Podcast Episode #31 from https://nuvisionexcel.com/podcasts/episode-31/
Introduction: Hi and welcome to Excel Radio. This is your host and high performance expert, Dr. Nick Zyrowski. In this episode I will be speaking with Alon Ozery. He is the owner of Ozery Bakery and we’re going to dig into some topics such as entrepreneurship, eating good quality goods, and just talk about how he started his business from nothing, how he actually got into the health food business and how he’s really just skyrocketed his success by doing what he feels is right and following his passion. Welcome to the show and I hope you enjoy.
Dr. Z: Hey thank you for being with us on the show, Alon.
Alon: Hi Dr. Nick. How are you? Thank you.
Dr. Z: Doing well, doing well. Thank you. So the first question I want to ask you is, really it sounds like you have an incredible entrepreneur story. When you started your business, you started out with actually negative in the bank. Can you share your story and your success with our listeners?
Alon: I would love to, yes. Well I wrote my business plan when I went to Ryerson University in Toronto. And being of a background of half Israeli and half English living in Canada, I had an idea of making pita breads and westernizing them and making sandwiches out of them and selling healthy fresh sandwiches to people. So originally I thought that the business would be a sandwich shop and with time that became a commercial bakery. So I was at Ryerson and we had a business writing course which was very… one of the easiest and one of the toughest classes I had where we had to write a business plan for an idea we had. And there were no classes; you came to the first class and you went to the last class and if you needed help you’d meet the professor in his office. And I put in everything I had into that and this was probably the only A I got in university. I put down a business plan for a sandwich shop, a healthy one. And I won three hundred bucks for getting number one in that class with my business plan. Um mind you, so the negative was from student loans which amounted to $25,000 at the time, which was quite a bit of money for me.
Dr. Z: Okay, gotcha.
Alon: And then I asked my father. I wanted to open a business and he was in insurance and, again, not a lot of means. All my parents had was $50,000 in the bank and our father was 61 years old and he was willing to go ahead with me and put his $50,000 in and with the weight of the world on me (because that was a big chunk of his retirement), we went ahead and did it. Got a loan for $100,000 dollars and started a sandwich shop, not really having done it in the past.
Dr. Z: Okay… and so you started a sandwich shop and you had $50,000 dollars of your father’s money and a $100,000 loan. And so you had a small sandwich shop but now you have large commercial bakery, right?
Alon: Today about 85,000 square feet of a bakery, over 200 people working with us, yes.
Dr. Z: Okay let me ask you then: you started with this small sandwich shop, how did it turn in to this large of a company, this huge bakery?
Alon: So originally we started making the pitas manually and everything we did was based on basically the family traditions of making pita breads, so it was hand made. And about two years after we opened, it was “what’s next” because just continuing doing the same was boring (sometimes to our benefit, sometimes to our detriment). We said “what’s next” and one of the options was open other stores. Another was to sell our pitas to people or open a catering company. And thankfully we started selling our baked goods to stores in the natural area in Toronto, so all the health foods shops in Toronto. And to our surprise they were buying them like crazy. Our pitas were double the price compared to everybody else’s. They were very different to them. But I never thought they’d sell for those prices. Prices at the time were about 99 cents to $1.19 for a pack of pitas and ours were selling for $2.29 and lo and behold, they did well. Part of our philosophy in developing products is not making a “me too” ‘cause that’s kind of boring. It’s imagining and coming up with new products that are interesting and tasty and good for you. So I’m very sensitive to many foods and I can’t eat many chemicals. Chemicals affect me. They make me itch and I always had asthma and eczema and a whole lot of things. Eating healthy and basic helped me a lot. I didn’t have to put these creams on or take these pills. That was the reason we went with natural products or natural ingredients. So the process was hand-made and the ingredients were clean and in 1996 I guess there was an emerging demand for that so we were at the beginning of that wave. Today, the large companies are all going that way but they are looking at it in a financial matter, not philosophical necessarily.
Dr. Z: Okay, so how many years, how long did that take you, to go from the sandwich shop to where you are today?
Alon: I’ve been in business for 2 years but I’d say between a sandwich shop and a fairly healthy bakery I’d say about 10, 12 years. And it was a huge learning curve because I’ve never been in bakery, baking goods, and commercial baked goods. It’s a new business, or was a new business. Opening a store was a new business also. So it was like opening two or three new businesses during these years.
Dr. Z: Okay, I gotcha. So, now, you said that you had already kind of moved to health foods because you very sensitive to things; you had experienced different food sensitivities. So when you first started doing this, this was actually when it really wasn’t mainstream. I mean, it was kind of looked at as totally unnecessary so how were you able to pull that off and make that happen at a time when there wasn’t a huge demand for it?
Alon: I think that at the end of the day, if your core values are real and you make something that people would actually like and is tasty, your chances at succeeding are higher. Some developers just read labels and will try to meet certain criteria on the food labels on the back of the package and they forget the heart. The heart is an incredibly important part of development. Sometimes you can put your finger on it and say this is sweet, this is sour, it’s a combination of the two, etc. but I believe there’s more than that when you develop foods. And you need someone behind it that gives it its love, and attention and care and that is noticed in the food so, I think we did that and we were lucky of course. Any product we develop is always, again, we look at more than one category and marry them together and try and mold something new that didn’t exist and that seems to have worked for us. I think 70% has worked for us and 30% has been failure. But also the process of failure is very healthy, I think for the process. You cannot have success all the time and stay humble.
Dr. Z: Now, when you’re making these foods, is it more of a challenge to get good quality ingredients versus just any ingredients?
Alon: It is a challenge. Obviously the easiest one is the shelf life. In bread, to get a shelf life of 14 days (which supermarkets love) you need to throw in things like calcium propionate. You have different stabilizers, triglycerides, softeners, all types of stuff like that and we just don’t use that. You need to use to basic ingredients and the balance between them will determine the shelf life or will help you extend it to a reasonable way where it’s not compromised. A product in baked goods, for instance, when you want softness, the whole process needs to be much slower versus a mechanical quick line where you throw chemicals in order to create that softness. So you need time, you need clean ingredients, and your shelf life will be shorter so you’ll visit the store way more times than you do with a product that has chemicals in them
Dr. Z: So when you’re doing this, is it much more costly to create these better quality products just because of the time that actually goes in to them? I mean, we know the ingredients are more expensive but just because it requires more time and process?
Alon: Definitely. Our line for instance, we have several of them. In a regular pita, our flatbread company, I think their line, looking exactly the same, would be four times the speed. So their output would be four times that of ours. So its huge; it’s massive. So we could have the same number of people working and make four times the product. And then throw in some chemicals, make it softer, but it’s not the same. Our machines don’t do that. We use sourdough many times; we use organic when we can. I’d love to use more organic ingredients but you know, there’s still the element of cost and at the end of the day, people need to buy it. Especially with bread which has faster, I mean shorter, shelf life it’s sometimes a challenge. So that is one thing. The other is when we deliver to stores. So, a regular conventional bakery will deliver certain breads once or twice a week because they have a long shelf life. We need to be there a minimum of three to four times a week because of the short shelf life. So that’s another element of it.
Dr. Z: That’s very interesting. And so, one of the things we haven’t talked about… I mean, I know we talked about pitas but I know you’re way beyond pitas. What are you making in your bakery?
Alon: Yes, definitely. So we started with pitas and that was our base but today we make one bun. So the pre-slice thin buns that exist out there and without mentioning any names, we developed ours about eight years ago. They were seen by our competitors, or at the time much bigger companies, and took over North America I’d say and it did very well. So that’s our one bun. So pre-sliced thin buns. We make Morning Rounds. Which are fantastic little buns. Flat buns that are infused with grains and dried fruit for instance. They’re a fantastic solution for the morning. No chemicals, nothing else nothing bad in them. We make Lavash crackers. We make a bunch of component ingredients natural ingredients that go in several food trays around the country. So stuff like that right now.
Dr. Z: It is actually funny, I have to share with you that the other day I was, you know, in the fridge and I picked up those morning buns, I think you guys call them morning rounds, is that correct?
Alon: That’s it, yea, definitely.
Dr. Z: Okay, I picked up the bag and I saw his last name on it and I’m like, “You’ve got to me kidding me. Is that the guy that I’m gonna be talking with on the podcast in a couple days?” And then I just confirmed with him that it was his product and it was in our fridge. And you were saying that you actually sell those at you know, Costco’s and many places in America?
Alon: Yea, Whole Foods carries our products across the country. A lot of the natural markets carry our products. So yea we have good coverage in natural market, it’s harder to get into conventional markets, which are your regular super markets, because our products need care and you need to maintain it and keep an eye it and it’s harder for conventional stores. So we’ll see what happens there. But we’re very happy that were developing a brand within the natural market. Definitely.
Dr. Z: Now, the conventional stores, are they interested in a product like that or are they still just interested in, you know, hostess cupcakes and things like that?
Alon: It’s interesting, that’s a great question. I would imagine, I don’t understand many times conventional stores because if you go to a leader within the natural market they would say to you: “I love this’” or “I like this”, hopefully they say that. And then, “Does anybody else carry it?” And well, it’s either “yes or no”. If you say no they get more excited because they’re going to be first to market and they’re going to make an impression on their customers and be leaders within what they do, which is amazing. Within conventional stores the question would be “Does anybody else carry it?” but they’re going in another direction. They want to know, if nobody else carries it, they don’t really want it. They don’t get excited. If they’re going to put a product on their shelf, they want to know it’s going to succeed. And they want, I guess, the success rate from other stores even their competition. So it’s a different kind of, I guess, business model. So in that way it’s different, yea.
Dr. Z: Absolutely. So along with your bakery, obviously it’s an awesome entrepreneurial success story, you know. What kind of suggestions would you give to the entrepreneurs out there? Those who are starting their own business, you know. You’re somewhat of a veteran at this point, so what advice would you give?
Alon: I would say, we should be aware of our impact on people and that our actions, words, and behavior will determine a lot in what transpires, what happens to us. Being positive and working hard and also knowing to take a break when needed, that’s very important, will determine a lot. And if you keep it consistent and keep being innovative I think success will come. Its funny how success comes to those lucky people but it keeps coming to people who follow those rules.
Dr. Z: Well in one of the things you said, too, is that failure, you said it’s good to fail sometimes because it keeps you humble. And so, in your journey with your bakery which went from nothing to huge, I mean, there’s probably been an immense amount of failure. Am I right?
Alon: At first, no. At first we were lucky and the products we developed were very unique and we had organic growth. We didn’t have to push much. I’d say that was for about eight to ten years. My natural state of mind is when I’m doing well I’m extremely worried. This is not logical but I’m very worried. When things are going baldy and bets are all over, I’m kind of in my element because that’s when I dig deep and make decisions that need to be made and push forward and are bolder in my actions. So… yea. I forgot the question. Sorry.
Dr. Z: Well you know I was asking you know, failure, so you’ve come across failures.
Alon: Oh yea so our latest failure and it comes into the natural element. We made these fantastic flat ciabattas. Really wonderful bread made with a lot of sourdough and great basic natural flavors and they didn’t succeed because their water content is very high. And for those of the people who know, products with high water content will mold quickly. So the shelf life on that was four days which is really hard to manage. And we launched it and people who tasted it loved it but at the store level it didn’t work out and now we are delisting it. But I’m very happy we did it because I am proud of that product. But now it’s “Okay, what did we learn from that, how can we rectify it?” and so were looking at different things from that lesson. And this just happened in the past six months.
Dr. Z: Okay so yea you ask questions, you learn from it, you move on, then.
Alon: Definitely. That’s a must.
Dr. Z: Okay. And so when it comes to your health, you said, you were very sensitive to many things. That’s why you really went down this direction of having a more natural style of bakery where you use good quality ingredients without the chemicals. You also mentioned that when it comes to health you’re very simplistic with maintaining your health. You know, what kind of advice or things that you do to maintain your health?
Alon: We could break it down. So if you’re looking at food what works for me… so first of all, we’re all different. We’re same but different. So what works for one doesn’t necessarily work for the other. So one person is sensitive to the other isn’t necessarily. But the process, the analysis, is similar. I had eczema my whole life and the amounts of cortisone cream that I applied on my hands and body will keep my body from decomposing for a few years. And now I’d say that for six or seven years I barely use any cortisone cream because I found out that I’m allergic to fish, or to certain fish. And the moment I eliminated that from my diet… everybody says that fish are good for you, right? Well they’re not good for me. I got to the point where I was analyzing myself after I eat food and I realized that when I eat something that is not good for me, it will show up on my skin the next day. Not immediately, but the next day. So the momentary thing that happens is a few minutes after I get a light itch at the top of my scalp. So today if I eat something that I’m unfamiliar with or got to a restaurant and will taste it and will feel that itch it sheds a light to look at the ingredients and look at the food and keep my eyes open to the see what the reaction may be the next day. That’s one thing. A second thing is, I’m very lazy. I’m very entrepreneurial but very lazy, also. So I like to set things up. I work very hard when I have to but I don’t want to work very hard all the time. It’s not me. It’s not healthy for me. So to work very hard, set up systems that will replace me and be even better than me and then take a step back and be able to take those breaks. And then further and further. At the time for us it was mixing the dough, then to driving the trucks, then I moved up to servicing the stores in terms of customer service. As I hired people to replace me and created systems, the better I was, the more profitable the company was. I’d say the less I worked, the more profitable the company became.
Dr. Z: Okay but it sounds like though the less you worked, you had already went and created systems throughout every process of your company. It sounds like you were hands on in every area for a little bit.
Alon: Definitely, yea. It wouldn’t happen without that. So I wouldn’t suggest starting at the end.
Dr. Z: Yea, exactly and that’s a good point to make because a lot of people try to take the approach of being very hands off or you know, sometimes it’s like the old saying “the devil’s in the detail.” And some people totally miss the detail and they want to, let’s say, work in the areas that makes all the money or something like that. But, you know, there’s a lot of little of steps along the way, the little details that mean something. And it sounds like you’ve worked in every little part of your company and you’ve been able to master the details.
Alon: Yea, I agree with you completely. I work with a lot of young entrepreneurs here in the city in several organizations and you already identify the hands on people you know will succeed because they don’t shy away from work. They want to know it all, but they don’t necessarily want to do it all the time. Then there are those who want to become entrepreneurs. Those who look for the status and aren’t going to put in the work. You know they won’t succeed very well. And for me, even now, I don’t have to do physical work. But I know the dough. I can look at it. I touch it. I walk along the line and I touch it. And just by touch because muscles were trained because you feel it, not only with your fingers, but with your heart almost. That comes only from working with product. And if you don’t do it, you won’t get it. And I think that’s a great advantage of putting in your time.
Dr. Z: Oh absolutely, yea. No, I agree 100%. The people who want to just get right to the top and yea there’s a lot of hard work. It’s always great to see someone like you who comes out and is honest about it. Because a lot of people like to, you know, put their best foot forward and just show how they are, let’s say super wealthy or that they’ve created this huge business. But the one thing they always hide in the background is the struggle they went through. Maybe they went bankrupt twice and maybe they lost their house and things like that. There’s always a lot of struggle and people who have gotten to a certain place in their life, they didn’t get there overnight. It took a long time.
Alon: Yea, I think the lucky ones are the ones who had to struggle. Because it put things in perspective and I think they are more human because of that. Those who are extremely talented and had some luck and kinda never really failed, I don’t envy them; I wouldn’t want to be them. Even though the fear of failure is very strong for me and it definitely drives me. I think people are divided in to two. I think people that fear paralyzes them, they can’t be entrepreneurs. And that perfectly fine, it’s just not for them. They should do other things. The world is full of things to do that you can contribute and do and be a whole person. Those who fear pushes them forward. A lot of entrepreneurs I know, it’s not that they’re not afraid. It’s just that it drives them forward even more and pushes them, yea, makes them more successful.
Dr. Z: Well I think it probably keeps you grounded. And especially for you, that you’ve come from nothing, where you had nothing. You were saying you basically took all your dad’s money and if you didn’t give it back to him somehow, he wasn’t going to have a way to live. So, you had a heavy weight on your shoulders and for some people they’ve never really happened to know. Where, let’s say maybe they just grew up comfortable and then their parents were able to loan them that $50,000 and didn’t care it was gone. Maybe they were just going to give it to them to start a business. So they never had that same motivation behind them. And for someone like you, there was a lot of fear and I think that probably, like you said, it sticks with you.
Alon: Yea, you know the question, the philosophical question I have is that I have three kids and they are growing in a very different way to the way I grew up. Not that they are spoiled but you know they don’t have to work as a dishwasher at age 16 in order to buy a pair of jeans or to contribute to the family pot. I don’t know if it’s a good thing or a bad thing. I know for us, it definitely built character. It’s interesting to see how it transpires with these guys.
Dr. Z: Absolutely, it certainly will. You know, jumping back a little bit. You talked about your food sensitivities and how when you eat something you notice it starts to affect you. And that’s kind of an interesting topic and I wanted to talk about that a little bit more. Because one of the things about food sensitivities that I did not mention at the time we were talking about it, is that it’s very different from an allergy. So many people have food sensitivities and it’s not something that bothers them on the spot. A peanut allergy might bother you on the spot and send you to the hospital. Food sensitivity can actually affect you several days later. So when we’re talking about eating good quality products and chemical free products, food sensitivity is something you should be aware of. Because just like you had mentioned, Alon, you could eat something that could be healthy for you and you could be sensitive to it and it could be affecting you a day or two later. And the same goes for foods with chemicals in it. They might not affect you right there on the spot but they may affect you at some point, drive inflammation in your body and affect you in some way. That’s a good point that you made and I think that’s an awesome thing that you’re doing with the bakery, having good quality products and taking the chemicals out. I think we need a lot more of that. We need a lot more bakeries like yours.
Alon: Thank you. I see it, you know what. And it’s happening. Even if it’s causing profitability, it’s fantastic that happens. Are you familiar with the natural expo, natural and organic expo? There’s once a year either in Anaheim or in Baltimore and this is where all the natural and organic food manufacturers and also, I guess, beauty supplies and soaps and stuff like that get together and it’s a fairly large expo and I remember it, fifteen years ago. It was small. It was a party. It was nice. All these individually-owned companies by these families who believed in something. Today, I’d say seven, eight years ago, you began to see a change in ownership where large companies bought the small ones and they still kept the brand but they saw a lot of opportunity. So today you’ll see at the store level a lot more, even in conventional stores, a lot better for you brands. And they’re real and they’re good. A good example is, I forget the yogurt company, I forget his name. But he was bought by Dannon and they were making organic yogurt. He believed in what he did and made a huge change on the organic milk production in North America because it was basically nonexistent before and now Dannon owns it. So, a lot is changing, I think.
Dr. Z: Yea, and that’s awesome. I’ll tell you what, the listeners of this podcast and the people I work with are looking for the better quality products. They’re not looking for the cheap stuff because it’s an investment in your health. The food that you’re buying it’s an investment in your health and ultimately an investment in your future.
Alon: Yea, I agree. My philosophy when it comes to eating is, I try to eat as less processed as possible but it’s also quantities. It’s a matter of looking at your system as a mechanical system and then you shove all this food down it, it will not work as efficiently. It’s working really, really hard on all this stuff going through and it won’t work as efficient especially if it’s done time and time again. But if you eat less, even if you eat bad things or stuff with chemicals, which I definitely don’t promote, the system will deal with them a lot more easily and will identify and discard them more easily. For me it’s almost, eat a balanced diet. You can eat not so good every once in a while, but just eat 2/3 of what you were going to eat and the body learns that and it’s satisfied with that, too.
Dr. Z: Yea, and I think that’s some great advice. Well, I’ll tell you what, we’re going to wrap things up for the show. Alon, appreciate having you on, some great entrepreneurial advice. It’s always good to see someone who is a success story and also helping promote good quality products. We really appreciate that and the work that you’re doing.
Alon: Great and thank you very much for talking to me, Dr. Nick.
Dr. Z: Yes, absolutely. And everybody look for Ozery Bakery products. You can find it in Costco and Whole Foods and all those places you had mentioned earlier in the show. I think you’re going to be quite happy with them. I know my kids love the Morning Rounds.
Alon: Thank you, it’s amazing to hear every time.
Dr. Z: Awesome, well thanks for being on the show with us today.
Alon: Thank you. Take care.