DUNNING — Carmen Castro-Almasri began baking with her Peruvian family when she was a child, gaining curiosity about sweets as she got older.
By the time Castro-Almasri was 10, she was making cakes, empanadas and alfajores, Peruvian butter cookies with creamy caramel sauce topped with powdered sugar. In high school, she decided she wanted to open her own bakery one day.
Thirteen years later, the day has arrived. After two years of construction and permit obstacles, the 27-year-old opened Miski Chicago earlier this month at 6115 W. Addison St. in Dunning.
“This neighborhood needed a bakery,” Castro-Almasri said. “It’s an old Polish neighborhood, but it’s getting more diverse now. I see a lot of people in the city are buying houses here, so I feel like a neighborhood bakery is perfect.”
The pastry chef grew up in Albany Park, where she was accustomed to the sights and smells of diverse bakeries. When Castro-Almasri moved to Dunning in 2012, the options were few — but she knew she could change that.
Castro-Almasri’s family inspired her to study culinary arts at Le Cordon Bleu Institute in Peru, where she lived for nearly four years to expand her kitchen skills. Upon returning to Chicago, she worked as a pastry chef at a catering company before working at Flirty Cupcakes in Lincoln Square. When that folded in 2017, she took it as a sign to start working on her dream.
“I would get orders from family and friends for birthdays and special occasions,” she said. “From my apartment kitchen that I moved into my mom’s kitchen, to then me and my husband bought the building … it led me to this.”
Miski is a family affair: Castro-Almasri, her husband and their 2-month old daughter, Rosalia, live upstairs, while her mother and aunt live nearby and often help in the kitchen.
Castro-Almasri’s uncle designed, rehabbed and built the store. Her cousin helped her come up with the bakery name, which means “delicious” in Quechua, the language of Indigenous people in Peru.
“Every part of this was family,” Castro-Almasri said.
Castro-Almasri’s aunt, Monica Chiroque-Palomino, smiled wide when she talked about her niece’s business goals.
“I am so proud of her that she is realizing her dream,” Chiroque-Palomino said in Spanish. “It’s not just about the store; it’s the power to offer a quality product to the community.”
Chiroque-Palomino, who is from Peru, has lived in the neighborhood for 30 years and helped teach her niece family recipes. Miski is a great way to pass down culture while spending time with loved ones, she said.
The bakery and custom cake shop is only open on weekends while finishing touches are being made to the space. Castro-Almasri hopes to work with a local artist to paint a mural on one of the interior walls to create a more inviting atmosphere, and outdoor signs are on the way.
But they aren’t needed to attract customers, the family said. Chiroque-Palomino said a steady flow of people came into the bakery its opening weekend. The community is ready for a bakery like Miski, she said.
“There is no sign outside, but people are still coming in,” she said. “We are so happy for her and now that she is open, I hope that she has success.”
After baking upstairs for three years and perfecting recipes, Castro-Almasri is ready to introduce flavors and experiences to neighbors on her own terms.
“I want to make what I want to make,” she said. “I was used to making custom orders for five years, and now it’s my turn. If people love it, I will sell it all. I love to talk to people and to know how they found the bakery.”
Recently, the kitchen team at Miski has been busy baking hundreds of cookies, cupcakes, chocolate cocoa bombs and breakable chocolate hearts for a special Valentine’s Day sale. Chicken, beef and veggie Peruvian empanadas will also be on the menu. The bakery is open 2-6 p.m. Monday to sell its holiday treats.
Miski’s normal hours are 10 a.m.-3 p.m. Saturday-Sunday, though Castro-Almasri is planning a grand opening in April, when the weather is nicer and after the signs are installed. She has plans to extend her menu to offer more Latin-American treats and add Middle-Eastern desserts as an ode to her husband’s family, she said.
Castro-Almasri also hopes to expand her hours and have tables and chairs for dine-in options, and patio seating in the summer.
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