A nutty affair

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IN 1977, Elias Daniel started a café in the Dora region in Lebonon serving the best of Lebanese coffee. Called Café Daniel, it prided itself on having its own roasting house and served best coffee in the region. His venture slowly expanded into the roasted and pre-packed nuts sector and in 1985 he launched Castania Nuts. What started out as a pre-packed nut business is today a full-fledged concept store selling delightful nuts of sorts called the Castania Nuts Boutique.

In Lebanon, coffee and nuts go hand-in-hand — outlets selling one generally offer the other as well,” says managing director of Castania Nut Boutique, Romy Daniel Karnaby as she explains how in 2008, the Castania Nut Boutique was conceptualised to offer customers a more personalised gourmet experience and the opportunity to savour the myriad of flavours of fresh, dry and roasted nuts as well as dried fruit and candies.

Following its success of its stores in Lebanon and Kuwait, the family run business makes its maiden venture into the Southeast Asia market with the opening of the Castania Nut Boutique in 1 Utama Shopping Complex. The booth is strategically located on the ground floor and you are bound to notice it as you enter the mall via the main entrance of the Old Wing.

Although only three days into operation when we visited the place, it was abuzz with activity as curious shoppers checked  out the new store. Karnaby made her way behind the counter, giving us a tour and sampling of the offerings at the outlet. Among the wide range of nuts available are macadamia, hazelnut, pecan, cashew and peanut, just to name a few, and these are further characterised based on their coating (if any) — for instance sugar-coated chick peas and cheese macadamia. She says that while customer preference differs demographically and culturally, and it may be premature to gauge the preference of Malaysians just yet, although the pistachio is said to be the star of the show.

Explaining the concept of the store she says: “Here, customers can take their time to taste and select the types of nuts (and other items relating to nuts) that they prefer, compared to previously only being able to buy your favourite Castania nuts off the shelves. We also offer the choice of preparing your very own mix.”

The nuts and dried fruit that are sold at Castania Nut Boutique are sourced from all over the world based on research and industry knowledge, with only the highest quality raw ingredients making the cut. The raw nuts are then stored in chillers at the optimum temperature of each type before being roasted and prepared accordingly — salted, roasted, cheese or sugar-coated and so on before being shipped out worldwide to their respective outlets.

Apart from the nuts and dried fruit, the outlet also has pre-packed energy bars for the urbanite on the go; “a crunchy treat that fits in the handbag and contains only 50 calories,” Karnaby quips. Sesame bars and pre-packed dried fruit and nuts that come in convenient packs are also part of the selection.

If customers are looking to satisfy their sweet tooth, they will surely be content with the array of nougats and malbans (a Middle Eastern sweet made of dried exotic fruit paste) — all of which incorporate nuts and other interesting ingredients like strawberry, coconut and rose petals. Those who prefer something less sweet will be spoiled for choice with the variety of croquants available here.

In addition to the assortment of delectable nuts, dried fruit and candies, Castania Nut Boutique provides complimentary vacuum packaging services to ensure freshness while travelling or for storage purposes. The staff are trained to ensure that they are well-versed with the products and are able to assist the customers and provide accurate information, should the need arise. “We are passionate about our products and we would like our staff to feel the same too; the only way to encourage such passion is to impart the necessary knowledge to them,” Karnaby explains. In line with the personalised experience that the outlet strives to offer, customers may also pick and choose items to be packed as tailored gifts that are suitable for private or corporate events.

The concept of Castania Nut Boutique focuses as much on the customers’ experience as it does on the quality of its products. “The roasting technique employed and the selection process of the best raw materials result in the excellent quality of the products,” Karnaby says. Today, the brand has grown from the café run by her father in the late 1970s to a full-fledged nut concept store.

Brought in exclusively by Bakhache Foods under Backache Luxuries Sdn Bhd, there are big plans for expansion in the near future beginning with the outlet in Nu Sentral Mall due to open next month, followed by another in Pavilion in June.

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This article first appeared in The Edge Financial Daily, on April 22, 2015.