Foodservice & Hospitality Magazine
Ontario’s hospitality business newspaper
March 2001
By Carol Neshevich

For Love of Bread

A strong passion for bread drive the owner shasha Bread Co. to strive for the healthiest, tastiest bread around

ShaSha Navazesh considers himself to be more of an artisan than a businessman. As the owner of Toronto’s ShaSha Bread Co., he believes making organic bread is closer to being a craft or an art then a money-making venture. Nevertheless, practising his craft has clearly become a lucrative business. Since incorporating the company in January 1999, sales already exceed $1 million per year, as Navazesh’s all-natural products have found their way into approximately 150 retail stores in the Toronto area, as well as a number of upscale Toronto establishments such as the Rosewater Supper Club, Wildfire Grille, Four Seasons Hotel and the Delta Chelsea.

Before entering the bread business, Navazesh- who immigrated to Canada 14 years ago after living in a number of countries, including Azerbaijan and England- had worked as a chef for a number of years. He learned to cook in Europe, but decided to hone his skills at Toronto’s George Brown College, graduating in 1991 from the bakery department. His first job following graduation wasn’t actually as a baker, however he became a sous chef at Toronto’s La Marquette. He then helped open the Brass Taps restaurant/pub chain in 1992 as a “chef consultant”, followed by consulting jobs for several other Toronto restaurants. But his love of baking never diminished, and eventually he felt the need to devote his life to bread
“I find making bread to be inspiring; it gives me a lot of satisfaction,” says the 40-year old baker, who describes himself as “passionate” about the topic. Growing up in the mountains of Azerbaijan, he says that sitting down to a good meal with the family and friends was always extremely important, and “bread was the cornerstone of every meal.” This philosophy is at the core of why he focuses so much on high quality, healthy ingredients in his business. “I like to take the bread home with me and feed it to my family,” he says. “So if I’m going to do it, I’m going to do it right.”

“I find making Bread to be inspiring: it gives me a lot of satisfaction “ Navazesh’s idea of “doing it right”, is baking wholesome, all natural sourdough bread. He feels very strongly about the benefits of the sourdough technique, explaining that with the sourdough, a “symbiotic culture” of lactobacilli and wild fungi is used for leavening, unlike the regular method of bread-baking, in which commercial bakers yeast is used. While baker’s yeast allows a quick-rising action, the fermentation time isn’t long enough to produce any beneficial lactic acid. The sourdough method is the only natural bacteria activity to boost lactic levels, greatly contributing to nutrition, digestibility, moisture and flavour, according to Navazesh.

The company also sprouts its own organic grains for its bread products, “We’re one of the only (suppliers) in Ontario that sprouts grain,” says Navazesh, who stresses that using live sprouted grain is very beneficial for the human body. With this method, live grain kernels are soaked until they release enzymes that cause the living kernels to sprout, which in turn releases all the nutrients stored in the whole grain. Navazesh says bread made from sprouted grain is richer in protein, vitamins, minerals and enzymes.

Among ShaSha’s sprouted grain breads is the “Ezekiel” bread, a popular re-created version of an ancient biblical bread (based on the recipes God gave Ezekiel in Ezekiel 4:9). Using sprouted wheat, spelt, lentils, soybeans, millet and barley, this bread provides eights essential amino acids, making it a high source of protein.

The company’s bread offerings also include Spelt and Kamut Bread (ideal for those who can’t eat wheat), Multi-Grain Bread, Organic Canadian Wheat Bread, a nine-inch Spelt and Kamut Pizza Crust, Armenian Lavash (a yeast free flatbread made no oil and sugar) and Sesame Rice Sticks. On the retail market, bread loaves typically sell for between $3 and $5, which often works out to be between 100 and 150 per cent more than most regular retail breads.

On the foodservice side, however, Navazesh says prices are comparable to other breads. The company offers several products created especially for foodservice, including the Clustered Panini (a dome-shaped Panini consisting of 36 buns stuck together), Pan Rustica buns, and the Mini Baguette- a 90-per-cent ready baked loaf. With this product, the remainder of the baking is done by the restaurants themselves, allowing for the freshly baked look and smell. Prices for restaurants are negotiated between Shasha and the individual establishment,

With ShaSha bread selling so well, one might think that Navazesh- whose company currently employs 16 staff members- would have major expansion plans. But Navazesh has no plan to increase his manufacturing capacity. “A sourdough bakery can’s go on mass production,” he explains. He will, however, consider expanding the bakery’s reach a little further beyond Toronto’s boundaries, and is already starting to send frozen products as a far as Ottawa.

Interestingly, Navazehs’s passion for bread goes well beyond the realm of his own business. He’s working to find out more about the science of bread in order to improve not lonely his own company’s bread, but the bread industry as a whole. In fact, Shasha is the only bakery in Canada ever to receive the National Council of Canada’s Industrial Research Assistance Program (IRAP) grant. (For his latest research project, $15,000 of the $50,000 total cost was supplied by the grant.) In Phase I of his research, completed at the end of 1999, he worked on determining the optimal environment factors for sourdough bacteria and fungus. Phase 2, now in the works, will involve creating a machine to make sourdough bread. If it were made easier, he believes, more bakers would employ the sourdough method, which could raise the bar on bread quality everywhere. Why does he care what other bakes do? To sum it up, he simply says, “I just really love bread.”