Buying into a Vision

by Dan Malovany
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About a year ago when Reed Jacobs was driving to Papa Pita for a job interview, he began to have second thoughts about the long commute from his home to the bakery’s office on the other side of Salt Lake City. In fact, about halfway to the company’s headquarters, Mr. Jacobs called his wife and told her he was turning around.

Fortunately, he said, she convinced him to keep on driving. Because after interviewing with Farzad Mohebbi, Papa Pita’s president and CEO, Mr. Jacobs took the job as the bakery’s comptroller. “I was so impressed with his genuineness and straightforwardness,” he recalled.

Mr. Jacobs is one of many managers I met at Papa Pita who joined the business after meeting Mr. Mohebbi and buying into his entrepreneurial mission to build the best specialty bakery in the nation. Take Bryan Malkin, who had another job lined up and, in fact, planned to start his new position three days before he interviewed at Papa Pita. “I was sold the second I walked through the door,” Mr. Malkin noted. “Farzad’s enthusiasm and vision sold me.”

Mr. Mohebbi, who owns Papa Pita with his wife, Yolanda, believes in striving for the best and taking nothing less, especially when building his spankin’ new 200,000-sq-ft facility. “The vision was creating the most incredible bakery, producing the best product at the best price every day and changing the market dynamics from price escalation and fewer choices by offering a different product,” he said.

He relishes being “the odd man out” who has a better product at a price that’s affordable to everyone. “No smoke and mirrors,” he told me during my visit to his bakery. We don’t use gimmicks. We believe what we produce will sell on its own merits.”

He calls himself “unorthodox” and negotiates his own deals with suppliers, relying on his engineering background and his experience as “the chief janitor, chief baker and chief distributor” since the company was founded 30 years ago. And he is admittedly a haggler at heart. And forget teams of consultants. “I was told by several of our key vendors that it was a little more than crazy that this one guy — me — thinks he can do it all,” he said.

At his new bakery, he’s invested in sanitary design with washdown capabilities from mixing through packaging. He made sure he purchased a flexible proofer that’s easy to clean and simple to maintain. That’s because any type of downtime — sanitation or maintenance — on the bakery’s new flatbread line that produces 100,000 pieces an hour will cost many times the initial investment in the long run.

But all too often, investing in people and getting them to buy into a vision eventually pay the biggest dividends.

“When I was interviewed, I knew this was a good fit immediately,” said Nelly Mbogo, office manager. “Papa Pita is a company that cares about its people.”

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