If you are walking near downtown Houmt Souk in Djerba, you might smell the sweet aroma of delicious pastries and sweets coming from Halawiyat Tounsia before you even see this small bakery.
I happened to visit Halawiyat Tounsia on a rainy day, yet customers were still rushing inside this small bakery and walking back out into the heavy downpour with boxes full of baked goods. There’s a famous saying – If you want the rainbow, you have to deal with the rain. In this case, if you want a box of exquisite baked treats, then you have to deal with the rain. From my observation, many appeared to believe this was well worth it.
Yet, it was not the delicious baked goods that attracted me to this bakery, but rather a story told to me by a friend. It was an inspirational story about a Tunisian woman who triumphed over her initial adversary to become a successful owner of an artisanal bakery start-up. My visit to this bakery was to meet this owner in person and to hear this true story firsthand from her.
Gouda is a Tunisian woman who used to work in a local pâtisserie (bakery) in Djerba. She had always enjoyed baking goods in her own home for her family, so it made sense for her to work in a bakery and she was naturally good at the job. However, she found herself working in an unhealthy working environment with poor working conditions. Gouda described her work experience at the bakery as being mistreated and disrespected. In addition, her employer was withholding her wage and refusing to provide compensation for her hard work. No one deserves this kind of mistreatment in the workplace.
In 2013, Gouda started her own bakery shop Halawiyat Tounsia without any outside help. She is the proud owner of a small but locally known bakery which attracts many customers, rain or shine. Today, she employs 4 talented female bakers who work alongside her. One of these employees was a university graduate who struggled to secure employment after graduation, so Gouda was able to provide her with a job working at the bakery.
There’s so much more to the success of Gouda’s bakery than just a good story. Most other bakeries make and sell French cakes and various types of pastries. These baked goods are typically prepared using pre-prepared dough and ingredients. They also utilize machines to mass-produce large quantities of pastries rather than using traditional ovens.
Gouda’s bakery specializes in making and selling homemade Tunisian and Arabic pastries. These local delicacies are prepared and made using fresh ingredients and traditional methods. Preparations are done using dough made from scratch as well as fresh ingredients.
These ingredients are all prepared by hand, then local Tunisian machines or imported machines are used for sheeting and cutting before the baking process using a traditional oven.
Wonder Woman of Tunisia
Looking back at her own success, Gouda describes her artisanal bakery startup journey with these words:
هذا كان كيما تحدي (It was like a challenge)
It was like a challenge
No matter what setbacks she encountered, she believed in herself and her abilities, recognized a business opportunity when she saw it, and worked tirelessly to make her dream come true.
Gouda’s story is a real inspiration for any aspirant Tunisian woman entrepreneur wanting to challenge the odds and strive for success. In my eyes, I view her as a Wonder Woman of Tunisia, but Gouda wishes to remain as an unsung hero continuing to humbly pursue her baking passion. This is the reason you do not see any pictures of her in this article.
If you ever visit Djerba Island in Tunisia, be sure to visit Gouda in person at Halawiyat Tounsia and sample some of the best-baked goods and treats in Djerba.