Drive down Grand Boulevard in Holly Hills too fast, and you might miss a small, unassuming storefront on the corner of South Grand Boulevard and Bates Street. That would be a huge mistake — so slow down — as it is the home of the recently opened Star Bakery & Cafe (5547 South Grand Boulevard, 314-769-9380).
The restaurant is the debut offering from Nikki Ahmadi, an accountant turned baker. Star, which opened on July 16, serves breakfast, lunch and pastries including macaroons, beautifully layered slices of cakes and traditional Afghan sweets — the most popular of her offerings so far.
"That's what's been selling out the most," Ahmadi says, noting that a top seller is root, a lightly sweet bread-like cookie that is fragrant with hints of cardamom and topped with sesame seeds. Her favorite, though, is kulche shor, a sweet and salty cookie that she enjoys dipped in a milky tea called sheer chai. "I used to have these other pastries, but I'm like, honestly, you can get those anywhere, so let me just bring in more of the Afghan tradition."
Star's Afghan cookies stand out in St. Louis. Not only because few area bakeries carry the treats but also because they draw upon Ahmadi's heritage. An Afghan refugee, she immigrated to St. Louis at age eight with her family and has lived here in the 20 years since.
Ahmadi didn't always plan on going into food. She started her career as an accountant and went into tax preparation before moving to corporate accounting. But, after a few years, she realized that she hated it.
"Sitting at a desk, it was not my thing," Ahmadi says. "I wanted to move around and talk to people."
She started baking for fun and for stress relief, moving into preparing wedding cakes for family and friends.
Then, in 2019, she decided to enter the baking competition at Bride St. Louis' Cake & Champagne Bridal Show. Her entry, vanilla with a blueberry filling, won Best Tasting Cake.
"I decided, this is what I love," Ahmadi says. "I decided to quit the corporate job and just start baking and just open a storefront and go about it."
Ahmadi lives in Holly Hills and spotted her current storefront when it went up for rent for the second time in a short period. She recalls peering inside and thinking, "OK, let's see how it goes."
Getting set up took a few months; Ahmadi was deliberate about keeping her decor aligned with the wedding industry. On one side, she installed a blue flower wall. From the ceiling, she hung garlands of fake flowers and a wall of ivy separates the front of the bakery from the kitchen.
Light from the restaurant's large windows makes the space feel bright and welcoming, and a smattering of cute chairs and tables make it an ideal spot to hold a low-key party. Which is appropriate since Star can be used for hosting bridal parties, children's teas and other events, either during the day hours or after hours.
In addition, Ahmadi is still baking her award-winning wedding cakes in vanilla, chocolate or marble. What makes them really special is her buttercream frosting, she says.
"It's like the perfect sweetness," she says. "A lot of my customers are like, "Oh my God, everyone loved the cake. It was just perfect.'"Email the author at [email protected]