One Girl bakes amazing goods
Najeonna Iman is building her reputation as a baker through her One Girl Desserts and Pastries that’s filling orders and bellies. It was family that led this 21-year-old Western Branch resident to find her passion for her bakery business.
Iman didn’t heat up her baking habits until about age 14, back when her family lived in Churchland. Her mother, Kenya Olsen, would always make rich, chocolatey Christmas brownies. They became a family favorite during the holidays.
But it was around this time that her mother was diagnosed with lupus, and as she got sicker, Iman wanted to do her part. She wanted to make the Christmas brownies for the family that year.
“I just begged her if I could make them, because I would watch her make them,” Iman said. “I wasn’t in love with baking. I dabbled a little bit. (But) I made them and they came out really good.”
She brought some of these brownies to class at Churchland Middle School. They were a hit with her classmates, who insisted on paying her for the treats. A friend urged Iman to start selling her baked goods.
“At the time with everything going on, I kind of wanted to help out with the family a little bit,” Iman said.
Her bakery business began as Naje’s Dollar Treats until she changed the name to One Girl Desserts and Pastries at age 18. Her business has been licensed, insured and approved by the Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services under the USDA.
Iman’s mission is to serve the community and supply exceptional, made-from-scratch baked goods, and her menu doesn’t disappoint.
She offers cookies, coffee cake and a variety of different pie and cheesecake flavors, as well as large banana pudding bowls and tarts and recently-added fruit bars with delectable crust and hefty flavors.
Some of these are family recipes with tasty tweaks, like the chocolate chewy bars, and the banana pudding that traces back to her great-grandmother.
“The banana pudding was something that my great-grandmother passed down to my mom. I made it my own, but the way she made it and the whipping cream recipe — that’s hers and she passed it down to me,” Iman said.
Some weekends she brings her treats to malls in Hampton Roads with help from her stepdad, Ronald Olsen. She’s made appearances at Suffolk Public Library events this year, too.
This will also be her fourth year at the Suffolk Farmers’ Market downtown, which begins in May.
“I’ve met a lot of cool clients and people from the Farmers’ Market,” Iman said, including a wedding that will feature her chocolate chewy bars. “I really like it. I’ll get a lot of orders and new clientele.”
Baking wasn’t her initial plan back in back in high school when she ran track. She attended Western Branch High School after her mother moved the family to the area. She trained in track as a student until an injury led her away from the sport and towards her business full-time.
Iman also makes sure to fit her family into her tight schedule. She helps her mother on her good and bad days with her 12-year-old brother, Keyon, and her older brother, Hanif Browne, 26, who has autism.
“I try to make things a little bit easier for the family, and we’re all really close,” she said.
That’s along with her weekly marathons of baking.
Iman spends Mondays and Tuesdays buying all the ingredients she needs — plus containers, lids, cups, spoons and napkins — and readying herself for bake-a-thons. There are also two big coolers for her cold confections.
Then she bakes all day from Wednesday to Friday to deliver orders and prepare for weekend customers. But she’s always ready to help family at a moment’s notice.
“You just make time for things. Especially if there’s like an emergency or something happens and I need to rush over and just be there and spend time, then pick back up baking throughout the night,” she said.
Business is going well for Iman, and she has plans for growth. She’s saving for a food truck but doesn’t want to take out a loan and pay interest, so she’s being patient and saving money.
Once she has the food truck, she wants to add new menu items like waffles, chicken noodle soup, chicken-and-rice soup, beef stew, chicken pot pie, spaghetti and quesadillas. She said she wants to include more breakfast and lunch options.
Further along, she’s thinking of opening storefront bakery spaces in the community and also giving back to her community through her own philanthropic organization to support causes like autism awareness.
“I really like helping people, and I just hope that one day I’ll build up the business so I can start my own organization. That’s something I always thought I’d like to do,” she said.
It can be hard for Iman to juggle all of these responsibilities every day, but she still has her enthusiasm for these delicious delights.
“I just really love it, and I love what I do. It’s just a really good feeling to wake up every day and just do what you love,” she said. “You hear people say, ‘If you’re doing what you love, you won’t work a day in your life.’ (That’s) really what it feels like. Helping out with my family and then baking, I really like it.”