Having built one of the most successful bakeries in North America, Alon Ozery shares his journey with us. He discusses the importance of continued self growth and how getting through the murky unknown allows you to say ‘It’s all okay’!
Stephen Christopher 0:01
Hey everybody, Stephen Christopher here with my awesome co host, Laura Sanchez for another amazing episode of the exciting unknown podcast. Today we have an absolutely amazing human being. I think I say this a lot, but I just feel like we always interview like the nicest humans on the face of the planet. Like these are amazing entrepreneurs, amazing givers. And they're just so well connected. And today's guest is definitely definitely one of those. So our guest today started out young, learning how to bake with his grandmother. And as he grew up, he enjoyed that and then when he went to university, he won a he won first place in a basically a contest of writing a business plan. And so he started to think, okay, cool, I'm going to merge these things together. And what came out of that was him essentially started At a bakery, and so in 1996 him and his father started a company called pita break in Toronto. And they basically made healthy fresh sandwiches and they made the the pita bread that went so well, that they ended up kind of shutting that piece down but continued baking from there. And in 2000 in 2000, they sold pita break but continued this baking extravaganza and grew it into a massive bakery, baking really, really healthy things. And typically, you know, you don't get bakery and healthy in the same sentence, but they found ways and continue to focus on ways to to do that. And so the business that they currently run today or currently have today employs over 250 people is absolutely amazing. The food is fantastic. I have had it, it is awesome. And despite all of this business success, our guest today still contributes to young underprivileged kids, helping them with things like growing business skills, growing life skills and does some really, really cool things even in the community in the, in the building that he lives in, which maybe we'll get into that a little bit. And I've known this person for over the course of a couple years and at least had interactions with them and really, truly is one of the most giving humans and caring humans and a lot of his life has been constantly leaning into the exciting unknown, and we're definitely going to get into some of that today. So, without further ado, I welcome to the show, Alon Oh, sorry. Who is the co founder owner of ozery bakery in Toronto, so Alon, welcome.
I thank you. Thank you very much. I'm happy to be here. And in the future. Whenever I'm down. I'm going to listen to that introduction. feel better about those right yeah, You're well and I, Steven.
Stephen Christopher 3:01
And so I even that that was actually only about half of the bullet points. So we're going to cover probably the other half or at least we're going to, we're going to perfectly guide through the the best things and, and all these great ways that you've contributed to so many people's lives over this podcast, so it's gonna be fun. Okay, cool. So, um, let's, uh, I don't know, let's kind of get into it. So, Alon did I so over the course of that introduction, right, I mean, I covered a huge part of your life and that, is there anything that I either left out that you're proud of, or just something that maybe even right now that you're excited about that I didn't touch on initially? And then we're going to get into some fun stuff.
Yeah, so obviously, we're covering not only business and the business aspect was rich and Boston covers so many areas of life and That you kind of touch base on on where we're at. I would say today, I took a sabbatical a few months ago, and I'm going deep inside to kind of I was supposed to be traveling the world. And that didn't work, thanks to the to COVID. But I'm traveling inward these days and take time to explore self. Exploring self happened before also. So I'd say I'm 51 now, and I'd say in my mid 30s, I kind of started exploring more. So in my early 40s, I, after being married for 18 years, I came out to my wife and three kids, which was a quite a challenge. And you know, that the years after that have never been so good. They've been great. So there was that. There is also some, I guess, explore some experiences with bio energy which I had, which I have contributed a lot to me and i think i think that's pretty touched the important parts. Awesome.
Stephen Christopher 5:11
Yeah, that's it right. Just those little things. So, okay, so you came out after being married for quite some time with, with children that you obviously love very much. And I know based on our conversations, and you have a pretty stellar relationship still with your would would I call her ex wife for?
You know, it's all right. We haven't divorced officially, but we're separated. I don't think we'll ever I know we will never get together again. But we see each other we still share the same bank account. We still have money goes into one account, we share it. We live in two separate households. She has a boyfriend. I have a boyfriend. So yeah, we're kind of an extended. Thank you. family so rather than look at things with regular eyes and regular what what is a regular family? We are definitely family I look at her as part of my life for forever and will be also even though I don't necessarily talk to her every day. But Yep, so we're, we are a big family. The kids I'd say they're now older we have a 20 year old 18 year old and a 15 year old. The two older ones one of them lives with me sometimes during the year his universities 10 minute walk away from me. The 18 year old is at university outside of town but we'll stay here once in a while and our daughter we split and she's on on the spectrum also. So actually, that's a big story that I didn't mention,
Stephen Christopher 6:45
which could fill a lot of book I'd say, but she's with me right now. And we've had three days with me four days with the mom. I think all these things help tie us together we have common goals and loves and responsibilities to Hmm. So okay, a lot of times we ask questions like, was there a specific time in your life where you kind of found a calling and and, and went towards that and how did you know and you know what types of like intuition or what types of guidance Were you listening to, to kind of feel that calling? It sounds to me like you've had a couple different maybe callings over life I mean, going into baking you know, starting relatively young with your grandmother, was that what you know, was that a calling specifically on the baking side or was it just did you just know that you desire to start a business or like kind of what sparked that actually happening?
I'd say patches, two very dear areas to my life. One is food. I love love food, and I like making food. I love bread also the so we grew up in Israel. Born in Canada. I grew up in Israel and came back to Canada and they get togethers with our families. We're always around food and and baking flat breads are we're from a Jewish Yemenite family and making flatbreads as part of their tradition. And I remember my aunt and grandmother standing over this stove with these this dough that they would flip on their hands kind of and flatten it and open it up and then put it on this kind of onto the stove on the range but it had this really hot plate that came from above and then it caused the breads to rise. And that baked within I'd say 60 seconds and sometimes they would put some olive oil and zatara on it and the smells were unbelievable. So you'd have them making this for two hours before because don't take time whenever you need it. You have to let it rise and it's really kind of in the relationship with adult for a few hours. I love the smell. I love the smell of the piece. I love the bread. I love touching it when it rises because it's special. smell, and the fermentation is so good. So I learned how to make it and I was making pizzas for my friends from age 1718 just as you know, come over and make bread. And, and also I love how people were drawn to that whenever they smelt the bread being baked, they knew it would be ready in a minute. And you can just come and steal and rip pieces because there's nothing like fresh bread. So that was one calling. And I really love bread and I am also a little shallow and I really like compliments. So combined, and I like also serving people I like being on the serving end, I feel more comfortable rather than being served. So that kind of, I think drew me into the food part. What drove me into has driven me into the business side was at age 16. We kind of lost everything financially in Israel and our father who had to be businesses and the economy was in a terrible state. I'd say within 30 days as a 16 year old, I found out with my brothers that we were living in Israel, but within 30 days, we moved back to Canada. Now for us, it wasn't really back to Canada because we were 16. And the last time we were there was when we were three. And it was a very foreign experience to us. And within 30 days, we were uprooted and moved there. So that experience left me with the desire to succeed and the desire to do something that's successful financially. I didn't really choose that it chose me. Now I understand that I did kind of write that story. And I had a really strong desire to succeed. So I while a lot of my friends finished school that we went also went to the army in Israel because it's mandatory. Once they were done, they would go travel the world go to the Far East, Thailand, South America and have amazing experiences for me. I was driven to go and study, I worked in food businesses from age 16 when we moved to Canada because we didn't have money, we came here with nothing. And I found a job as a dishwasher and then moved up to become the glorious Night Manager to Jewish deli around the corner from our house. But all that kind of pushed me in a certain direction. So I went to university and at university as you said, I wrote the business plan, which gave us we my friend and I who did it. One 300 bucks, which we used to buy out there the night after, and that was our first investment of our proceeds. I'd say it was pretty good.
Stephen Christopher 11:46
Yeah, that's awesome, man. I mean, it's, it's interesting how these little things you know, like looking back, it's easy to connect the dots right? Like you say that it it kind of called you but then you alluded almost to like now looking back at it. You kind of See where you also chosen influenced that path? Definitely. So, when let's talk, let's talk a little bit about you coming out. So because here's what I want to want to really pull from this is, how did you How long did it take you to make that decision? Because I want to, I want to get more information about what was happening internally, prior to you making that decision or talking about it publicly. Because that, you know, I believe, and I think you do as well. And I know Laura does, like, you know, that energy, when we're kind of holding something back or making those big decisions can lead us toward what we want, or it can also lead us away from what we want, it can cause us to go in it can cause it can cause a lot of turmoil. And so, you know, how did you How long did you sit with that and how did you kind of start to make that decision and what impact like looking back now, is there any advice that you can give to people that are, you know, that have some sort of this big, ultimate decision? Like, I would see it as they're being called to do something, almost to do something else? Mm hmm.
Yeah. So Oh, it's such a complex question. But I've been thinking about it a lately so I think I have an answer. A lot of people describe it as, you know, they, when I told them or when I came out, people were Oh, you know, you were in the closet your whole life and you were with a family must have been terrible for you. And that wasn't the case at all. It is much more complex. And I find that when I think about some people like my partner, I asked him out, when did you know or other friends? Oh, age 11, age 30. And age 14, it was clear to them there was no question to me what there wasn't that clarity And I knew there was something in me I knew that that was it. But I, you know, I didn't give it too much energy and to be honest, I think I had other issues I needed to get over with I was extremely shy, I was very, very introverted, very, I lived life, I'd say till my early 20s, as I thought other people thought I should be. And that almost didn't have anything to do with sexuality, although in retrospect, it did. But it had it had to do with everything else too. And, you know, you could look for reasons and excuses of why they happen. Doesn't really matter, but that's how it was. And as I grew older, and then and then you take upon yourself or I took upon myself, all these massive new things that it was the business I was all my energy went into business. I met my wife when we were young. She was my first serious relationship. So and she's a great person and she was attracted And everything so, you know, it was good at the beginning yet inside it was kind of it's interesting how the psyche work because I'm trying to explain it to myself. It's that kind of duality within where I'm still living how I think other people should live but that's embedded almost in how I think I am or who I think I am. But then there's on that kind of deeper inside there is that I know maybe I'm attracted to men. But you know what my then that logic kicks in and says it's okay if you sometimes get attracted by watching pornography or something. I said so I may be I'm bi and being bi is okay because because you know, it straight men could be attracted to other women and doesn't mean that they're not okay and they still have a partner and love her, etc. But they could be attracted to other women. So there are lots of conversations going through. Some of them. Some of them are was aware of some of the nod but I think the best description is now after a lot a lot of thought. So for me it wasn't being locked in a closet choking, waiting to come out that that, you know, it fits some people but it didn't fit me. I would say I was I kind of had a capsule or a pod that was bare I buried deep inside me. And this capsule or pod is much bigger in the inside and outside. So it's a when it's buried inside me. And then but inside it's a whole world. And and there you have, you know, desires and love and thought and stuff like that. But that part is so deep inside and I also wrapped it in shame. So there's another layer of shame holding it. And that's sitting down there with everyday life. And because it was so deep, I managed To live a fairly good life, and it didn't interfere with day to day life until So, until I'd say my mid 30s, where I think the business kind of fell in place and then the kids, three kids with a four year four year gap got older and all these responsibilities kind of came into line and then I took this course is a which landmark if you know and dealt with the self and I think the switch of authenticity kicked in inside of me, and I was Oh, okay. Something started that that pod or the capsule started surfacing. And I got to the point where I couldn't ignore it anymore. And, and that's when it began affecting my relationship with my wife at the time. And and then things started happening.
Stephen Christopher 18:01
I love that in what I one of the big things that I pull out of that is we have to constantly be working on ourselves, we have to constantly be getting to know ourselves and having awareness around. What are we feeling? What are we thinking? And and I guess even uncovering some of those more uncomfortable emotions, right? Like, you know, like, what are we hiding under shame? What can we start to release more and lean into things like vulnerability, and as we get to know ourselves more, then we can start to at least the way that I see it, we can start to be guided more by kind of our true self and our soul. So when we release all of those other layers that are sitting on top of those things, then we can start to hear that inner voice of the you know, our true self and our soul and what it desires and what it wants. And I'm a firm believer that as we follow that true self more, we become much, much more fulfilled, and in most cases also much more abundant, you know, whatever that means to each person. And whether it's financial business success, fame, or just, or just internal fulfillment, it's, it's amazing. So and I love the fact because this one hits home for me the fact that, that you touched so much on what other people think, and kind of doing things for what other people think because that that's been a huge one in my life. And I've been working through a lot of that over the past couple years. And really, when I first started working on it, I would ask these questions of like, what do I really want? And I would ask, you know, to answer it, I'd be like, Oh, you know, I want a happy family. I want this. And then I would come back and think about like, wait, I don't actually want that. I mean, I might want it but I'm saying that I want it because that's what I'm supposed to say or that's what somebody told me to say. And that's what I'm going to do because it feels right based on that and that that one's taken me quite a while to uncover but it makes life easier, more fulfilling a little more scary, but
better? Yeah, I think that so I, I told you earlier but not today that I'm writing a book about this and at first I didn't want to write it I like math. It's boring. It's you know, it's, I see no interest in it. But coming out for me was an issue of I think sexual orientation mostly but there were other things from childhood that I had to look in the eye and deal with. And but the reason I think this this can be helpful is coming out could be not only about sexuality, but like you said, is who require my really, where's the alignment? I What, what do I need to come out of? Or to, like, what closet Do I need to come out Who am I really and, and, like finding that alignment, which I think never ends as long as we're alive. I think it's a it's a path that we keep on taking you reach a point and then it's okay. I'm really happy to But then the next thing so you hit it on the head I think with by saying that it's an ongoing work on self and exploring and exploring and keeping always questioning and I really what this whole experience gave me was the ability to look at murky, murky, uncomfortable, very uncomfortable situation and go through it. Say that's okay. You know, I know where I want to get. I know what I need to do wait for the right moment for, for me to have enough energy to deal with a ricochets and all that but I can now swim through shit. Okay, people will talk things will be said it will be uncomfortable. I will sweat because I'm uncomfortable. And it's all okay, because that's I've done it and I can do it. And I think it's a very powerful tool. I think every person has that ability, because usually we're programming To run away from things we don't like and scare us, and to go towards things that we love. But what do we really love? Like we think we're going after something we love that we like like we're programmed to think that we love it maybe because of our family maybe because our mother or father whatever, but we don't really love it. We think we think we're so we're chasing things we think we love which we don't really love. And we're escaping things we're afraid of which probably could be like that. That's you know, Philip mckernon says your biggest Was it the thing that laying right next to your biggest fear is your biggest treasure. And I really like that saying of his because it's so true. And and it's not always but but very often it is the case.
Stephen Christopher 22:47
Yeah. So you Okay, so, we've talked about leading up to starting the business. We've talked about your decision to come out which is a huge life style change, especially with you know, a wife three kids a great family. And, and obviously there was a lot to, there was a lot that you did right in that situation because you still have a great relationship. And just to use the word decision, I'd say I didn't have I was it wasn't my decision at a certain point I had to there was no, there was a I could not resist it anymore. I'd say that decision is not the right word. Even though I can see why I would say that. So, so big that it can't be ignored anymore.
Yeah, I couldn't ignore it anymore. If I if I want to be an author, if I want to be authentic and aligned with myself, and to say, and to be who I want to be, and to be who I say I want to be, then I couldn't. I couldn't ignore that anymore. And then everything.
Stephen Christopher 23:45
I was almost thinking of the pod analogy, and it was like, okay, the pod had actually opened up. Oh, you had to step into it. And it was like, Okay, this is me, the decision would have been no, no, no, no, I'm going to close this back up somehow. I'm going to stuff it back. That would have been a decision. But it was open and you were there.
I'd add to that the pod is even if you look at it physically kind of reached your reach my neck and like I couldn't breathe, I couldn't breathe. I couldn't talk. You know, you can't go through life that way. Because if I'm doing all this work on awareness, and then it's here, and either I let it out, or I choke forever, and I it's not fun choking forever.
Stephen Christopher 24:30
What's Do you have any specific work that you've done around awareness, like any routines, any practices or special specifically around just being more aware?
So I had the energetic experience in my late 20s, which was quite unique, and that has had led to work with kind of bioenergy, where understanding that there is the physical that we see but behind it all really energy holds everything together. And then what is energy and And the connection to intention and connection to thought and and all that. So I do for me walking and mostly walking I don't do meditation by sitting down I very restless and that doesn't work for me but just walking either in urban areas with lots of people around which is kind of weird with my two earphones and music, and I just go to other worlds when that happens after a certain period or on my bike where I ride, sometimes without music also because it within time you kind of the mind goes elsewhere and and beautiful thoughts come and realizations. Swimming does that to me also or even obviously walking in the forest or in nature, that just feeling the energy from the trees and that beauty and and that that eternal truth almost that I say, trees and vegetation and even deserts carry all connect to So I do all of that. Yes.
Stephen Christopher 26:03
I love that. And do you do you set time specifically for those practices? Or is it just kind of built into your to your normal routine at this point?
Yeah, it's built in I almost cannot without it, and I'm restless if I don't. So, I'd say twice a day, at least, when polls were open, it was three times a week, but now I just replace it with walking or cycling.
Stephen Christopher 26:27
Awesome. So earlier, you mentioned that you have taken a sabbatical from the bakery. What made what made that happen? Because that's kind of like another big. I don't know, I was gonna use the word decision. Maybe you'll maybe you'll replace it with something else there. But, you know, that's another big one, right? Like, what, what's happening there.
So my brother and I work together. I'd say close to 20 years the business has been around for 24 years, and we've been driving The business. So it's reached, I'd say medium sized bakery in North America, which is I never ever imagined we'd reach this size of a business. And I think we got to the point where, and this is to be candid. My brother and I have a very good relationship. And I mean very good. We care for each other and our we share the values but we're opposites and who we are very opposite. And it was a challenging 20 years also, in addition to the success that we've seen, I trust him with, you know, the finances he could he could, he could have stolen the company three times without me noticing. And I trust them completely. And, and still do, but on in operations and running the business. We had quite a bit of crashes at the beginning. They were noisier and all but we reached the point where they were not as noisy but they were still there. What brought us to the point was our business kind of reached a plateau where which we are not really happy with. And it's not that we want necessarily eternal growth because that's not a goal by itself for me, but it was it was getting kind of stuck, energy was stuck. And we saw this, this business advisor who was quite outstanding because she connected well both with my brother and with myself and us being so different. So I, I talked for myself, I'm more I'm gonna say spiritual, but I developed things. I'm really good at developing food, I'm good at marketing and good at thinking outside the box and I'm good at feeling things. My brother is a little more logical and really good with systems. I mean, we're the size we are mostly thanks to him. Because to be honest, I don't have that ability to systemize things in ways that He, he really can. But she sat with us for a couple meetings. And after she, I mean, she's been not seeing us for a few years, a couple years. And she's guys, you know, there's a you need to you need us, you guys need to separate. And maybe and the moment we heard it, you can see it first it's, you know, it's yours kind of aren't used to hearing that. And because that wasn't on our, in our future, or we were not finding it. But then I'm thinking, you know what, maybe maybe I'll take a sabbatical and I'll take a year off where I'll, you know, work on myself and I had an idea for the book, and let's focus on that and travel a little and, and, you know, once the ears ended, we'll sit down and see where we're going with that. So we did that. And then my brother was really happy to take control over the company and, you know, run it as he sees fit, obviously agreeing on strategy and direction and certain expenses and up where we have to agree on and beating once a month and going over everything. So it was with with agreement, but the day to day and all that execution was up to him and he was really happy to, to take that over. So it was kind of a win win where I'm getting a year off to explore myself and he got a year to see what he could do with the business. And that's that's where we're at. And it's really interesting I thinking back. It's a challenge when you have two leaders which have equal powers to run anything, let alone them being brothers. So there you need to like just the structure always has to be either in my opinion, one or three or it just needs to you need to have someone who can make a decision and push forward rather than your to both don't agree or stuck, then you'll move to something else. But that's specific issue would stay unresolved and affect the company ultimately.
Stephen Christopher 31:04
Hmm. Was there? Did you have any fear? Or like? Yeah, I mean, fear is actually the word I want to use. Did you have any fear? When that happened? Like, oh my gosh, I'm gonna be gone. And I don't know, I don't know, there's a lot of things that I could think of that, you know, they would go through my mind like, Oh, my gosh, maybe it goes, runs into the ground, and then we go bankrupt, or maybe it grows twice as big. And I've been holding them back for 10 years, or I don't know.
I don't know if we have enough time for the list. That list is much shorter now. But still, there are a couple but I think you touched a couple of them. So definitely there was Oh my, my ego, which I thought I've been working on, has raised its bloody head. And my association with a company was stronger than I imagined. And my was, oh, how can the company How come they haven't called me after two days of me not being in the office and like begging me to come back and telling me nothing's working, which didn't happen. So it was a I think one of the great results or like things I've discovered were by taking the sabbatical was I'm, you know, replaceable. The company's doing okay to, you know, considering the business environment is shit. A lot of our large I guess the customers have lost business and hence we as their suppliers have lost business. Everybody thinks, Oh, you were selling to supermarkets and you must be rolling in money. That's not the case. The supermarket business is good, but almost 50% of our business was dealing with larger companies that sell to consumer in different ways. Airlines or coffee shops or stuff like that. And they took a serious hit. So So did we, but it seems to be going in the right direction. Now. And Yeah, I had, I'd say weeks where I was kind of depressed. And, and, again, these days when I that feeling emerges, I recognize it, I accept it. I don't fight it, I'm not trying to ignore it. I let the anger come out, I make sure I don't talk to the people that are direct participants in those thoughts. Just leave them out of it. I have a really good circle of friends around me who I can sit and have a beer with. And we joke around I like humor and humor is a good way for me to express even painful experiences. And you know, and that would within time and when I don't avoid them, and I do talk about them and they do acknowledge them. They kind of go away and a lot of them have gone away. So I'm very thankful for that and the fears were like everything you said last. It's everything. We haven't taken millions of dollars to ourselves, we invested everything in the company. And we do a pretty good living and make a pretty good living, but I'm not, I don't have fuck you money where I could take off right now. And I know work. Hopefully, you know, in the future that would happen
Unknown Speaker 34:20
or in the sabbatical, are you?
So it started literally with COVID and so march, march and we're in August, all right. So I have full full wages and everything so I can very fortunate to take a year with poor wages.
Stephen Christopher 34:38
I had my
I was ready to go to Maui. I was ready to go to the fire. He says ready Japan is ready. I couldn't go for too long because I don't I don't want to and cannot be too away for too long for my daughter and she needs to be here for her. But I definitely could go for two Three weeks at a time.
Stephen Christopher 35:01
Well, that would be depressing enough for me, like being geared up for that is as the kickoff to the sabbatical, and then that doesn't happen. You're like, really? What am I doing?
Yeah, that was a good build up for more depression. So yeah,
Stephen Christopher 35:13
exactly. The the universe always gives us what we need. Right. So apparently you needed to go on this internal self journey more than you needed to go to Maui.
I, I you know, true statements like that anger me, but they're true. That not the universe. Yeah.
Stephen Christopher 35:35
So, so looking back, you know, whether, well let's look back at the at the business side of things first, looking back, is there is there advice that you would have given yourself at some point along the way, you know, I don't know take a sabbatical sooner or hire somebody else sooner or just with your level of awareness that you have now. You know, different advice that you would give yourself at it. Any point back to 96?
Yeah, I think first of all, I think that business did fit me and there was huge alignment with the product and making stuff that is healthy for you. And tasty. That was very important. And that worked well. I think what what lasted too long was that dual management, where co CEO in our company, have two brothers. We're so fortunate that we are still talking to each other and are close to each other. We're like, I'd say the one percenter in that. Most, you know, you know, some so many families that broke broke up because of that. So I'd say two things. One is that what helped us stay through that period was our Friday night dinners. So we're half Jewish but raised Jewish and we have a Friday night dinner, where, at the time my parents know it's my father and all the brothers and spouses and kids, plus a couple extra People who adopted us and we adopted them as family get together and we always get together on Fridays for dinner. It's not a religious thing in any way. But getting together you realize that and not talking business, even though we had to clash on the Wednesday or Tuesday, and I was we were not kind of communicating other than what we had to come Friday. It's kind of a clean slate and know Okay, we're both human. We're both angry. We're okay. Now, we both have best intentions. So yet there was a misunderstanding, and I'd say so having having some kind of, I'd say something repetitious, that keeps you together. works very well. I would have now in retrospect would have taken a sabbatical earlier. I mean, you can't always take a sabbatical and be fully paid and also you need that economic conditions and company conditions to Be there, but I think I could have. So I don't like to look back and think, Oh God, I haven't done this right or that everything. Everything led me to this point. And to be honest, in the past 15 years, I always was dealing with something, and thankfully have seen some growth, I think. So. Now it's time for this.
Stephen Christopher 38:22
Yeah, well, I can confirm that you have seen a lot of growth from the time that I've known