Alida Malushi, Head Chef (left) , Ariana Tolka, CEO (right)
It all started when Ariana approached her aunt Alida with a simple idea—to teach her how to make traditional Albanian recipes in honor of her late grandmother, Magbule. On Sundays, they found solace in baking together, reminiscing about her while bringing her recipes to life. Soon enough, they were debuting their Bureks at local markets in NYC from the Columbus Circle Holiday Market to the Queens Night Market, receiving overwhelming support from customers around the world. And so came the start of an ‘unBurekable’ bond: the birth of Balkan Bites, a small company with a big mission to share a piece of their culture through everyday Southeast European comfort foods.
As an Albanian born and raised in Kosovo, cooking was something that came naturally to Alida Malushi. Food and drink bonded people together in a divided land, and she turned to cooking as both a meditative and connecting means. When she was working as a journalist in Kosovo, political unrest drove her to immigrate to the United States in 1991. After landing in New York, she took the lemons that life gave her and turned them into lemonade—literally. She attended the International Culinary Center and turned her passion for cooking into a full-time career. Not long after she opened up her own bakery and was quickly climbing the culinary ladder of success, her mother Magbule fell ill. Quietly, she closed her shop to take care of her mother for over a decade until her niece, Ariana, approached her with an idea.
Ariana Tolka is a first generation American born to a Croatian mother and an Albanian father from Kosovo. Naturally, she grew up with strong ties to her Balkan roots, spending countless summers in Europe with her grandparents eating traditional home-cooked meals made entirely from scratch. Every warm bite of Balkan hospitality nurtured a passion for food, leading her on a culinary journey across 54 countries, where she immersed herself in various cultures through gastronomy. After years of working for marketing and non-profit organizations, she found her calling—to share and to preserve Balkan culture with authentic family recipes that have been passed down through generations. And she knew the perfect chef to help her do just that.