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Made in WNY: Father Sam's Bread

Buffalo, NY (WBEN) - Chances are if you've eaten a pita or anything wrapped in a tortilla in Western New York, you've tasted something out of Father Sam's Bakery.

There, Father Sam isn't just a catchy name, he's the founder.

"We introduced bread to our church congregation when I was the Priest at St. Patricks in Tonawanda," said Father Albert Sam, the company's founder who still serves as an Episcopal Priest. "We asked the Bishop for permission to use our Arabic bread instead of those awful wafers we used. People loved them, and in that process it got very popular."

What does Sam mean when he says Arabic bread? "Right now, it's really kind of popular and it's called flatbread, but in Syria where my family's from, they make a very thick Arabic bread like we do with a pocket in it. The word 'pita bread' is really a Greek word, not an Arabic word."

Father Sam’s Bakery began baking bread for sale in July of 1977 in a building transformed to be a bakery where pizza ovens were sometimes used to cook the bread properly. Making the Pitas has changed a lot in the nearly 40 years since Father Sam started.

Father Sam's Bakery has expanded by leaps and bounds since its early days, a lot of that has been driven by the demand for tortillas.

"We started doing tortillas just about 15 years ago. We started very small, just for Tops, and then we started to branch out and now we're in many markets. We do a lot of private label products, and we're probably in 17 states now."

Today Father Sam's makes as many tortillas as his machines can handle, up to 20,000 tortillas an hour. The high-tech machines in Sam's bakery today do a lot more than cook though. "Now everything's done mechanically, hardly anyone touches it. What used to take 15 people to do takes five now. It does everything mechanically, even takes pictures of each loaf and makes sure it's the right size before we send it out. If it isn't, it rejects it."

Father Sam chooses to let his children handle the new technology.

"They kind of put me out to pasture," Sam said jokingly. "They allow me to have the office here, they even now and then ask me a question. I could take a pinch of bread, taste it, and tell you if it's mixed properly. They know things about PH and all that other stuff, which I don't relate to."

Fortunately for Sam, he has a large family to keep the business running. "We have 45 grandchildren, half of them are great, half of them are regulars. The fourth generation is in the 10-12 year old range now so I'm hoping maybe in the next 10 years to see the fourth generation develop some skills. I've always pushed them to try and get a job somewhere else and make sure they can support themselves, then come to the family business because they want to do it, not because they were stuck for a job."

Father Sam's is already planning on expanding in the near future, and hopes to have an idea on their next hit product. The bakery has begun making a par-baked tortilla, which are roughly half-baked and people can take home and quickly finish making themselves on a skillet.

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