I fell in love with baking at an early age. My brother and I both learned by helping our grandmother and aunties make fresh pita bread – a staple of every well-rounded Israeli diet – in our home. While splitting my childhood between Canada and Israel, my interest in baking my own traditional bread grew, and I transitioned from helping my grandmother in the kitchen to baking for myself my family and friends. I loved how the smell of fresh bread brought people together and made them happy.
While pursuing my business degree at Ryerson University, I was asked to create an original business model to present to my peers. Noticing that there weren't many options for Toronto residents to find a healthy sandwich that didn't compromise taste, I came up with the idea for a sandwich shop that would serve sandwiches with high-quality ingredients on freshly-baked pita bread. The idea was a hit, and I approached my father about opening our own restaurant.
With some experience in the restaurant business (I began my career as a dishwasher at age 16), we opened Pita Break in downtown Toronto in 1996. Drawing upon the many cultural influences in my life, we decided to create bread using traditional Israeli methods with a modernized approach. We focused on making fresh, healthy sandwiches with all-natural breads baked onsite every morning. Customers really responded to our diverse selection of sandwiches and flatbreads. We were one of the first sandwich shops in the area to focus on healthy options, and the demand was reflected in the line, which often circled the block. We initially thought we found our calling in the sandwich business, but we soon learned our 17 varieties of fresh breads, inspired by the traditional breads I knew as a child, were the real attraction.
We never anticipated shifting our business model, but because of the high demand for our baked goods, we began selling our products to local specialty and health food stores. This new part of our business grew so quickly that in 2000, my family sold Pita Break to fully focus on baking products for grocery stores. Suddenly, what began as a passion from my youth became the focus of my career.
A family affair
We opened a full-scale wholesale bakery to focus operations on our true passion, bread. Because our baking tradition was passed down through several generations of our family, it felt natural to give the company our name, and Ozery Bakery was born. The family connection grew stronger in 2002, when my brother Guy joined the business. With Guy overseeing operations and production, I was free to focus on diversifying our line of baked goods. We were able to zero in on the products that most appealed to our consumer: healthy, all-natural flatbreads in a variety of flavors, shapes and sizes. With that in mind, we created one of our most innovative products, the Ozery Morning Round, which has been one of the best-selling items we offer.
With the whole family on board, we were able to grow and expand quickly, building our market share in Canada to compete with the big-brand bread manufacturers and eventually make the strategic decision to expand into the United States. We knew that health-minded American consumers would love our breads just as much as our Canadian fans had, but this expansion initially proved to be challenging. It was important for us to align our already-established Canadian brand with our developing American brand to maintain a consistent voice.
To disrupt an already-saturated industry, we focused our efforts on what we do best – creating new and innovative products and connecting with consumers through a combination of events, sampling programs and social media. Instead of getting bogged down in the complexities of international expansion, we utilized this period of growth to strengthen the Ozery brand. I truly believe that moving into the U.S. market and shifting to an international brand was one of the best strategic business moves we've made as a company.
Despite the initial hurdles, we found our niche rather quickly. Today, we employ more than 250 bakers at our 80,000-square-foot facility in Toronto and distribute product to more than 3,000 grocery stores throughout Canada and the U.S. It's been an incredibly rewarding experience to take the passion for baking that I developed as a child, and apply it to what has grown from a small family business into an international company, which I still have the opportunity to run alongside my brother.
About the author: As the founder of Ozery Bakery, Alon Ozery is the creative force behind the brand's broad variety of innovative breads and baked goods. He works closely with the product development, marketing and branding teams to research and refine Ozery's superior quality products made from real, premium ingredients. In his spare time, Alon works with community partners including Building Roots and Youth Employment Services (YES), a Toronto-based organization dedicated to providing mentoring and business skills development to disadvantaged youth. He dedicates his time to training and mentoring budding young entrepreneurs. Alon graduated from Ryerson University with a Bachelor of Arts in Business and Hospitality.
Edited for brevity and clarity by Nicole Fallon.