A man who can hold up his pitta with pride

Paul Rowinski on a philosophical entrepreneur who fought ill-health and fire to bring us speciality breads

PRIDE VALLEY, the company Hossain Rezaei set up in 1990, is essentially an extended family. The central tenets are trust, faith and loyalty.

So it was rather like telling close relatives of a tragic loss when Mr Rezaei stood on a soapbox to placate distraught employees a few years ago after the factories were completely destroyed by fire. Mr Rezaei and his wife, Susan, had created a multi-million pound operation, the pride of the North-east. Then it all disappeared in front of them.

To understand how Mr Rezaei turned it around it is necessary to fathom the man himself. Mr Rezaei is the closest you can get to the Iranian version of John Harvey-Jones. He tackles every problem head on, calm and calculating in business, but open and charismatic by nature.

As an engineering student at Newcastle Polytechnic, he realised that there was a gap in the market for quality pitta breads - then only a fraction of the overall bread market.

While completing his BSc at the polytechnic, and MSc and then a PhD at Durham University, Mr Rezaei ran the North-east's first kebab shops. There, he noticed that while many pittas had some good qualities, they all lacked authenticity.

He recalls: "I decided at the time that I was neither rich enough or experienced enough to get into that game. But I knew that there was some potential."

Just before his finals, he developed a cyst on the base of his spine and had to take his exams in agony. Nevertheless, he passed. Had he failed, he would have returned to Iran.

After his studies, he formed Pride Valley, and the search for an authentic pitta bread began. Mr Rezaei went to Israel and Egypt, back to pitta's roots, to discover the genuine product, then made customised machines to reproduce it.

"It was where being an engineer came in," he says. "Rather than the chamois-leather pitta bread that was on the shelf, breaking into pieces, I decided to design something that allowed me to me create an authentic product."

And when the firm branched out into naans, Mr Rezaei spent hours in the back of Indian restaurants engaged in more culinary research.

His idea of mass-producing authentic speciality breads developed. Within a few years of moving to the purpose-built factories in Seaham, County Durham, in 1993, business was booming. A pounds 500,000 turnover had risen to nearly pounds 10m in 16 months, and staff levels increased from about 25 to 200.

Mr Rezaei was on target to semi-retire in 2000 at 45 and the company was aiming for a turnover of more than pounds 30m. In December 1995, in the space of a few hours, it looked as if the fire had destroyed all that.

"It was like going from here to the moon and the moon was not there," Mr Rezaei recalls. "It was just so soul-destroying. That is the time that you are tested. You have got to stay level-headed. It says in the Koran that everybody is tested, every being, every soul, to see that they perform."

He told his employees they had only lost the tools of their trade but that their acquired expertise remained. He was right.

At Pride Valley, employees have a share option scheme, a pension plan and profit-related pay, coupled with mortgage payments. As Mr Rezaei explains, again quoting the Koran: "If you help someone in the most unexpected place in desperate need, stuck out on the ocean, you will receive help when you least expect it, in the desert. Against all the odds it was that kind of help I got in the middle of the desert after the fire."

Staff set up alternative offices and were the first to inform clients what had happened - before the opposition did.

Within days Mr Rezaei and his backers had come up with a refinancing package. From a nearby empty factory Mr Rezaei staged his renaissance. Reconstruction began immediately, and within four months Pride Valley was back in business.

Mr Rezaei found "family" members in the most unlikely places; one young man from a deprived Newcastle estate whom Mr Rezaei took on, feeling he had what it took, has now become a pivotal player in the company.

Sir Ian Wrigglesworth, the former president of the Liberal Democrat Party, was his landlord at the first factory in Gateshead. Today they are good friends.

Pride Valley is now a market leader, producing around 2 million pieces of bread daily. Tortillas are the latest additions to Mr Rezaei's repertoire of more than 40 varieties.

He claims that he has probably Europe's most sophisticated, hi-tech, hygienic food factory. It is certainly fire-proof.

By 2001 turnover is expected to reach pounds 35m to pounds 40m. By autumn next year Mr Rezaei hopes to have doubled factory space and production.

He wants to take speciality bread into the mainstream and is planning a range of new products.

As for his retirement plans, he is back on target to semi-retire at 45. But it seems more likely that Mr Rezaei will want to stay in the fast lane. It is his natural home, after all.

PROMOTED VIDEO
News
video
Life and Style
tech
Arts and Entertainment
Southern charm: Nicolas Cage and Tye Sheridan in ‘Joe’
filmReview: Actor delivers astonishing performance in low budget drama
Arts and Entertainment
While many films were released, few managed to match the success of James Bond blockbuster 'Skyfall'
film
Arts and Entertainment
Up my street: The residents of the elegant Moray Place in Edinburgh's Georgian New Town
tvBBC's The Secret History of Our Streets reveals a fascinating window into Britain's past
Extras
indybest
News
Albus Dumbledore, the headmaster of Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry has been the teaching profession's favourite teacher
education
News
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
Sport
Luis Suarez looks towards the crowd during the 2-1 victory over England
sport
Life and Style
Cheesecake frozen yoghurt by Constance and Mathilde Lorenzi
food + drinkThink outside the cool box for this summer’s frozen treats
News
John Barrowman kisses his male “bride” at a mock Gretna Green during the Commonwealth Games opening ceremony
peopleBarrowman's opening ceremony message to Commonwealth countries where he would be sent to prison for being gay
Sport
Sir Bradley Wiggins removes his silver medal after the podium ceremony for the men’s 4,000m team pursuit in Glasgow yesterday
Commonwealth games Disappointment for Sir Bradley in team pursuit final as England are forced to settle for silver
Sport
Alistair Brownlee (right) celebrates with his gold medal after winning the men’s triathlon alongside brother Jonny (left), who got silver
England's Jodie Stimpson won the women’s triathlon in the morning
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Money & Business

Junior Research Analyst - Recruitment Resourcer

£18000 - £20000 per annum + OTE £25K: SThree: SThree Group has been well estab...

Senior Analyst - Financial Modelling

competitive: Progressive Recruitment: This really is a fantastic chance to joi...

Associate CXL Consultant

£40000 - £60000 per annum + BONUS + BENEFITS: Harrington Starr: CXL, Triple Po...

Business Anaylst

£60000 - £75000 per annum + BONUS + BENEFITS: Harrington Starr: Business Anal...

Day In a Page

Backhanders, bribery and abuses of power have soared in China as economy surges

Bribery and abuses of power soar in China

The bribery is fuelled by the surge in China's economy but the rules of corruption are subtle and unspoken, finds Evan Osnos, as he learns the dark arts from a master
Commonwealth Games 2014: Highland terriers stole the show at the opening ceremony

Highland terriers steal the show at opening ceremony

Gillian Orr explores why a dog loved by film stars and presidents is finally having its day
German art world rocked as artists use renowned fat sculpture to distil schnapps

Brewing the fat from artwork angers widow of sculptor

Part of Joseph Beuys' 1982 sculpture 'Fettecke' used to distil schnapps
BBC's The Secret History of Our Streets reveals a fascinating window into Britain's past

BBC takes viewers back down memory lane

The Secret History of Our Streets, which returns with three films looking at Scottish streets, is the inverse of Benefits Street - delivering warmth instead of cynicism
Joe, film review: Nicolas Cage delivers an astonishing performance in low budget drama

Nicolas Cage shines in low-budget drama Joe

Cage plays an ex-con in David Gordon Green's independent drama, which has been adapted from a novel by Larry Brown
How to make your own gourmet ice lollies, granitas, slushy cocktails and frozen yoghurt

Make your own ice lollies and frozen yoghurt

Think outside the cool box for this summer's tempting frozen treats
Ford Fiesta is UK's most popular car of all-time, with sales topping 4.1 million since 1976

Fiesta is UK's most popular car of all-time

Sales have topped 4.1 million since 1976. To celebrate this milestone, four Independent writers recall their Fiestas with pride
10 best reed diffusers

Heaven scent: 10 best reed diffusers

Keep your rooms smelling summery and fresh with one of these subtle but distinctive home fragrances that’ll last you months
Commonwealth Games 2014: Female boxers set to compete for first time

Female boxers set to compete at Commonwealth Games for first time

There’s no favourites and with no headguards anything could happen
Five things we’ve learned so far about Manchester United under Louis van Gaal

Five things we’ve learned so far about United under Van Gaal

It’s impossible to avoid the impression that the Dutch manager is playing to the gallery a little
Screwing your way to the top? Good for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth

Screwing your way to the top?

Good for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth, says Grace Dent
Will the young Britons fighting in Syria be allowed to return home and resume their lives?

Will Britons fighting in Syria be able to resume their lives?

Tony Blair's Terrorism Act 2006 has made it an offence to take part in military action abroad with a "political, ideological, religious or racial motive"
Beyoncé poses as Rosie the Riveter, the wartime poster girl who became a feminist pin-up

Beyoncé poses as Rosie the Riveter

The wartime poster girl became the ultimate American symbol of female empowerment
The quest to find the perfect pair of earphones: Are custom, 3D printed earbuds the solution?

The quest to find the perfect pair of earphones

Earphones don't fit properly, offer mediocre audio quality and can even be painful. So the quest to design the perfect pair is music to Seth Stevenson's ears
US Army's shooting star: Lt-Col Steven Cole is the man Hollywood calls when it wants to borrow a tank or check a military uniform

Meet the US Army's shooting star

Lt-Col Steven Cole is the man Hollywood calls when it wants to borrow a tank or check a military uniform