Ali Elzen has always held a little bit different belief when it comes to doing business in selling his delicious homemade doughnuts near the corner of Main and Sixth Street in Maryville.
“It’s the idea of the bakery here, we try to make people that come into my door feel like home, that is my motto. Make people happy when they come to the bakery and feel welcome. That’s been me for a long, long time and I’ve never changed… That’s how you distinguish yourself from others. Competing with other people – they look for commercial things – money – and that’s the number one, profit, we don’t really, the main thing here is the focus on the customer…making them happy is number one.”
Elzen has done business in Maryville and Burlington Junction for nearly twenty years, making many friendships and meeting all sorts of people along the way,
“People come back after many, many years, they come to college and they graduate and then get married, have children, and then come for homecoming and to visit. It’s a big surprise for me really… they make me so happy to see them after all these years and they remember the name of the product and all the things we make...” Ali said.
“Well it’s the conversation that bring me back, Ali is always part of it… the coffee and doughnuts are great but sometimes secondary because the conversations are great,” Jim Hazen, a weekly visitor at Ali’s said.
Ali starts his tedious baking process at the time many of us are seeing the back of our eyelids.
“We start at like 1:00 or midnight, and keep working until about four o’clock in the morning, we start making coffee and prepare for opening the doors for people. We are open until the final customer shows up. Around noon we start to clean up and wash dishes and prepare for the next day.”
Elzen is originally from Greece but grew up in Cairo, Egypt with his family. He grew up in a normal neighborhood among friends and family and eventually made his way to the United States in 1979, attending college at Wichita State, Kansas State, North Dakota State, and eventually Northwest Missouri State, obtaining degrees in Agriculture and Food Science.
Ali ended up settling around Maryville, not only because he attended the school, but because he liked the people in the area.
“People, that’s the main thing. The business is all about people. People come in and they know me as a person.
When Ali hired an employee to help out up front the employee would constantly get the same question, “Where’s Ali?”
“Firstly I like him, been going there for years. If you want something special, he will make it for you, for Thanksgiving he made two special pies just for me.” Larry Grey, an Ali’s regular said.
Grey has been going to Ali’s Bakery for years and both the pastries and the stories bring him back on many mornings.
“Ali is hard worker and puts out a very good product…he’s a special type of person from a different background and he’s a very interesting person.”
Elzen worked in many different bakeries as he was growing up and then used jobs in different bakeries and cafes to support himself throughout college.
Ali is a one man show and runs the operation by himself. Although this is a tedious operation, he enjoys being his own boss and holding a certain responsibility to the customer.
Ali’s advice to any person is to do what you love and love what you do, just as he does every day. Although waking up and going to work through the night may not be enjoyable for everyone, Ali enjoys every second of his job.
“Do what you like to do in life. It is not what kind of degree in college…It doesn’t make any difference. The main thing is you do something you love in life and when you do that you will be successful and motivated… in the end it will make you happy.”