Catholic Sentinel photos
Eddy Madi, baker at Sesame Donuts, prepares batches of dough.
Catholic Sentinel photos
Eddy Madi, baker at Sesame Donuts, prepares batches of dough.
This family has built their life around the ‘hole’ food craze.

Said Fakih and his family own and operate Sesame Donuts, with locations in Tigard, Portland, Hillsboro and Sherwood. Running the shops keeps this family busy and tight knit.

In the Southwest Portland shop on the Beaverton-Hillsdale Highway, shelves are stocked with doughy pastries, a kaleidoscope of rainbow sprinkles, jelly filling and sweet glazes. The have a few special inventions, like the Portland Cream, a custard-filled doughnut with maple and caramel drizzled on top. Said’s Special has blueberry filling with cream on top.

The donuts are “Made to make your day,” a slogan coined by one of Said’s daughters when she was 8.

The family’s Lebanese background is also apparent in the shop, where sweet-toothed consumers can pick up ma’amoul, shortbread pastries filled with dates or pistachios, and baklava – one of their most popular items.

Their signature doughnut is, of course, sprinkled with sesame seeds. 

On a recent day, Said’s youngest daughter Siham stopped by with her mother Lina.  Siham bats long dark eyelashes and her dad gives a tiny treat, a donut hole topped with chocolate frosting and rainbow sprinkles. On this day, Said’s father-in-law, Joe Fakih, is working at the counter, charming customers as they drop in for a cup of coffee and a pastry. There are loyal customers they see often, like Lynn Garrentstroom, who has been a customer for two decades. While she munched on a berry muffin, Said inquires about her visiting grandchildren, whom he knows by name.

There’s a reason members of this family seem so at ease in their roles as food service providers. Said practically grew up in a sweet shop. After his Lebanese father raised him Sierra Leone (Habib Fakih left Lebanon to escape war in the 1940s), Said’s father opened the first ice cream shop in the West African city where they lived. Habib’s children all attended Catholic grade school, taught by Irish nuns and priests. From Habib and the Catholic Religious, the children learned about the dignity of the human person, whether that person is a Muslim or Christian.

As they grew older, Habib expressed a hope that his children would attend higher education. The children immigrated to the United States where they joined an uncle in Torrance, Calif., who owned a Dunkin Donuts. Said attended California State University, studying the sciences with a plan to become a pediatrician. To afford classes, he delivered newspapers, covered weekend shifts at a restaurant and helped his uncle in the donut shop.

But in 1987, the family’s trajectory changed when Said’s mother had a debilitating stroke. They moved to Oregon and started over once again.  Said’s sister was caretaker for their mother, while Said and his brother did what they knew best – they ran a Dunkin Donuts. For Said, 12- to 18-hour days weren’t unusual.

“Sleeping on the flour bags wasn’t fun, but if you’re tired anything is good,” he said.
Business increased and so did the family. They bought a house in Southwest Portland in 1991, and these days Thanksgiving dinners usually require three or four turkeys to accommodate the 30-or-so extended family members who show up for the holiday. Eventually, the family pulled out of the Dunkin Donuts franchise and set out to expand their own brand, Sesame. As business grows, they expand to new locations. Last year, a nephew who had just earned an accounting degree came to Said and asked to start his own Sesame Donuts. Said agreed proudly, and a new Tigard location hosted its grand opening in June 2011.

“We are very blessed,” said Said. “You never have to wake up not knowing what the world holds for you.”

Approximately a dozen churches pick up treats for post-service fellowship each week from Said’s Southwest Portland location. That’s 40 dozen donuts doing out the door each Sunday.

There are some job hazards. When Said started working in the shop, his waistline was 32 inches, and over the years it’s crept up inch by inch. But that’s a small price to pay for the sweet network they’ve built over the years. 

It’s a sweet life, indeed.