A Tahini Tradition

The Ayars continue five generations of a family business

By Ashourina Slewo

 Ronny Ayar and his father, Masood.

Ronny Ayar and his father, Masood.

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.

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“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.”

 The Chaldean community is more familiar with Village Rashi, pictured above. Royal Tahini is more commonly used as one of the main ingredients in hummus.

The Chaldean community is more familiar with Village Rashi, pictured above. Royal Tahini is more commonly used as one of the main ingredients in hummus.

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.”