one of the fastest-growing baked-goods companies in the U.S. Meanwhile, Abuelhiga relocated her brand to Baltimore’s Inner Harbor, not far from H&S.
“I was like, ‘There’s only one place to go—and it’s home.’ I want to be around people who forgive me for saying ‘Bawlmer.’”