MargoFresh celebrates its first anniversary


Ready-to-eat cannoli baked by Nella and available at MargoFresh, celebrating its first year in business.
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By Marisa Romano


MargoFresh, the international food store operated by Margo Njiaim at 566 Gladstone Avenue, opened its doors last April in the space vacated by Red Apron. On the shelves are familiar products and specialty foods imported from all over the world: the Middle East, Europe, Asia and South America. There are halal meats and basic fresh produce, in-house-made homey meals and fresh salads to go, and the ever-tempting counter of savoury and sweet pastries. Inviting and alluring. I paid a visit to meet the people behind it all.

Margo Njiaim, the Lebanese store owner, has left her office and is re-stocking shelves. Everybody pitches in. Owner, manager and employees do what needs to be done to smoothly run the place.

A couple of early-morning customers approach the cash, and I ask them about the store. “I am Spanish, and he is Turkish,” says the young woman. They come to MargoFresh to find the products that make them feel at home. “That is what I want my store to be,” says Margo once the customers have left the premises. “A neighbourhood store, a place where everyone feels at home.” Wherever “home” is.

This is a new venture for Margo. She played a pivotal role in developing the family business from the small Lebanese store that her father opened on Kirkwood Avenue in 1972 to the large and popular Mid-East Food Centre on Belfast Road. Now she is growing her own. Determination, a clear vision and the know-how that comes from years of working on the ground is what drives her. One year in business and the store already has regular happy customers, shelves have been restocked with new sought-after items, and plans are in place to cater ever more closely to the needs of the neighbourhood.

The store is above the bakery where Mai is working in the kitchen corner at the back, preparing soups, sandwiches and the mini meat pies that I have been enjoying with soups all winter long. She is one of a few others who take turns to cook in this space during the week.

It was a crisp morning when I descended into the hull of MargoFresh where pastry chef Ornella Imbrogno-Mahfouz (Nella) bakes the lip-smacking pastries that are sold in the store above the bakery. A tray of croissants is cooling on a rack, and the oven is filled with biscotti almost ready for slicing and “toasting.” Needless to say, the warm fragrance is mouth-watering, well worth the cold stroll to the store.

Biscotti are Nella’s specialty. Her earlier business, Tutti Biscotti, supplied the twice-baked Italian cookies displayed in tall glass jars in cafés all over Ottawa. During that time, she developed a plethora of recipes; now she uses them for MargoFresh.

Tutti Biscotti was Nella’s venture before she packed up her business to become bakery manager at Farm Boy and later product developer for Natural Food Pantry. Her connection to the Lebanese community through her Lebanese husband is what brought her to MargoFresh.

Daughter of Italian immigrants, she first dipped her fingers into flour in her aunt’s bakery in Cosenza, Italy as a child. After graduating from Glebe Collegiate, she completed the pastry program at Algonquin College and her career took off from there.

Happy birthday MargoFresh! And many more.


Nella’s filling for Cannoli alla Siciliana

Cannoli, the crispy pastry pods filled with a fragrant smooth ricotta-based cream, are the symbol of Sicilian pastry. Empty cannoli shells for sale at MargoFresh reach the store shelves from the bakery downstairs, fresh, crunchy and ready to be filled. Make your own confections with Nella’s basic cream recipe and your favourite additional ingredients.


Makes 12 large or 24 small cannoli


500 g ricotta cheese, full fat

1 cup icing sugar

1 tsp vanilla


  • Spoon the ricotta onto a cheesecloth-lined strainer. Place the strainer over a bowl and set a weight over it (e.g., a plate or bowl). Leave overnight in the fridge. Discard the liquid.
  • In a mixer, blend the drained ricotta, icing sugar and vanilla for 5 minutes at full speed.
  • To this basic velvety cream filling, add your ingredient of choice to make an assortment of cannoli: chocolate chips, ground pistachios, candied orange or lemon rind. Replace vanilla with lemon juice and add lemon zest for a citrusy confection. Add pistachio paste with ground pistachios for a nutty taste or cocoa powder with chocolate chips for a rich cocoa flavour.

Now you are ready to stuff the pods and enjoy the pastry.


Marisa Romano is a foodie and a scientist with a sense of adventure, who appreciates interesting people and foods.


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