The Ayars continue five generations of a family business
By Ashourina Slewo
When Ronny Ayar’s great great grandfather, Yousif, went to work in a tahini factory in Iraq, a love and passion for tahini that would span five generations was sparked. Working in this tahini factory, Ronny’s great great grandfather learned the ins and outs of the business, from producing to packaging – giving him the knowledge he needed to open his own tahini factory.
Eventually, Yousif brought his son, Khemerko, on board, equipping him with everything he would need to take on the business. The line of succession continued to Khemerko’s son, Yousif who would then hand operations over to his son Masood.
With Masood and Ronny heading the family business, the family business would eventually find itself in the United States.
At one point, the Ayar family had three tahini factories – with one right next to their home in Iraq. Today, the family has one factory left in Talkaif. The factory continues to be fully operational.
Tahini is a paste or sauce made from ground sesame seeds. It is versatile in that it can be eaten on its own, used as a marinade or spread, and is the main ingredient in dishes such as hummus.
“Tahini is a specialty item. It’s not the type of item that you buy and just store it on a shelf,” explained Ronny. “You use it often, if not every day. It’s a very unique item – it’s more an ingredient.”
A rich source of various vitamins and minerals, and proteins, tahini has several nutritional benefits.
“People do not realize how good tahini is for them – it has omega-3, protein, and fiber,” Ronny said.
In 1990, the Ayar brothers – of which there are six – made their way to the U.S. About three years later, the rest of the Ayar family followed them to the U.S. as well. Focused on making a living in a new country, they worked in liquor stores.
It was not too long after that they bought their own liquor store, which flourished; their entrepreneurial drive grew – the family decided the next, most logical venture would be to break into the supermarket business.
“We wanted to take it one step higher,” Ronny said.
Their businesses continued to thrive and expand – today the family has two liquor stores, two supermarkets, and several gas station and cell phone store properties that they rent out.
Even as their family found great success in industries other than tahini production, Masood Ayar, the Ayar family patriarch yearned for a tahini factory in his new home.
“My dad goes back to Iraq often because of his tahini factory in Iraq,” explained Ayar. “He has always wanted a tahini factory here in America, too.”
Masood was relentless in his pursuit to open a factory in the U.S. where he would be able to continue his craft and someday, pass it on to his grandchildren as he had with his children.
“My father always dreamed of having a factory here in the U.S.,” said Ronny. “I’m the oldest son and he would always fight with me about opening a factory here. He would say, ‘when are you going to open a factory?’”
Finally, in 2017, Masood was given the opportunity to purchase an established tahini factory in Madison Heights. This would be the start of Royal Tahini.
“When a factory went up for sale, he didn’t even negotiate the price – he just bought it. That’s how much he wanted it,” said Ronny.
His father’s dream had come to be a reality.
“When I came to America, it was my dream to open a factory here and pass it on to my kids and their kids. This is our craft, it’s what we do. This is my career, this is what I live for,” Masood said.
Previously, Royal Tahini was owned by a family from Alqosh. “So, they were in business for five years and they did not take [the business] to another level, they just dealt with restaurant depot and that’s it,” said Ronny.
Wanting more for his family’s legacy on American soil, Ronny hit the ground running and expanded the business substantially over the course of one year.
“When I took over, I expanded from 12 to 13 stores to about 50 stores. My goal is to be national; I want to be all over the United States,” he explained. “I’m working with Walmart, I’m working with Kroger, and even Whole Foods to try and get my product in their stores.”
Ronny’s expansion was made possible as he moved to get his product in as many local stores and markets as possible.
“Most of my customers are Mediterranean or Arabic markets and restaurants, and some of the hummus factories,” he said. “I want to take the business to another level.”
Currently, the roster of products includes two primary tahinis, Royal Tahini and Village Rashi, and one seasonal tahini, which includes walnut. Production of their seasonal tahini begins in November. Royal Tahini is primarily used in making hummus. Village Rashi however, is what can be eaten on its own or with date syrup.”
Our community is more familiar with Village Rashi. It is the tahini they can eat whenever – it’s not just an ingredient,” said Ronny. “It’s especially popular during Lent.”
The process of making tahini starts with the soaking and peeling of sesame seeds. From there, the sesame seeds are roasted in an effort to kill any and all bacteria that may have lingered, effectively preparing them to be grinded.
Today, both in Iraq and the U.S., the process has been simplified because of technology. Masood, however, recalls when it took him nearly 24 hours to produce 10-12 44-pound buckets of tahini. In comparison, it now only takes about an hour to produce that much tahini.
Through their many years of making tahini, they have seen the paste go from an acquired taste to a popular food across several communities. “Now, it is getting more popular; there are tahini chips for example. Companies will buy my tahini to make tahini chips,” said Ayar. “Or companies in Chicago will buy my tahini to make tahini cookies – I provide them with the tahini they need to make their products.”
For Ronny, making tahini is about a lot more than just making a living and providing for his family. Tahini is in his blood and being able to provide a quality tahini for members of his community and beyond brings him joy. A sense of pride wells within him when he sees his tahini on shelves throughout his community.
Ronny credits his dad for much of what he has learned – from everything that goes into making tahini to the integrity it takes to provide a product that is nothing short of amazing to his customers.
“I have learned everything I know from my dad. He taught me how to make a quality product. We only make quality tahini,” he said.
Their product is one of a kind for this reason. “Royal Tahini and Village Rashi are made with 100 percent pure sesame. There are no colors, preservatives, oil, or salt added,” explained Ronny.
He explains that some brands tend to use salt to hide the bitter taste of cheap sesame or add extra oil when using low quality seeds resulting in an overall oily tahini. Some will even add sunflower seeds to their tahini in an effort to make it more profitable.
These “cheap tricks” have never been a choice when making Royal Tahini or Village Rashi.
“We have succeeded in our lives because we work honestly, we don’t try to cheat,” said Masood. “If I cheat my customers, I am cheating myself.”