Family-run bakery supplies ethnic flavor to local grocery stores
February 19. 2013 1:49AM
Combining a unique product with salesmanship, a local ethnic bakery has gone from making spinach pies in a family kitchen to supplying pita bread to chain supermarkets as far away as Allentown.
Left: Abdu Atie poses in the Forty Fort bakery, where his family makes pita bread that is sold in large supermarkets and at the family’s store on Hazle Street in Wilkes-Barre.
Aimee Dilger/The Times Leader
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The bread is made by family-run Atie’s Bakery at a facility on Welles Street in Forty Fort.
Part owner Abdu Atie said that after selling the bread locally for about 10 years he began to seek grocery stores to carry the product.
Today, Atie’s provides pita bread to Weis Markets, Thomas’ Family Market, Malacari’s Produce and Deli, Schiel’s Family Market, Wegmans in Wilkes-Barre Township, and three Wegmans in the Allentown area. The bakery also makes spinach pies and meat pies for the House of Nutrition in Luzerne.
Making the jump from a neighborhood bakery to a staple in supermarkets was not the only hurdle the family had to master, Atie said.
The family came to the United States in 1979 to escape a civil war in Lebanon. Atie said they lived in Beirut near St. Joseph’s Hospital, where his mother worked.
Atie was 15 when the family arrived in Wilkes-Barre.
“I could not speak English,” he said. “All I could say was ‘no English.’ ”
Through the repetitive viewing of television commercials, Atie and his family learned to speak English.
At first, the language barrier prevented his parents from finding work. So Atie said his mom, Souad, started making spinach pies from home and selling them in 1982.
Atie remembers the stove in his home constantly going when he was a teenager.
When they saw there was a demand for the pies, his parents purchased a bakery on Hazle Street in 1986.
Atie recalled when his parents were setting up the business, ovens and fire bricks were ordered from Lebanon.
When the equipment had to pass through customs, it was removed from the packaging and thoroughly examined. Then custom agents could not get the kitchen equipment back into the boxes, and it arrived damaged, he said.
“We purchased fire bricks,” he said. “Customs actually drilled holes in the bricks to make sure nothing was hidden inside.”
Today, the biggest challenge for the family-run business is keeping up with the demand while seeking more grocery stores to carry their freshly made product.
The business is still a family affair and Atie’s mother still oversees everything. His father, Ersanos; brother, Tony and his wife Diane; and Atie and his wife Joanne meet from 7 a.m. to 8:30 a.m. every Monday and Thursday morning at the Welles Street facility to bake bread. The family can put out as many as 1,500 bags of bread, each containing four pitas.
Then Atie makes a three-hour delivery run to the grocery stores.
Atie believes his pita bread sets apart from the national brands because of its thinness and no use of preservatives.
“Most of the pita bread on the market is a Greek style, thick,” he said. “Ours is thin. You can use it as a wrap or open it like a pita.”
He said in Wegmans, his pitas outsell some of the national brands.
To make the leap into grocery stores has sometimes required a meeting with the store manager, the head of the bakery department or a corporate buyer.
Atie said Wegmans wants to carry locally made products. He said he talked with the manager and was allowed to start stocking the shelves with his pitas. Securing the Weis Markets business required a visit to its headquarters in Sunbury.
The family also continues to operate a neighborhood bakery at 400 Hazle Street, Wilkes-Barre.
Through resourcefulness, hard work and dedication, Atie’s family formed a niche for themselves in their community and in the grocery stores. He hopes to continue the family tradition and reach out to have more stores carry their products.