Travel to Heaven from Fairfax?

New bakery makes bliss with dough

Those in-the-know, and only those in-the-know, have found transport for a brief visit to heaven. It’s not through faith or meditation. This heavenly portal is tucked into the corner of the Twinbrooke Shopping Center on Braddock Road in Fairfax. The older shopping center, with several unleased units, seems too humble a place to be a way to paradise. But for those lucky enough to discover this quiet, hidden bakery, heaven is indeed only a bite away.

Behind the nondescript store front, and with little signage or advertising, most have made their way to Just Baked after reading social media posts praising the hot baked goods and the warm-natured owner/baker, Mustafa “Max” Malek. Following those posted whispers of praise, stepping inside the door of the bakery one may wonder if it’s the right place, or indeed, if the shop is open for business. The shelves behind the counter and the display case are likely to be empty on any given visit. At this bakery, the goods often are truly, straight from the oven. 

Max, and his baking recipes, have traveled a twisted trail more complicated than the swirl of his cinnamon buns to arrive here in Fairfax. Born in Afghanistan, his family moved to Germany when he was five years old. He remained in Germany for 30 years and took his bakery training there, earning the certification of “Master Baker” in 1997. In 2002, he made his way to the United States after working in small mom and pop bakeries in Germany and France, learning and perfecting his recipes. He also studied business administration, anticipating, one day, having a business of his own.

In 2004, he moved from Utah to Southern California and opened a small French bakery. He baked there until the business impacts of Covid motivated him to leave California. After many past trips to Virginia to visit family over the years, he sought a location in the D.C. vicinity to begin again. He favored this area knowing many Europeans live here, who he describes as “having a ‘bread culture.”

Max describes himself as having a “passion for baking,” saying he “loves to be in the food business, where you create your own ideas.” He shares that his baked goods are a combination of U.S. and German recipes. For his popular cinnamon buns, his techniques recognize the "importance of of creating a moist bun with a long shelf term and the right amounts of each ingredient.”

Max is lauded by his customers for his warm and welcoming manner nearly as much as his tasty layered croissants. It is not unusual to see him come from the baking area to thank customers for their business and for waiting. There is often a small crowd there on weekends waiting for the next batch from the oven. Many elect to wait when the shelves are bare. Why? Imagine the most perfect flaky crust of a croissant, with near perfect creamy pastry layers still warm inside. Or imagine the equally popular cinnamon rolls amply dosed with cinnamon and butter, twirled around a buttery basted base with infused sugar. 

He’s added two assistant bakers to increase baked good production; his wife, Lorna Ambulo, and two new counter assistants started working in mid-June, to shorten service time for customers. They prep boxes with orders set to receive pastry as it emerges from the oven. His need for another larger oven is more difficult to satisfy, but he’s looking. Just Baked is paying its bills with one oven. Max is certain profit will come after start-up loans are paid for all the baking equipment, display cabinets, and redecorated store interior, with its new cafe furniture, and refreshed walls and flooring.

On any day, Max may be making checkered cookies, Custard Poppyseed Danish, Cinnamon Custard Pizza pastry, or almond croissants, along with his staples of plain and chocolate croissants, and cinnamon rolls. Go any day except Monday for your short trip to heaven. Be prepared to wait for the oven door to open. Baking can’t be rushed. It’s worth the wait.