The featured item at Z&Z Manoushe Bakery, which brothers Danny, Johnny and Ronnie Dubbaneh opened in Rockville’s Woodley Gardens shopping center in October, is manoushe—round, puffy, 10-inch Levantine flatbreads made on a dome-shaped cast-iron griddle (called a saj) and turned into pizza-like pies with various toppings. The bakery, barely 600 square feet, is in the exact location where, from 1982 to 2006, the brothers’ grandfather, Fayez Khawaja, and uncle, David Khawaja, owned and operated a fried chicken restaurant called Chicken Tonight.
The most popular of the eight offerings at Z&Z is the Classic ($8), topped with Tunisian olive oil and za’atar, which is both an herb (wild thyme) and a seasoning blend made with it. Z&Z’s blend, which they sell, includes sumac, sea salt and toasted sesame seeds. Among the other flatbreads ($10-$14) are Lahm Bi Ajeem (ground beef, tomatoes, sumac onions, lemon); Hot Halaby Honey (Armenian beef sausage, cheese, honey and Aleppo pepper); and Toum Raider (a za’atar manoushe topped with tomatoes, cucumbers, mint and toum, a creamy garlic sauce). Z&Z, which also sells some grocery items, such as Middle Eastern spices and olive oil, is takeout only, but there is some patio seating.
The Dubbanehs’ parents immigrated separately to Montgomery County, their mother, Muna, in 1980 from Jordan, and their father, Issa, in 1977 from Palestine through Jordan. The two met through mutual family connections, married in 1985 and had five kids who all went to Rockville High School and the University of Maryland. The children worked in various fields (some in other parts of the country) but wanted to do something as a family that connected with their culture and centered on food. Z&Z was born, with the Dubbanehs selling manoushe at D.C.’s Foggy Bottom FreshFarm farmers market in 2016, then expanding to others. For three years, Danny commuted from New York City to work the stand on weekends. In 2019, he and Johnny quit their jobs to work at Z&Z full time. They bottled their za’atar spice mix, which Dawson’s and Yekta markets in Rockville started carrying, and then got it into Whole Foods Market in 2019. They acquired a warehouse and a commercial kitchen for food production.
The pandemic hurt Z&Z in the beginning; 75% of sales had been at farmers markets, which all closed down. As markets started reopening and sales improving (including selling frozen manoushes to retailers), the business outgrew its warehouse space and the brothers started looking for a brick-and-mortar store to add to farmers market sales, focusing on manoushe. “No one in the area does it,” Danny says. “We want to be the manoushe specialist.”
Johnny reached out to the owner of Slice of Rockville, the pizza shop where Chicken Tonight used to be, and asked if she wanted to sell. The brothers (Ronnie lives in New Jersey but helps with strategy) made a deal, created a ruse to get their grandmother and uncle to the space where they had spent so much of their lives and then surprised them by opening the door with the key. Much weeping ensued. (Fayez Khawaja passed away in 2008.)
“It’s a very supportive community there,” Danny says. “Between that and the memories, it made a lot of sense for that to be our home.”
Z&Z Manoushe Bakery, 1111 Nelson St. (Woodley Gardens shopping center), Rockville, 301-296-4178, zandzdc.com