African-American Jewish mom opens Bella Nava kosher bakery

Brian and Brandie Itman and their two daughters

Brian and Brandie Itman and their two daughters Photo courtesy of Bella Nava

“I had no idea that I was going to end up Jewish,” says Brandie Itman, a Mississippi-born black woman who recently started up a certified Kosher bakery from her synagogue in St. Louis Park.

Her family moved to Woodbury when she was 11, and even at that age, she felt like she was leaving some part of her identity behind. As she grew older, Itman says, she always felt drawn to Jewish culture. “The community felt really good,” and she was always accepted, "regardless of my skin color." 

So she says that when she met her would-be husband Brian, who is Jewish, it was “wild.” The couple went on to marry and have two children, and as a stay-at-home mom, Itman turned to baking to keep from going stir-crazy.

“Baking is really technical, and I had to keep my sanity, somehow. There’s only so much baby talk you can do.”

Her kosher cheesecakes for friends and family instantly garnered pleas for more, and then encouragement to go into business. She recently did, with a certified kosher kitchen specializing in custom cakes and cookies.

An interesting side effect, she says, is people’s surprise when they find out she’s African American.

“People don’t believe [that I’m Jewish] because they don’t believe there are black Jews,” she says. And while she’s lighthearted about it, she says she tries to be “up front” about who she is, including photos of herself in marketing materials.

Itman says she converted to Judaism a year ago after deep reflection on how comfortable she was in the Jewish community and considering her children, who are being raised in the faith. “I thought I’d get on board with what my whole family is doing.”

In the spirit of that faith and spreading the word about Bella Nava (the portmanteau of her two daughters names), she’s currently offering $18 off to all new customers. Itman tells me the number 18 has spiritual significance in the Jewish faith, and is associated with the word “chai,” which means “life” or “cheer,” or spreading good omens. She also hopes to do some of that with her delicious creations.

She offers custom Kosher cakes, cookies, cupcakes, cake pops, and more for birthday parties, holiday parties, Bar/Bat Mitzvahs, bris and baby naming, weddings, and more. Check her work out on Instagram, or place an order on her website.