In 2000, Alan Hakimi, along with two business partners at the time, established Lyon Bakery, Inc. The now rapidly growing bakery started out with Hakimi selling loaves in 13-hour shifts every Saturday and Sunday to busy commuters at the Union Station market.
Since then, the company has become one of the top wholesale bread suppliers in the DC and Baltimore metro areas, supplying hotels, restaurants and high-end delis with all-natural, authentic artisan breads. In response to high demand, which drives the production of about 150,000 pounds of dough per week, the small-batch bakery is now in the midst of an expansion.
But Hakimi’s bread business wasn’t always on the rise.
“Everyone emphasizes success stories, but it’s really the ones you lose your shirt on that you learn much more from,” he said.
In the late 1990s, with no experience in the industry, Hakimi opened a small bakery with a couple of
friends on Wisconsin Ave. in DC offering handmade bread and pastries.
“I basically lost my shirt,” he said. “We ended up selling it for pennies. That’s when we started Lyon Bakery.”
What did he learn? Keep it simple, which for Hakimi meant no more retail.
“I said, ‘Let’s just focus on one thing. Just bread, just wholesale,’” he said. “We were able to not make the same mistakes twice, and the company started growing right from the beginning.”
Wholesalers generally require 50% off the retail price so they can sell it at a markup. But when selling retail, Hakimi was pricing at or below his wholesale price to compete with big-box companies and ensure customers could pick up one of his loaves for less money than going to the grocery store. Even today, you can buy Lyon Bakery bread exclusively at Union Market for $2-$3/loaf.
The best advice Hakimi has for anyone starting or expanding a business: Really, really think before you
“When people have money, they love to spend it very quickly,” he said. “Make sure you calculate the return
when you’re expanding or investing in your business.”
For example, before investing in tools for dough dividing, Hakimi spent several days counting how long it took each employee to hand cut each loaf.
“It’s so important to take that time to analyze,” he said.
When he did decide to invest in the dividers, he knew exactly how many to buy and exactly how much time he would be saving on production.
“I can tell you about another handful of places that I tried that were not successful and they hurt a lot,” said Hakimi, who so far has started six businesses. “But it’s actually the
opportunity for success that you seek and you go back and you do it again.”