If you have not yet heard, the family that brought you Smiley’s Grill recently introduced a new European dining experience, Zack’s Bakery Café. The café aims to provide its customers with homemade artisan bakery items, high-grade Lavazza coffee drinks, and nutritious beverage alternatives. After hearing locals rave about their chocolaty Biscuit Cake and heart-healthy beetroot juice, I headed over to try it out and sat down with the owner, Zach Botros, to find out more about his unique selection.
Zach was born into the food and beverage industry- his father founded Smiley’s Grill in 1988, even before the first McDonalds in the nation ever opened, making it quite the novelty for its Cairo customers. Now, Smiley’s Grill has been a family-run local fast-food restaurant for over 25 years, embedding itself into the everyday culture of Egypt. Its trademark yellow smiley-face bumper stickers are commonly seen on cars throughout the streets of Cairo, making the restaurant a household name. Armed with experience, willpower, and some of his mother’s home recipes, the 23-year old British University of Egypt graduate launched Zack’s Café exclusively in the Al Rehab City branch of Smiley’s Grill.
Upon entering, Zack’s section of Smiley’s Grill is immediately apparent by the baskets of bread, distinct menu, and shelves of scrumptious-looking pastries to the right of the Smiley’s counter. Elegant leather chairs and bookshelves isolated the café’s seating area from the rest of Smiley’s Grill, and the urban chic paintings that decorated the walls gave the atmosphere a contemporary flare. Zach recommended a vanilla latte and Biscuit Cake, the standard favorite, and we took a seat across from the book collection. I was suddenly transported from a fast-food restaurant to a tranquil café, complete with relaxing music, a high-definition television, and comfortable seats that some customers seem to have been lounging in for hours.
After taking the first sips of my coffee, I was pleasantly surprised at how well the latte was made. It is often hard for me to find a coffee shop I enjoy because the espresso can sometimes be too bitter or the flavored drinks too sweet, but that cup had the right balance. The Chocolate Biscuit Cake was just as enjoyable, both soft and crunchy as bits of tea biscuit created the perfect texture.
Satisfied with my order, we sat down and sampled some of Zack’s most popular treats. I also asked him a few questions about his inspiration and goals for Zack’s Café.
What distinguishes Zack’s from other cafés in Egypt?
At Zack’s, our vision is to supply the local community with quality European breads, coffee, juices and desserts using great customer service and the utmost cleanliness possible. We make all of our breads and pastries ourselves, so nothing is ordered in bulk or stored away- freshness is key. In order to provide superior ingredients and menu options, I took it upon myself to become educated in the art of making coffee beverages. I enrolled in the Maestro Bistro course at the Illy University of Coffee (Università del Caffè) and was introduced to the history of coffee, how it evolved, how the various machines work, and of course, how to make the perfect shot of espresso. I also researched the different types of espresso drinks, pastries, and other food items for over two years in order to create a worthy menu, so a lot of personal thought and time went into our menu choices.
In addition, some of the pastries come from my mother’s personal stash of recipes, so we deliver an authentic homemade experience. We also have some of the few vegan and alternative dining selections available in the city, like our vegan brownies, flapjacks, and fresh juice options. Our juices are definitely one-of-a-kind, such as the Heartbeet (which contains beetroot juice), the popular Green Apple, or our not yet released Spinach and Grape blend.
What inspired the idea to launch Zack’s inside Smiley’s Grill?
Growing up, I assisted my father with minor tasks around the restaurant since I was eight years old. As I got older, my responsibilities grew and I often spent summer vacations helping my father at our first locations. As Smiley’s expanded, we opened an industrial baking factory that supplied businesses with high-grade European-style baguettes, and various other breads. This was the first spark of the idea for Zack’s.
As I began my university career studying International Business, I learned the technical aspects of running an establishment. I realized that rather than simply supplying other businesses with our premium products, I could allocate our resources and provide customers with a space to be able to enjoy not just breads, but other bakery items paired with equally high-quality coffee. Now, after over two years of research and preparation, I opened my first location in Al Rehab City and Zack’s Café was born.
What are you planning for the future of Zack’s?
I want to expand the menu, alternating and adding more unique options as I go along. We recently added strawberry custard croissants and smoothies that we make using Coldstone Ice Cream, including passion fruit and strawberry, kiwi, strawberry milkshakes, and mixed berry. My expectations for Zack’s are very positive, and all of the feedback we have been getting has been fantastic. I eventually want to be the local communities’ go-to bakery for bread to bring home, meanwhile also acting as a cozy chill-out spot to enjoy a drink or dessert in a relaxing environment. Our next branch will be a standalone café located in Al Shorouk City, as I would like to penetrate new markets rather than dive into already established regions. This one will be the first independent Zack’s Café, and will feature more expansive dining selections. I look forward to serving Egypt with our radiant staff, premium ingredients, and delicious treats!
Taste: 10/10 You just cannot beat these coffee and pastry pairings- Fresh Lavazza espresso beans and European favorites like Banoffee or Pecan Pie give this café a high taste rating.
Healthy: 9/10 With multi- and whole- grain artisan breads baked daily and a variety of nutrient-rich fruit smoothies available, Zack’s healthy rating is only brought down by its indulgent desserts and sweeter beverage options.
Venue: 8/10 In order to enjoy Zack’s Café you will need to enter Smiley’s Grill, however the café’s relaxed environment and hip decor are not affected by Smiley’s regular customers.
Value: 9/10 High-quality products at prices less than the average big-chain café makes Zack’s worth the visit.
Owner’s Favorite: Iced cappuccino, no sugar, paired with the Strawberry and Custard Stuffed Croissant.