Umber Ahmad is the founder and head chef of the West Village’s hottest bakery, Mah-Ze-Dahr, where the cream puffs and artisanal riff on Mallomars are addictive and ideal for holiday binging. We checked in with Ahmad to see how she winds down on the weekends and what she does in order to reset for the week ahead.
What is the first thing you do when you wake up in the morning?
While still in bed, I quickly check my email to see if anything has arisen overnight or that morning. We start production at 4 a.m., so by the time I wake up, the team is already 30 to 60 minutes into their day. Then, I reply to anything time-sensitive, scan Instagram to see what my friends did last night and drink hot water with lemon. Because we are open seven days a week, for better or worse my weekend mornings are much the same as my weekdays. I then search around for my warmest scarf or pashmina and make my way out onto the dark streets of New York City. When I was building my business, I made the conscious decision to move closer to the bakery. It was a real quality of life issue for me. Now, my commute is a six-minute walk (seven if I’m texting or talking with my sister as I walk).
What are your favorite things to do for yourself on the weekends?
My biggest luxury is not being on my feet. On any given day in the bakery, I’m standing for 16 hours so being able to sit in peaceful quiet is my goal every weekend. I try to get a massage of some kind—deep tissue or foot reflexology or an appointment with my acupuncturist. I find that the first thing I sacrifice is myself, and by making time to rebalance and recharge I’m more useful to everyone and everything around me. I also love to spend time in the kitchen cooking savory things and experimenting with new flavors and inspirations. I read to find inspiration and often look back at old photographs from travels to recall favorite meals and flavors in order to conceive new ideas of things to create going forward.
How do you deal when you're away for the weekend?
Going away for the weekend means a lot of preparation on my end. Because weekends are the busiest time for the bakery, I have to make sure there is coverage for any possible issues that may arise. It’s a good lesson for me: A business should be able to thrive in your absence. If it can’t, then you’re doing something wrong. That being said, I always take two phone chargers with me just in case. When I go away, I always take non-work reading with me and make sure to download new music.
What are the activities or errands on your "must-accomplish list" every weekend?
I make sure to call at least three people I didn’t get to connect with during the week. That often includes my best friends and at least one person with whom I want to reconnect for any variety of reasons. Most of my conversations during the week are mission-focused, perfunctory. and efficient. I love the luxury of chatting. I also like to get to the green market for fresh produce and the spice market for ingredients. I’m always reading about and trying new skincare products, so I inevitably stop at Space NK or the beauty floor at Barneys for some shopping.
What do you do on Sundays to prepare for the week ahead?
I spend time organizing for the week, making sure I’m prepared for my investor meetings, PR engagements, and any events we’re holding at the bakery. I spend a lot of time with my team to ensure we minimize any surprises. If I discuss it, write it down and calendar it in, I can spend my brain energy on other things. I also do mundane household errands like grocery shopping and laundry and then binge watch the news. I also create a wishlist for the week, which includes meetings I want to schedule, bakery sales goals, staff incentives to motivate my team, and a few stretch goals like figuring out how quickly I can move to Paris.