Pasha's serves sweet taste of the Middle East for $130 per kilogram in Washington

Lebanese dessert shop brings regional delights and family’s heritage to fancy DC neighbourhood

Inside the Middle Eastern sweet shop that has Washington residents queuing for hours

Inside the Middle Eastern sweet shop that has Washington residents queuing for hours
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It’s hard to miss Pasha Castle Sweets and Tea among Georgetown’s high-end boutiques, as long queues of customers snake out of Washington’s first Middle East dessert shop, sometimes waiting more than an hour for a box of delicacies.

Since opening in the US capital in July, the store has become a magnet for people of all backgrounds looking to try the foreign sweets.

“When we first opened the store, we didn’t expect so many diverse people coming in,” Pasha’s owner, Elias Bitar, told The National.

"However we’ve had customers from Asia, Turkey, Lebanon, Pakistan and Iran, basically from all over the world who want to try our sweets."

Pasha’s sweets cost about $130 a kilogram, far more than in most Middle Eastern countries, yet that hasn’t stopped customers queuing to enjoy its treats.

“What people need to understand is that it’s a lot harder to open a dessert shop in DC, especially when you don’t have a lot of revenue," Mr Bitar said.

"Minimum wage is higher, your rent is more. So for us to be able to make it work we made a median between giving people the right dessert, with the best quality versus selling something on a lower value and not making any money."

Despite the long wait at weekends, people often travel from the neighbouring states of Maryland and Virginia.

“Some people don’t know what baklava is or what Turkish delights are, but they see the line and think, ‘This place must be good',” Mr Bitar said.

After walking into the shop, customers descend steps to an area with counters displaying dozens of trays packed with Nutella-filled cookies, baklava and Turkish delights, also known as loukoum, containing traces of pomegranate, hazelnut, pistachio and almonds.

The shop also offers 16 flavours of homemade ice cream such as its popular ashta, as it’s called in Lebanon, and booza, a type of stretchy ice cream.

The store’s most popular desserts are the Pasha special, which consists of ashta ice cream sandwiched between two layers of baklava, and the ashta roll, which is made of a slice of frozen ice cream topped with traditional Middle East cotton candy and chopped pistachios.

Customers can enjoy their desserts with a cup of Turkish coffee or choose from the shop’s selection of herbal teas that provide health benefits.

“If you go into any Mediterranean house, you will find people sipping on coffee and having a sweet," Mr Bitar said.

“It’s something that goes very well together, especially if you don’t put sugar in your coffee. You take a little sip and take a bite of baklava and it will even out the level of sweetness in your mouth."

Pasha Castle Sweets and Tea traces its roots back to Lebanon where Mr Bitar’s late grandfather, Pasha Ibrahim, first opened a shop in the 1960s.

The shop’s name originates from the structure and castle motifs common for buildings on the streets of Beirut.

Due to the Lebanese Civil War, his grandfather's shop was closed between 1975 and 1990, and reopened in the early 1990s.

Mr Bitar and his family decided to bring the dessert shop back to life years later after they moved from Lebanon to Washington in 2006.

“I was raised in DC for half of my life so I know a lot about the culture, the people and the diversity of the city," he said.

"I know the different types of Arabs, Iranians and Lebanese and knew that the store would work well here."

The store also hires a diverse group of employees, from Asia, Latin America, North Africa and the Middle East.

“We try to help the DC community as much as we can and hire a lot of students from George Washington University who work part-time,” Mr Bitar said.

He said he is proud of his Lebanese heritage and enjoys learning about the different ethnicities that go to the shop and buy desserts that remind them of their native country.

“After working in this shop, I figured out that everybody has the same dessert but different names and everyone thinks this is their dessert,” Mr Bitar said.

“I love how people from Turkey claim the desserts belongs to their culture or that Iranians claim its theirs, but at the end of the day we are all in one bubble and enjoy the same desserts.”

Updated: September 28, 2023, 9:53 AM