The story of this close-knit family starts with Teddy Zaki, who arrived in South Africa by ship in the 1950s. Zaki was 11 years old when he arrived with his parents and siblings. The family had fled from their home, a small village in Lebanon.
Despite being unable to read and write in English, Teddy Zaki became a successful businessman and property tycoon in Johannesburg. When Zaki died, his son (also Teddy) took over the property business.
Young Teddy Zaki was compelled to run the family business, but his real passion was cooking and baking. As a young boy, he would often feign illness and skip school to bake with his eldest sister at home.
In 2015, his son Jeffrey entered Teddy into The Great South African Bake Off. Audiences fell in love with Zaki’s quirky style. He was nicknamed “The King of Bling” for his flashy accessories – gold watches, gold rings, even gold shoes. Zaki made it to the final and, although he didn’t win, his pastry career had just begun.
“Being Lebanese, food is a staple of your culture. I grew up in a house where Sunday lunch was a religious experience. You make the biggest feast with fresh bread and fresh cake,” says Jeffrey Zaki (whose middle name is – yes – Teddy).
While his father competed on Bake Off, Jeffrey studied food and beverage management and taught himself how to bake bread.
“I’ve always been fascinated with bread. I was a hyperactive child and when my father was baking, he would give me the dough to play with to calm me down.”
Jeffrey began supplying fresh bread to restaurants such as Tasha’s and sold Neapolitan-style pizzas at Joburg food markets. Once Teddy completed Bake Off, he joined his son at the food markets selling decadent cakes and pastries.
Earlier in 2019, the family opened their first patisserie, named Just Teddy in homage to their father and grandfather. The chic black, white and gold colour palette is a nod to Teddy’s signature sense of bling, and a canopy of greenery and hanging florals creates the mood of an alfresco Parisian café.
“The whole store’s concept is tangible luxury. It’s chic and opulent but very affordable,” says Zaki.
A sweet tooth runs in the family. Jeffrey’s sister Jordyne is the store’s executive pastry chef. His father bakes the Lebanese treats like ma’amoul date cookies and flaky baklava oozing with syrup. Natasha Zaki is mother of the family as well as the store. “We treat that counter as if it’s our kitchen at home,” says Jeffrey.
All the cakes and pastries at Just Teddy are baked in-house daily. They specialise in French classics like mille-feuille and madeleines, and Lebanese delicacies like baklava and namoura, a syrup-soaked semolina cake.
“This restaurant is based on our travels as a family. Our high tea is a collection of our memories, things we’ve eaten around the world, with our signature touch on it,” says Jeffrey.
Just Teddy’s high tea, presented on a three-tiered cake stand, offers buttermilk scones, Teddy’s famous ma’amoul cookies, and homemade preserves like rose-petal jam.
The middle tier offers a savoury selection but instead of little cucumber sandwiches, Just Teddy serves a meze platter of Lebanese spinach pies, babaganoush, dolmades and hummus. The final tier is reserved for classic French pastries.
Just Teddy’s signature cakes like “Beirut with Love” and “Persian Love Cake” are infused with fresh and floral Middle Eastern flavours like litchi, rosewater, cardamom, and crystalised rose petals, a celebration of the family’s Lebanese heritage.
With the whole family working at the store, there’s a tangible sense of passion and warmth in everything produced at Just Teddy. “I thank God that I’m in this with my family. We keep each other together,” says Jeffrey. DM
Beer is drinkable after a nuclear explosion.