Located off Abernathy Road in Sandy Springs, Zambawango Desserts and Coffee is an easy place to miss if you’re not looking for it. Atlanta Coffee Shops discovered this location via a loyal follower of the site/Instagram and visited this shop earlier this fall.
The dessert and coffee shop uses almond and coconut flours (i.e., non-wheat flours), 99% pure chocolate, and Swerve (a non-GMO, all natural plant based sweetener), among other natural ingredients.
Zambawango is partnered with Batdorf & Bronson for the coffee, and there is an extensive selection of coffee options to pair with the desserts.
This post is organized into three parts, based on the ACS visit:
The Q&A includes the details behind how the name Zambawango was chosen, George’s career trajectory, and the future plans of expansion of this specialty desserts and coffee shop.
Exterior and Interior Views
Zambawango is one of several retail locations adjacent to a condominium complex. There is free parking for shoppers in the parking deck off Abernathy Road. The address of Zambawango is 901 Abernathy Road CU 400, Sandy Springs, GA 30328.
Once you park (free parking!) and walk a short distance, you will be at the front of Zambawango. The front of Zambawango features a cozy outdoor patio, as seen below.
The Menu at Zambawango
The menu at Zambawango focuses on low carb and gluten-free items. If you are following a Keto diet1, then the menu at Zambawango will be appealing. The majority of the desserts at Zambawango contain less than 4 grams of net carbs and seamlessly embrace healthy, all natural, non GMO alternatives to wheat flour and refined sugar.
Zambawango primarily uses Swerve2, a natural sweetener made from ingredients found in certain fruits and starchy root vegetables, as a substitute for sugar. Swerve is zero-calorie, non-glycemic, and is safe for those living with diabetes, since it has no effect on blood glucose or insulin levels. (As of late 2019, Zambawango is also using another low-calorie sweetener, allulose).
The executive pastry chef at Zambawango (the one who makes the magic happen) is Kathleen McDaniel, who brings almost twenty years of experience as a pastry chef. From Zambawango:
Atlanta native Kathleen McDaniel has been a pastry chef for over 18 years and brings an extensive wealth of culinary knowledge to Zambawango. In 1996, she traveled to Providence, Rhode Island to attend Johnson & Wales University to study culinary arts and pastry and has since been an avid lover of pastries. In 2001, she made her way back to Atlanta to study under Roy Yamaguchi, allowing her to fuel her imagination and expand her creativity in the pastry world. She has received national recognition for her work, including The New York Times naming her “a rising star, her French desserts so venerable they belong in the Louvre”. Kathleen has had the honor of baking for such organizations as Share Our Strength, Atlanta Les Dames Chapter (of which she is a member) and The James Beard House.
You can read more about Kathleen McDaniel in this feature in Simply Buckhead magazine.
Zambawango features a hand-written menu board as seen below:
A selected menu of low carb & gluten-free items as well as the coffee/drinks are presented below. The coffee roasting partner at Zambawango is Batdorf & Bronson (Olympia, WA and Atlanta, GA).
The hand-written coffee/drinks menu at Zambawango:
During this visit to the shop, ACS tried out three items: the lemon blueberry cheesecake, the cheesecake brownie, and a coffee cake. The desserts paired well with a cappuccino.
As for the desserts: they all tasted incredible and it was impossible to tell you’re eating low-carb desserts. I was thinking of a tagline for Zambawango, and perhaps this works: “At Zambawango, you can have your cake and eat it too!”
Q&A with the Owner of Zambawango
Atlanta Coffee Shops conducted a Q&A with the owner of Zambawango, George Coundouriotis for this feature post.
Q: How did the idea for a low carb bakery and specialty coffee shop come about? What is Zambawango all about?
A: I am a life-long foodie with a very serious sweet tooth, and I have struggled with weight issues throughout my life. I tried to eat low carb but invariably would eat a dessert and would continue gaining weight. Finally, I realized there was a big need for a bakery which offered delicious low carb desserts and amazing low carb coffee drinks! Key criteria was NOT to compromise on quality, appearance, taste...while our ingredients remained natural and healthy! Hiring an executive pastry chef who believed in the concept and also was dedicated to execute at the level that can best be described as the level of "excellence" was essential. Kathleen McDaniel came along at just the right time and has also built a very strong and deep team in the kitchen!
The idea may have come about from a personal need. However, the real drive to make it a success came from the company mission: to improve people's lives by offering desserts and coffees to people who could not otherwise indulge. Our offerings contain 4 grams of net carbs or less per generous serving, are all natural, gluten free and are suitable for any version of the healthy low carb lifestyle.
Q: Can you tell ACS more about your personal weight loss journey that you alluded to in an earlier Q&A? Was the majority of the effort achieved through low carb food, or did you also take up an exercise regimen?
A: I started my low carb journey in January 2017 and added exercise after I initially lost 40 lbs. I lost 40 lbs in about 6 months. I reached my target weight in January 2018, a total of 60 lbs lost, and have stayed there since then.
Q: Do you have background in the restaurant business? How were you able to go from concept to execution so quickly?
A: My background is in business—category management, to be exact. I approached the bakery as another category. That positive thinking and trust in my abilities, enabled me to identify and lead the various team members to go from concept to reality in only 7 months... In mid-March 2018 we bought the location, did the engineering drawings, got the necessary permits, found and hired an amazing General Contractor, hired a consultant to help us specify the equipment, sourced the equipment, evaluated and hired the full staff and many other things. We opened on October 10, 2018. It's been a team effort and the key ingredient is integrity and expecting very high standards from everyone on the team. From the business side of things, we are implementing best practices from the different companies I've been fortunate to work at or observed and applying these practices to not only be better, but to be the best in the space. We plan to make a positive difference nationwide, and grow strategically and carefully.
Q: With respect to the name—what does Zambawango mean?
A: We want Zambawango to mean "Low Carb Bakery and Specialty Coffee Shop"... At least that is what it means to everyone who has experienced us... Before it came to mean that, one of my business partners came up with the name out of necessity... practically all the names we came up with on our own were already registered somewhere. And as we intend to grow the business nationally, and perhaps even internationally one day, we wanted a name that we could register and protect. Jim, my business partner, suddenly and out of desperation said "Zambawango"... I said "what??" He then explained that growing up in Maine, while still only 7 years old, his Uncle Hollis from Hawaii, visited the family and lived with them for three years. He would regale the kids with stories of this amazing place in the South Pacific called Zambawango, where everyone lived in peace, was happy and strived for excellence. When Jim or his sister did something well, Uncle Hollis would slam his hand down and say "That's how they do it in Zambawango!" Well, that story convinced me it was a great name, because that is the culture we strive to build at the bakery and company wide! And yes, we were able to register it!
Q: Can you talk more about how Zambawango caters to those afflicted with diabetes?
A: Our desserts and coffees are very low carb, contain no grain flour or added sugars, and have a very low to no glycemic impact. [Editor’s note: see this video about the sugar substitute Swerve that Zambawango uses]
A: Can you comment more about your non-GMO plant and root based sweetener alternatives to sugar (Swerve, or if there any others)?
A: We primarily use Swerve which is made from ingredients found in select fruits and root vegetables, contains no artificial ingredients, preservatives or flavors. It's zero-calorie, non glycemic and safe for those living with diabetes, since it has no effect on blood glucose or insulin levels. We are also starting to use Allulose, another all natural, no-glycemic impact sweetener. Both of these sweeteners are significantly lower in calories: Swerve is only 5% of the calories of sugar and Allulose is only 10% of the calories of sugar.
Q: How/why did you decide to partner with Batdorf & Bronson for your coffee?
A: We benchmarked several local roasters, and Batdorf came out ahead in the large variety of specialty coffees they offer, their excellent customer service and willingness to help us get our coffee program off the ground and make it outstanding.
Q: What are your favorite items on the menu from the desserts and coffee options?
A: Some of the new seasonal items are my current favorites: caramel pecan cheesecake, pumpkin cheesecake, and our double chocolate hazelnut cookie. I do love everything in our cases, as one of the roles I share with our Executive Pastry chef is "Chief Tasting Officer". On the drink side, I really enjoy coffee and my current favorites are our freshly brewed coffee, and in the afternoon decaf iced cappuccino usually hits the spot!
Q: What's your progress so far on building out a larger kitchen and expanding in the Atlanta metro area?
A: We should be ready to slowly introduce the new kitchen capacity in late Fall and more fully by January 2020.
Q: Is part of your mission to grow nationally... can you discuss the different channels for growth that you are pursuing?
A: Yes, we are now deeply involved in building a new kitchen, and with that additional capacity we will begin a shipping program as well as pursue local corporations/businesses who want to move away from refined sugar and grain flours.... and are looking for delicious treats like ours without the carbs... without the guilt!
Q: What's your clientele like at the shop? Is it a lot of regulars in the Sandy Springs area?
A: We do have a lot of regulars from Sandy Springs but also from further out... Downtown, midtown, Alpharetta and Roswell.
Q: For anyone visiting the shop for the first time, what are your personal recommendations for the must-try items?
A: Crème Brûlée, the caramel pecan cheesecake, and our cupcakes! At the end of the day though it's really what the consumer really prefers. We stand behind everything in our cases.
Q: Is there anything else about Zambawango that you haven't shared before or that has been reported about the shop that you'd like a wider audience to know?
A: With a 48 hour notice, we can make your next low carb birthday, anniversary or any other special occasion cakes. Even wedding cakes, and those, depending on the complexity, we may need a few more days of advance notice. Recently we have been getting a lot of wedding cake orders!
If you are looking for a gluten-free, low-carb dessert shop in the Atlanta area, look no further than Zambawango in Sandy Springs. The dessert shop has built a mini cult following between local regulars and beyond with its delectable desserts and traditional menu items. And if you’re on a keto diet (or lifestyle) and you crave something sweet, then Zambawango should be on your to-visit destination in Atlanta.
Editor’s Note: Zambawango celebrated its 1-year anniversary on October 10, 2019. Congratulations to the entire team! Thank you to George and staff for the ACS invite and for providing the responses to the Q&A.
Notes and References
1 Admittedly, this is a new area of exploration for Atlanta Coffee Shops. In a prior Sunday Survey conducted on Instagram, there was a sizable response from the audience in terms of following certain dies/lifestyles choices (including gluten-free, dairy-free, vegan, keto, etc.). With this in mind, ACS will spotlight those coffee shops that especially cater to people with these diets/lifestyle choices. Zambawango is near the top of the list so far. If you have any suggestions in terms of additional research/content, feel free to get in touch.
2 The active ingredient in Swerve is erythritol. It is made by fermenting glucose with a natural microorganism Moniliella pollinis, which breaks down the glucose and yields eruthritol. Erythritol also naturally occurs in many fruits and vegetables like melons, grapes, and asparagus, as well as in fermented foods. An addition of oligosacchardies and natural flavor from citrus are added to make the final product (Swerve).