Back in the 1960s, a bright light turned on in Harry Toufayan’s mind as he waited in line at a supermarket deli counter near his family’s home in New Jersey. That’s when the young man in his early 20s realized that consumers might love the pocketed pita bread that his family had been making since 1926, first in the Middle East where they had lived before immigrating to the United States and then with his father in the small family bakery.
Mr. Toufayan began introducing pitas to grocery, deli and health food store buyers, and the rest is history. Today, Ridgefield, N.J.-based Toufayan Bakeries is recognized as one of the nation’s leading producers of flatbreads, pitas, bagels and other specialty baked goods produced in three state-of-the-art facilities: two in Florida and the other in New Jersey. Mr. Toufayan runs the company with his three children, Greg, Kristine and Karen Toufayan, who respectively head operations, finance and marketing within the organization.
For more than 50 years, “Hurricane” Harry, as he is affectionately known, has been active in the baking industry, spearheading the development of more than 100 varieties of authentic, healthy baked goods that include everything from lavash and organic breads to gluten-free wraps and pita chips.
Decades ago, Mr. Toufayan became the first to automate production of pita bread, working alongside the then owner of Universal Oven to develop the conveyorized proofers that are now used in most pita and flatbread bakeries across the world. With a thorough knowledge of all the recipes and machinery, he personally oversaw the creation of the company’s bakeries and collaborated with OEMs to design new equipment to keep up with the demand for its products.
In business, Mr. Toufayan demonstrated a passion for creating new items that usually required significant capital investments in production and packaging equipment, noted Nannette Gardetto, former executive vice president of Gardetto’s and former chief executive officer of Baptista’s Bakery, Milwaukee, in one of a dozen letters of recommendation.
Ms. Gardetto recalled how Mr. Toufayan had become a supplier of baked goods to her family’s business and developed a close friendship with her father, John Gardetto.
“Their business deals were always done on a mere handshake, but that handshake was a symbol of the bond between them that transcended business,” she observed. “It symbolized their shared values of humility, honesty, respect and integrity.”
Mr. Toufayan has been active in the American Bakers Association and other industry groups. His passion, however, involves charitable and philanthropic work. He built and actively supports a church youth center from homeland, Armenia. Mr. Toufayan has also funded the expansion of local nonprofits, schools and charities and regularly steps in to help those in need nationwide, including during the recent pandemic.
For his personal and business accomplishments over the past half century, the American Society of Baking has named Mr. Toufayan to the 2021 Baking Hall of Fame.