A Lebanese immigrant who started off his food service career as a busboy at the Hilton, Mike Timani went on to found Atlantic Canada’s largest private-label pita company. After moving to the East Coast for the Hilton job, Timani noticed that there was a gap in the market for proper Lebanese-style pitas—thin pastries made from flour, dough and yeast.
His first bakery was a 1,000-square-foot shoebox; he had to make a hole in the wall so the place would accommodate his oven. Back then, the pitas were handmade, one at a time. Six locations later, Timani has more than survived the low-carb craze, and he’s plotting to expand his empire again with a move into the U.S. and gluten-free markets.
Start-up money needed to launch Fancy Pokket in 1989: $22,000 Pitas per hour that roll off the two lines at full capacity: 29,000 Average annual company sales: $6 to $10-million Years in business: 22
1. Shoot high, and low. “Always think big. Even if you want to start small, don’t think too small,” Timani says. “I’ve had others tell me, ‘Mike, slow down.’ But when I come up with an idea, it’s usually well-thought-out. Without risk, you’re not an entrepreneur.” The caveat? Be careful not to overestimate your own success, especially early on.
2. Try to forecast the future. Fancy Pokket pitas were labelled “cholesterol free, fat-free and no-added sugar” long before the dawn of North America’s war on carbs, fat, sugar and salt. Timani credits his foresight for helping him capture the health-conscious market. “When the market collapsed during the low-carb thing, my business did not go down at all,” he says. “People look at it as a healthy alternative to regular bread.”
3. Go south. Business growth in the Canadian market is limited by the country’s lean population. Timani calculates his market in the Atlantic region is 2.2 million people; he’s feeding consumers as many pitas as they’ll buy but only running his plant at 30 per cent capacity. Pivotal to his long-term growth strategy is a move south, to the densely populated corridor between Boston and New York.