Real Talk with Alon Ozery, Founder and CEO of Ozery Bakery
Building a business isn’t easy work, and building one into an international brand is even harder. Alon Ozery, with the help of his family and brother, Guy, has turned a love for healthy, wholesome breads into Ozery Bakery. Now Ozery can be found in Canada and in the US, and is a brand you can count on to be consistently delicious and healthy. Over the years, Alon has learned how to balance a growing company with his personal life all while keeping the core company values at the heart of everything.
Name: Alon Ozery
Location: Toronto, Ontario, Canada
Title: CEO and Founder
Company: Ozery Bakery
What it is: Ozery Bakery is a family-owned bakery founded on the promise to make superior quality bread from real, premium ingredients without compromise. Combining traditional methods, international influences, carefully selected quality ingredients, and a modern sensibility, Ozery Bakery’s fresh-baked, healthy bread fuels your life in a way that simply feels good.
Educational Background: Bachelor of Arts in Business and Hospitality, Ryerson University
Your idea for Ozery Bakery came from a class project. What was it about this idea that made you realize it was something to pursue in real life?
I think my journey toward entrepreneurship stemmed very organically from working in business since my teenage years; at 13 I began working for my father selling t-shirts at the local market and by 16 I was working for a small deli as their night manager. I was constantly looking for ways to refine my leadership skills to lead most effectively and ways to streamline operations to help a company grow.
I went on to pursue a degree in business and during my time at Ryerson 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 Pita Break, a sandwich shop that would serve sandwiches with high-quality ingredients on freshly-baked pita bread. When I mentioned the idea to my father, Al, he immediately jumped on the idea. He and I went on to establish the first Pita Break, a successful business venture that laid the foundation for the Ozery Bakery you see today.
If you could have given yourself a piece of knowledge or advice when you started, what would that be?
Launching Ozery Bakery has definitely not been without some struggles — I think every business goes through growing pains until they learn to adapt. That being said, I still don’t think I would change any of the decisions we’ve made as a company. I can’t think of a single piece of advice that I would have given myself as I was always aware that with business comes risk, but any time Ozery has faced external pressures as a company we have allowed it to strengthen our brand. I’m very proud of my team and the company we’ve built.
What was the hardest part of starting Ozery Bakery? What was the most surprising thing you had to learn?
We knew that starting Ozery Bakery was a great idea, but the challenging part for us was learning how to navigate the food industry. None of the family had any existing knowledge on how to operate a restaurant, much less a full-scale bakery. Meanwhile, all I knew about running a business was what I had learned in school, so there was a learning curve for sure and all of our company’s successes have been a collaborative effort.
The most surprising part about launching Ozery is how much I’ve enjoyed working with my brother and father. So many people warned me that running a business together might take a toll on our relationship — and it has had its moments. But, I like to say that working with Guy is like a roller coaster ride: It’s fun and challenging at the same time. We’re lucky to complement each other in the skills we bring to the business. There are certainly still times when we disagree but we ultimately respect each other’s opinions, value each other’s differing points of view, and find ways to move the business forward.
What has been the most rewarding part of starting your own business?
I’ve always been a family-oriented person. When we were younger, Guy and I learned to bake at our grandmother’s knee and our love of baking fresh, home-cooked breads likely stemmed from our love for her. Our family was extremely tight-knit growing up — so close that we have weekly Friday dinners. Prior to starting Ozery Bakery, busy lives and differing career paths began to make it difficult for Guy and me to see our family as often as we would have liked to. But now that Guy, my father, and I have grown our business from Pita Break to Ozery Bakery together, I get the privilege of being around my family every day and continuing our close familial bond.
What advice do you have for others looking to build their own company?
Don’t get so focused on business operations that you neglect other equally important aspects of your life. I consider myself to be a hardworking guy who is certainly interested in maximizing productivity, but I also know the value of taking a break. For Guy and I, travel is key to cultivating our creativity and maintaining a work/life balance, so we always make time to get out and see the world. It’s essential to our development and growth on a personal and professional level.
What were some challenges you faced when expanding into the American market?
It was important for us to align our already-established Canadian brand with our newly-developed American brand to maintain a consistent brand voice. We were entering a whole new market and had to think of new ways to enter a heavily-saturated industry, so we responded by focusing our efforts on connecting with consumers through events, sampling, and social media. Though it was initially challenging to go through with the expansion, I think that expanding into the US market and shifting from a regional brand to a national brand was one of the best strategic business moves Ozery has ever made.
In the past, you’ve had issues with other companies trying to copy your products. How do you handle that and prevent it in the future?
Trends can sometimes dominate the marketplace, which leads to further competition and, at times, imitation. We let it serve as our driving force to continue to innovate and develop quality products. There will always be competition, but we let our brand speak for itself by remaining true to our core values and keeping the wellbeing of our customers at the top of our minds.
Since you started Ozery Bakery in the 90s, has social media played an important role in your growth in recent years?
It certainly has! As I mentioned earlier, social media was an integral tool for connecting with American consumers when we began our expansion. We currently work with several social media influencers who do an amazing job putting their own unique spin on their favorite Ozery products. Their creativity often yields new ideas that we would have never thought of, like utilizing an Ozery OneBun to make a homemade breakfast cereal! This sort of engaging social media content has, without question, aided us in heightening visibility and reaching our target consumer.
What does a typical day look like for you?
I start each morning with a walk to a local café to sit and read the newspaper while sipping on some good espresso. If I have any business meetings that day and time permits, I’ll ride my bike downtown to get in a little bit of exercise. I also love to swim as it helps me clear my head and sparks my creative process. I’m generally too busy to set aside time for workouts, but it helps if I incorporate exercise into my daily routine.
Each day differs, but for the most part, I take a lot of phone calls, I meet with my team to strategize and check in on operations, and I’m constantly thinking of new ways to bring the Ozery brand to more health-minded consumers. As soon as work is over, I’m running to pick up my kids from school so we can eat dinner and spend time together as a family.
How do you define success?
Success is being able to work at something you feel passionate about. I truly believe in the quality of the products we’re making at Ozery Bakery and I go home each night knowing that we’ve provided consumers with a product that supports a healthy lifestyle without sacrificing taste. I also know that I get to spend each day developing a business with my family and a team of people I care for. That is success to me.
What are your hobbies? What do you do when you’re not working?
I’ve always been passionate about service and giving back to the community, so I work with several local philanthropic organizations. Building Roots, an organization that works to bring healthy food options to underserved neighborhoods across Canada, and Youth Employment Services (YES), a Toronto-based organization dedicated to providing mentoring and business skills development to disadvantaged youth, are two programs that are very dear to my heart. Ozery has been a community partner with Building Roots for years and I’ve been fortunate to have the opportunity to share my business expertise with budding young entrepreneurs through YES’s training and mentorship programs.
Beyond that, I love traveling and exploring the local café and restaurant scene in new cities.
How do you balance your work with your personal life?
Having a job that I love helps maintain a balance, but I’m also sure to incorporate a mix of business-related and non-business-related activities into my daily routine. I think it’s essential to give yourself a break from constantly crunching numbers to allow your creativity to flourish.
What’s next for you and Ozery Bakery?
Our goal is to grow and become a great national brand, one that makes a difference in the lives of the people we reach. As we continue to expand US operations, we hope to meet that goal.