After baking a legacy of tradition, family values and fanciful baked goods, Toufayan Bakeries is celebrating its fiftieth year of making bread and giving back in America.
While there have been 50 years of Toufayan Bakeries in America, the company had its real start back in 1926. Karen Toufayan, daughter of the founder Harry Toufayan, who also runs sales and marketing at the bakeries, explained her grandfather had immigrated from Armenia to Egypt, where, with her grandmother, he started a pita bread business that he attached to a grocery store he owned. It was in the mid-sixties that they then moved to America.
After working outside of the bakery industry to save money, the family opened their first bakery in Hudson County, N.J. before moving it to Bergen County, where the family started a grocery store with a pita bread business attached to it.
“After a year or so of doing that, my dad was standing at a deli counter at one of the larger supermarkets, and waiting for deli meats, he thought, ‘This would be the perfect place to put pita bread to introduce it to America and the people in New Jersey, and it’d be great to put it on a shelf right by the deli counter.’ And, that’s how it all came to be. He, basically, with his limited English, got on the phone and found out who the deli buyer was at the supermarkets, put the bread in a box under his arm and knocked on the door of the A&P in Grand Union, and the rest is somewhat history,” Karen Toufayan said.
The Toufayan Bakeries expanded further once Harry Toufayan took note that his customers were traveling to Florida for the winter. To support that, he started by sending the products UPS to customers in Florida until he decided to call Publix supermarkets in the late seventies.
“We used to have trucks that went back and forth from New Jersey to Florida, but he wanted to be able to bake fresh bread there, so the idea of finding a bakery and land and an opportunity in Florida blossomed in his mind,” Karen Toufayan said. “We built a bakery in Orlando in the early eighties, so we could manufacture the pita bread, along with some other baked goods. At that point he was trying to expand some of the things we made from just white and wheat pita breads to flavored ones, like onion and sesame and then doing other products like hot dog buns and breadsticks. He likes to travel –that’s basically his only hobby outside work. So when he would travel, he’d love to go into the different bakeries in the countries he visited and a lot of times that sparked ideas in his mind about different things he can bake and manufacture here in the U.S. and bring to the American consumer.”
The bakery now manages three factories, its headquarters in Ridgefield and two others Plant City and Orlando, both in Florida. Each factory, while they all have the same core products, differs in their specialties based on the area. New Jersey is the headquarters since the family has grown up there and they still currently reside there. In Plant City, they work more heavily on producing hamburgers, hot dog buns and their gluten-free cookie line Goodie Girl Cookies, while Orlando has more of a focus on the pita breads and bagels.
While Harry Toufayan is still very involved in the business, his children Greg, Karen and Kristine each taking on a different responsibility. Greg has been overseeing and running the different factories, while Kristine focuses on more of the human resource work and numbers and Karen focuses on sales and marketing.
“[The goals for us would be] that future generations of Toufayan might find our business to be a great place to work,” Karen Toufayan said. “It gives my brother, sister and I an opportunity to work together and with our family and our dad, and some of the people that work here have worked here since I was 5/6 years old. I’m working alongside people that have been here almost 40 years, so that’s neat. Just to work side-by-side with my brother and my sister and my dad, every day is a proud moment. We love New Jersey. We’re grateful to have this opportunity to do business in America and New Jersey, and we love working with our family every day. It’s fun.”
In addition to providing the products to consumers, Toufayan Bakeries also had dedicated itself to giving back to those in need. In the face of Hurricane Florence, the factories filled two tractor-trailers of baked goods and sent them to local food banks in North and South Carolina. When the hurricane hit Puerto Rico, Toufayan Bakeries sent multiple loads of food too to help those in need there. The bakeries also partners with the MS Foundation and Make a Wish to provide baked goods for different events.
“We typically give baked goods. We do make monetary donations, but my dad likes to make it a bread donation,” Karen Toufayan said. “We’re about to deliver 500 packages of pita chips to an event that the New Jersey Bergen County Alzheimer’s Association is having. We do stuff with Make a Wish, donating products for events they have. The MS Foundation has a couple of walk-a-thons and races, and we like to give donations of bagels or proteins for events they have. In that sense, that’s how we give back. In celebration of our 50th anniversary and celebrating us doing business here in America, we thought it would be symbolic and nice to give back to an American institution, so we made a monetary donation to the Smithsonian Institute in honor of our anniversary.”
Moving forward, the company hopes to continue to build their brand and its recognition. They are also looking to expand on their line and build on the Goodie Girl Cookies. With all its growth currently though, the family is extremely happy with the progress they’ve made and the work they’ve done over the years.
“It’s a pretty incredible accomplishment,” Karen Toufayan said. “We give a lot back to the community, so to be able to continue doing that is important to my dad, and he set an example for Greg, Kristine and me to continue doing that. That’s where we hope to be.”
By Tara DeLorenzo