At Work: Rafat Jabri, baker


At Work is an occasional column about neighbors and what they do to earn their livings. It doesn’t matter what the job is, whether it’s a big job or a small one, has a title or doesn’t. We’re interested in what you do every day, and what you think about it. If you think your line of work is interesting, or you have a suggestion of someone whose working life will fit At Work, please contact Nelson Sigelman, the managing editor.

Rafat Jabri’s talent for creating beautiful, often whimsical cakes has made MV Gourmet Bakery and Café in Oak Bluffs a destination for brides and party-givers.

Mr. Jabri, 55, has traveled far. He has studied in London and baked for kings in his native Jordan, but his favorite time and place is late at night inside the door at Back Door Donuts behind the bakery.

He has endured much, including the loss of his wife two years ago and a breathless three-day scramble in 1988 to move his family from the horrors visited by Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait where he had a bakery.

He has a peace inside him. He exhibits quiet joy and is passionate about his work. He values the people he meets. For more than a dozen years, his workday has started at 5 pm and often ends at sunrise during the summer season. Mr. Jabri has a 29-year old son in the hotel business in Bahrain and a 25-year old daughter in marketing in Jordan. She summers in Oak Bluffs.

Q. How did you get started in this business?

A. I started baking in England and in South Wales at college in 1974, studied with French chefs there and eventually returned to Jordan to start a bakery. We supplied the royal court, birthday and wedding cakes for princes and royalty, that sort of thing. Then I moved to Kuwait for a while until Saddam invaded. Everything went down the drain then, all gone. I spent three days escaping through the desert with my family and never went back.

I had traveled to the United States and liked it. In the United States, you are not just welcome. People say, “Welcome home.” That’s the difference. People are more accepting and welcoming. That’s what attracted me. You can feel the difference when you travel elsewhere in the world. Doors are open here, not shuttered and full of security systems and metal detectors.

Q. What do you enjoy most about your work?

A. The creative [aspect] and working with the people here at the bakery and the people you meet. A lot of variety. Customers come in and challenge you with an idea. I like to challenge myself. I know what I’m going to create by the time I begin. Past experience has taught me to know what can be done here in this space. It’s the art of the possible. It’s not just the cake that I’m making, it’s the people being happy, appreciating and thanking me for my work.

Q. What’s most difficult about your job?

A. I don’t think that way. Once I come into this door. I forget everything else. My mind is here. If I have an appointment, it’s gone. I concentrate on what do I need to do. After that, if I have to do another project, I start on that. There are certain daily tasks, such as the donut dough. It takes about three hours before the first donut comes to the backdoor. I time the donut preparation so they are hot, not just warm, because that is how people like to get them.

People don’t mind waiting. I see people meet in the line, exchange phone numbers. We always like to be a little behind. I could finish earlier but the donuts would be cold. Backdoor donuts means hot. That’s what the people want.

Q. What would you rather be doing when you think you’d rather be doing something else?

A. I’m in this business because I like it. I love my work. In my life, if I didn’t like what I was doing, I stopped doing it. I like what’s done in this bakery. I’m not looking for another career. That’s why I’ve been in this business for 35 years. Everything comes from inside you. Every occasion is measured by how the customer feels. Their reaction and appreciation makes it special.