It’s always a bit of a thrill to find a locally made product in a far-flung destination. Like flipping the pages of the Neiman Marcus catalog to find that the unique cookies from Lark Fine Foods, baked in a small facility in Essex, are craved by luxury shoppers across the country. Or find soft fresh pita from Joseph’s Bakery, made in Lawrence, in grocery stores overseas. Here are three businesses rooted on the North Shore that are making a splash beyond our neighborhoods.
American Dream: Joseph’s Bakery
When Joseph Boghos was little, he and his brother, Steve, had dough fights in his grandfather’s bakery. They would pick up perfect rounds, about the size of baseballs, “run around the bakery and hide, and try to hit each other with dough balls while people worked and went about their days,” he recalls.
A quarter-century later, Joseph is no longer throwing dough at his brother. He’s chief baker and president of the pita bread company started by his grandfather, and those pillowy loaves can be found in all 50 states and 16 countries around the world. He works with Steve, who is vice president of business development at the company, which marked its 50th anniversary in 2022.
“A bootstrap story with a lot of sweat equity decades ago is the only reason the third generation is here today,” says Joseph, who is still at the bakery daily. “We feel insanely fortunate to be able to grow the business. It is a legacy play, forever, with no intention of selling.”
The first-generation Joseph, for whom the bakery is named, set down roots in Melrose with his family in 1952, joining a growing Lebanese community upon immigrating from Damascus, Syria. While baking for friends using a centuries-old family recipe, he eventually saw a need to provide fellow immigrants with the bread they grew up with. But it turned out that Middle Eastern migrants were not the only people who loved pita bread, and they were soon selling fresh rounds in Market Basket. Over the decades, the Lawrence-based bakery has grown from a single line to more than 10, expanding from the original pita to lavash and tortillas, and innovating beyond the classic white flour to add a line of pitas made with a mix of flax, oat bran, and whole wheat.
Joseph credits the North Shore community for the business’s continued success, noting that 90% of Joseph’s employees hail from the Lawrence area. And these days, while Joseph’s son, Jack, likely isn’t playing hide-and-seek in the busy facility, he does share something in common with his hard-working dad. “I came home the other day and Jack was like, ‘Dad, you smell like a bakery,’” Joseph recalls. “That totally resonates. Steve and I associate that smell with our dad.”
Niche Sweets: Lark Fine Foods
While Brooke Carroll is modest about the success of her cookie company, founded “on a lark” seven years ago, some big names appreciate her approach to baking treats. North Shore retailers like Crosby’s Markets, Common Crow in Gloucester, and Lula’s Pantry in Rockport were among her first supporters, but Lark products are now sold at Williams Sonoma, Neiman Marcus, and at the Tin Building, the new marketplace developed by Michelin-starred chef Jean-Georges in New York City.
It’s no wonder, with a commitment to small-batch baking at her facility in Essex, high-quality ingredients (including more butter than she’d care to disclose), and unique flavors like Salted Rosemary Shortbread (their most popular flavor), Pistachio Cherry Sable, and Tea Cake, a pecan-butter ball that is hand-tossed three times in sifted confectioner’s sugar before being gently packaged by hand, one at a time.
“Lark has grown into a company that values hard work as much as it does time off to spend with family and friends, and the importance of a small business to the greater community,” Carroll says. In fact, the majority of Lark’s ingredients come from local distributors and/or makers, including two from just down the road. The burnt sugar for Burnt Sugar Shortbread and the almond brittle (used in the Salted Caramel Almond Chocolate Chip) are made by Tuck’s Candy in Rockport.
Hungry yet? There’s more to come. From special holiday flavors like Chocolate Mint Sable and Dutch almond spice “St. Nicholas” cookie, to award-winning savory treats like the Olive Scourtin, Carroll is continually thinking of new flavors.
“I am always scouring recipe books and blogs for something that sparks my interest,” Carroll says, noting that there is always something “Deliciously Different”—the cookie’s tagline—on the horizon.
Teacher’s Treat: LivHealthy Granola
As an integrative nutrition health coach with a private nutrition coaching business, Liv Dolce wanted a snack for her four kids that was better for them, without lots of sugar and unhealthy fats. “I wanted to hit all the marks of being nutrient dense, low in sugar, and delicious, something I had yet to find in a store,” the Marblehead resident recalls. “After some trial and error, my original flavor—Cinnamon Sea Salt—was born.”
Soon, Dolce was giving the granola to her kids’ teachers for holiday and year-end thank you gifts. Then friends started asking to buy the granola for their teacher gifts. In short order, she was baking year-round, using the kitchen at St. Michael’s Church in Old Town Marblehead and selling at farmers markets and stores around the North Shore, with her mom helping in the kitchen and husband, James, handling marketing.
These days, LivHealthy Granola’s two flavors, Cinnamon Sea Salt and Peanut Butter Cacao, are sold online and in about 50 stores in the Northeast, including Crosby’s, Shubie’s, and Cider Hill Farm in Amesbury. At press time, LivHealthy was anticipating jumping on the pumpkin spice bandwagon, introducing Pecan Pumpkin Pie in mid-October.
“Our granola is different from what you find available on store shelves,” Dolce says. “I bake only with real, nutrient-dense, whole-food ingredients.” That includes organic oats and other organic ingredients whenever possible, and a 50:50 nut-to-oat ratio in every recipe, yielding a more nutrient-dense granola than one made primarily with oats. Bolstered with additional nuts and seeds, and sweetened only with organic maple syrup or raw honey, the ingredients are baked with organic virgin coconut oil.
“Nothing passes muster if it doesn’t taste great,” Dolce says. “There are plenty of granolas out there that taste great but have less-than-desirable nutrition, or that are quite nutritious but taste like cardboard.”
Of course, her most important test-subjects, her kids, make sure of that. “They have come up with some funny ideas, like developing a granola with M&Ms.” While candy granola is unlikely to happen any time soon, Dolce says the kids are still an integral part of the business. “I think it’s been a great learning experience for our whole family to see what bringing an entrepreneurial idea to life looks like and the hard work, trials, and time it takes to make it a success.”