Sid Hayek was born in Lebanon. His family immigrated to Canada in 1976 during the war. They moved to Ottawa, Ont. where they started a family business, a grocery store. Four years later, the whole family moved to Vancouver.
Hayek worked as a busboy for about a year before he and his brother opened a restaurant. They sold the restaurant three to four years later and, along with their other brother and sister, opened a new business, a pita bread bakery, in 1984.
Over the years, the Pita Bread Factory expanded from a small commercial kitchen of 4,000 sq. ft. to a 75,000 sq. ft. facility with 200 employees. The Hayek siblings sold their successful business approximately four and a half years ago.
In his free time, Sid Hayek loves spending time in the outdoors, doing anything from fishing to hunting, dirt biking, snowmobiling, and hiking.
What does your typical day consist of?
I wake up in the morning, and I have my cup of coffee. I read my emails and check the world news. Then I go work out for an hour or two, shower, and head back upstairs. My wife is retired, so we usually have lunch together, and then the day starts. I go to see friends or colleagues, do some chores around the house, and the day just slides by.
How do you remain productive?
I’ve invested in real estate mortgages amongst other things, so that keeps me busy for a good part of the day. Also, I’m always looking for new properties to buy and always looking at new venture opportunities. I always keep myself busy both mentally and physically as that is very important! I also enjoy doing projects and chores around the house as I’m handy and like working with my hands!
How did you successfully grow your business from five to 200 employees?
Over the years, we expanded from a small commercial kitchen of 4,000 sq. ft. and five employees to a 75,000 sq. ft. facility with 200 employees. We did this by staying focused on the business itself and by sticking to our business plan. To me, there are three things that any business needs in order to foster growth. The recipe is a good product, at a very competitive price, and great service. This is the bulk of most, if not all, businesses. We started on just the pita. It was a fresh product that they had been getting from Calgary. It was fresher, and the price was better. We built a great name in the industry, and we were committed. We would bend over backwards to fill someone’s order.
Yet, in all honesty, I believe that the biggest part of our success was truly the employees. As an entrepreneur, you’re doing everything possible that you can on your end, but without a core, without the employees with their dedication and hard work, it wouldn’t have worked. We had a crew that was bar none, so we could not have had the success we did without them.
What advice do you have for an entrepreneur starting their first business?
First things first, they have to make sure they have those three components I mentioned before. Any business you go into, you’ve got to make sure you have a good product, if not a great product. You’ve got to make sure that your prices are very competitive, and you must ensure that you offer great service. Those are the three most important things.
Another thing is that you need to have a proper business plan. When you start, you have a burn rate, meaning you’re spending a lot of money before you even get the business. That is important to know because a few months after we first started, we were almost out of money, but luckily we landed that talent when we did because if we had gone another month or two, I don’t know what we would’ve done. We were completely out of money.
So, for someone starting their first business, they’ve got to make sure they have enough funds to fund their business for the first six or so months. They need to make sure they have those three components and a business plan. Then lastly, do your homework and due diligence. If there are already three bakers in that area and you’re going to open up a bakery with the same product, it’s going to be that much tougher to enter the market.
How do you attract and retain excellent employees?
Initially, most of our employees were hired through word of mouth. We started out with five, and some would tell their cousins, aunts, or friends and they would start working with us. Obviously that changes after you have so many employees, and with the market here in British Columbia, so we had to find ways to attract them. What I would do is after a quick interview with them, if I found them to be compatible, I would take them inside the warehouse and show them around. I’d show them the station where they would be working at, and I would tell them to talk with the employees and ask as many questions as they wanted. Then I would leave and go outside for about ten minutes.
I was selling them on the atmosphere of the job and how happy and pleased the employees were. We were never the highest-paid bakery because most of our products were commodities, so we couldn’t afford it. So, we had to offer a competitive salary, and then I had to sell them on more. The atmosphere of the place, people walked in smiling. I’ve been to other plants and when their boss walks in everybody pretends their busy with something. We had a completely different atmosphere, I guess. It started with me being hands-on and staying hands-on. We had 200 employees, and I knew every single person’s name. So, when an interviewee walked in and saw that, and then they would talk to other employees and see they are pleased without me being present, that sold them on working for us. I was also very accommodating and flexible with people’s schedules.
What tactics have you been using to mitigate the effects of the current labour shortage in British Columbia?
Number one, I think for me, the biggest thing was to offer them a flexible schedule. Then what we would do was try to automate more so we wouldn’t need to hire as many employees. So even though we are growing, but instead of continuing to add employees, I would look at each different line, each different piece of equipment, and figure out where we could add more automation. I would then move the employees off of those lines and onto the new machines or new items we were making.
At one point, about eight years ago, we couldn’t get any more employees because it was such a tight market that I had to hire some people from overseas. So, I hired five Filipino gentlemen that came to work for us, and they’re still working for the new owners.
We also offered them extended medical and dental plans to try and be more competitive than the other companies. I would ask them, and the biggest thing for them was that they wanted an extended medical and dental plan. So, we made sure to offer them that.
How concerned should new businesses be about sustainability?
I think they should be very concerned because now the labour pool is getting smaller and smaller in BC. The biggest reason is because of the construction booms over the last seven to eight years. It’s one of our biggest industries here. So, there was a labour shortage because of that. Another thing is that many of the people here have caused the housing market to become unaffordable at this point, so several people are moving out to the suburbs that are an hour to two hours away. So, you need to think about that when considering where to open your plant. If you open it up close to Vancouver and somebody has to commute an hour and a half to two hours to get to work, they will find something closer to home unless you’re paying them much higher to offset it.
When you were first starting out, was there a time where you doubted yourself? If so, how did you overcome this?
Absolutely. I mentioned earlier how we almost ran out of money a few months into opening our bakery. When that happens, you start doubting yourself, wondering if you made the right decisions. This was a totally different industry altogether for us. We’d always been working in the grocery or restaurant business, and all of a sudden, we’re in a bakery business with no prior experience. But, to me, you just have to keep pushing because you’ve already invested all of this time, money and hard work. So, you just have to keep pushing yourself and telling yourself that we did do the right decision, we did do our due diligence. It’s funny; the mind is a very powerful tool if it’s used correctly. So just stay focused, and keep saying yes, we’ll definitely do it. We just had to not give up. Thankfully, we didn’t.
What has been your biggest hurdle to overcome as an entrepreneur?
I don’t know about other entrepreneurs, but for myself, looking back at 32 years of hard work, the biggest thing that comes to mind is balance and delegation. It’s very easy to get sucked into your daily work, especially when you first start out, and especially if you’re passionate about your industry and your work, which becomes your baby. I’m sure all entrepreneurs feel the same way. It’s natural to give it 100 per cent of your attention, but that means now you’re working over a hundred hours a week, including weekends.
In my situation, I had to learn how to fix the machines, and I had no experience. We could not afford it to pay something thousands of dollars to come in and fix a machine every time it went down. It was very challenging. I sacrificed any time with my family for the business. I would train someone, so I could start delegating, but for me, it was easier just to fix it myself. Nobody will work the same as yourself. So, the biggest hurdles for me were learning balance and delegation. I had to learn to let go and train somebody and just let them do it on their own.