Leavening Legends

Monica Parpal |
Food And Dining

In 1981, Atlanta-based restaurant owner Hezi Stein needed bread. “I had opened my own restaurant, and we had a need for fresh pita bread. Finding nothing satisfying in the area, I decided to open a small bakery next-door to the restaurant to bake the bread myself—in the traditional Israeli way.” It wasn't long before other local restaurants took notice of Stein's bread, so much so that he decided to shut down the restaurant and focus on the bakery full-time. Four years later, Hezi’s brother Koby Stein, partnered with him to establish a family-owned and -operated bakery.

Masada Bakery was named for a fabled icon of the Jewish faith: an enormous, isolated rock formation which served as the last “fortress” for a small group of rebels surviving an attack by Roman assailants. And indeed, aspects of vigilance and fortitude have built up the Masada brand throughout the years. Now, 90-percent of its wholesale business involves serving restaurants, hotels, and grocers (like Kroger, Whole Foods, and Trader Joe's).

As Stein sees it, bread is one of the most important parts of the meal. It's the first impression that customers have of a restaurant. “I believe that it's all about the bread. We can help restaurants achieve that positive first impression. When their customers come back, business grows for all of us.”

Furthermore, running a bakery has strengthened ties to Stein's own culture. “In the Middle East, and in Mediterranean regions of Europe, bread is an important part of everyday life. You buy bread once in the morning, and again in the afternoon. When I came to the United States, there wasn't much available outside basic white bread. I wanted to be able to offer artisan, quality bread with no preservatives or additives. Quality, delicious bread is something we've been able to bring to the United States—especially the Southeast.”

During its 32 years, Masada Bakery has become a regional wholesale legend, earning Snack Food & Whole Sale Bakery magazine's 2012 Baker of the Year award. The facility in Norcross, Ga. has expanded since its inception, now occupying about 100,000 square-feet, employing over 200 people, and serving multiple hotels, groceries, and restaurant chains in the southeast region of the U.S. In fact, Masada now delivers fresh bread daily to eight states, including Tennessee, both Carolinas, Virginia, and Florida.

Stein works with chefs and business owners to create special, custom breads for their restaurants. “Every chef likes his own signature style of bread. We work with each one to create something special,” he says. “We deliver fresh to major chains such as Jason's Deli, and Five Guys Burgers and Fries. We've also developed a frozen program so we can serve national customers like Cheeburger Cheeburger and distributors like SYSCO and US Food.”

Over the years, Masada's growth and high demand have necessitated the need for some automated machinery. Yet, most of the breads are still prepared at least partially by hand, maintaining Masada's status as an artisan bakery. “Even with automated machinery, there are things the machines cannot do,” Stein says. “About 20- to 30-percent of the preparation process is still performed by hand, which gives us the look and taste we want.” 

It seems impossible that they've maintained the same quality all these years. “We still use the best ingredients, and we don't cut corners,” Stein says. “In our brioche, for example, we use real milk, real eggs, and real butter. It's what the chefs want, and the customers can tell the difference. We price accordingly, of course, but people appreciate the high quality of our ingredients.”

According to Stein, quality has always been the most important factor. “During our growth, we've kept our focus on two major things: quality and customer service,” he says. “We found that our customers sought us out for our quality—the moment they try it, they're sold. And it's our job to maintain that high standard.”

For more information on Masada Bakery, visit masadabakery.com.