Neomonde Baking Company was founded over thirty years ago by the Saleh brothers who came to America from northern Lebanon. The company’s name “Neomonde” combines the Greek word for new and the French word for world, resulting in “new world bakery.”
The four Saleh brothers, Samir (“Sam”), Joseph (“Joe”), Mounir, and DeGaulle consider it their responsibility as ambassadors of their country and of their culture to provide the highest quality and most authentic foods possible.
The brothers’ dedication to excellence and authenticity began when they were just children, growing up in Lebanon. There they tended the family’s wheat fields, harvesting grain and taking it to be ground at the town mill. They watched their mother, Cecilia, mix dough and bake bread in the communal kiln. In the evening, when the family gathered together to eat, bread was both satisfying and symbolic. It represented sustenance and celebration, especially in a village that had known times of famine.
Today, this native bread known as pita, is a specialty of Neomonde Baking Company. Yet interestingly enough, that wasn’t the business’ original intention. The brothers first toyed with the idea of bringing the authentic French baguette to the Triangle area. This was at the suggestion of their uncle who was a food connoisseur and an early partner of the Neomonde business. Due to circumstances, the equipment for the French baguette was greatly delayed in its arrival, but meanwhile the pita bread equipment arrived on time. The brothers quickly shifted their focus.
“Pita bread was something that we really couldn’t find for our own personal use. We couldn’t find it anywhere between Virginia and Florida. So we thought that’s really something we could find a market for,” says Joe Saleh.
Their idea was right on the money. It wasn’t long before Neomonde Baking Company had begun to make a name for itself in the area as the go-to provider for authentic pita.
“After a few years of making a lot of pita bread and some of the French bread, we started pursuing a small retail business, but it wasn’t as busy, so we started pursuing the wholesale accounts also,” explains Joe. “Sam was the oldest in the family. He was the entrepreneur and had that personality or knack for selling, so he went out and started calling on businesses to sell our bread. We provided the most authentic pita bread to the Research Triangle area very early on. It is authentic not only in the method, but also in the ingredients.”
Soon Neomonde was targeting the natural food stores and restaurants that were springing up in the Triangle, such as Irregardless Café, Pie Rocket, Harmony Farms, and Beautiful Day. As the Raleigh area grew, so did Neomonde’s customer list and product offerings. The business started to diversify and serve other types of bread and pastries, as well as cater to the local restaurants and hotels which were showing up everywhere in the exploding Triangle area of the day.
In the early 1980’s, Neomonde moved from its original storefront space to one of its current locations on Beryl Road in Raleigh. At this time, Sam was focusing on getting the Nemonde name into local supermarket chains, a venture which was very successful. The company’s pita bread was soon showing up in 120 different Colonial Store supermarkets.
“Then Sam called on Winn-Dixie,” explains Joe. “We started going to one store, two stores at a time, and we found that the product was flying off the shelf. That’s how they invited us to go to the warehouse to their distribution. Sam got better at that, so he called on Food Lion. We did major growth on the pita bread because of Food Lion with 1,300 stores. They decided to send it to all their distribution centers. That’s where we sold a lot of pita bread.”
In 1989, the brothers expanded the business in another promising direction by opening a deli, in which everything offered was made from family recipes.They also launched a small Mediterranean grocery so that fans of the restaurant could purchase all the exotic staples and spices to prepare Middle-Eastern cuisine at home.
“We thought, why not?” says Joe. “If we’re known to be a Middle Eastern or Mediterranean bakery, why don’t we start a little market and a deli? The rest became history. The combination of the bakery and the market and the dishes that we offered in the restaurant; they all appealed a lot to the local community. I have to say, like anything, it was a slow start, but it was a word of mouth. Everybody who tried it told a friend, ‘You have to go try it!’ That’s really worked for us a lot. I can’t tell you how grateful we are for our friends and customers, the loyal customers that supported us.”
As the business continued to grow, Joe explains that the brothers realized they needed to create some elbow space for each other and some individual autonomy. They began to delineate their roles more.
“We started the retail in ’88 and four years later that was delegated to Munir, who is younger than me,” explains Joes. “Sam spent most of the time building and developing the retail. In 1993, after Munir had moved to focus on the retail, I dedicated my time on building the bakery and the wholesale business, with Sam doing the sales and me doing the operation.”
Joe points out that balancing that line of family cooperation and separate responsibilities can be a tricky one, but the brothers manage the situation well.
“Being in a successful business is one thing, but being in a successful family business is an extra challenge, and I want to give credit to the brothers for their open-mindedness and for always treating each other with brotherly love. There’s no difference whether it’s mine or his.”
In 2000, Neomonde opened a new café/market and relocated their wholesale baking facility and corporate offices with the completion of a 20,000-square-foot location in Morrisville. Joe says this location was an ideal central spot since the company sells a lot of bread in Chapel Hill, Durham and Greensboro.
Today, Neomonde Baking Company bakes over 200 different varieties of breads and pastries for about 300 wholesale clients, from Maine to Florida and as far west as Texas. Joes says it surprises a lot of people when he tells them the number of products Neomonde offers and the volume.
“We’re getting close to going through about four truckloads of flour. That’s 40,000 pounds a month and 40,000 pounds per truck load. So, 100-120,000 pounds per month through the bakery operation.”
The two Mediterranean restaurants Neomonde operates serve about 750 diners daily, many of them regulars. Neomonde also offers catering for Triangle-area special events and corporate functions.
“The bakery has about fifty people working in it and about fifty-five people working for both restaurants,” says Joe.“We have exceeded a hundred employees. That’s quite a bit of growth. The latest expansionis that we have opened distribution to Charlotte, Wilmington, and to the eastern part of the state.”
Joe says his goal for the future of Neomonde is to maintain its family feel and high quality, while making its bakery distribution available to even more locations.
“What I see is really major spread geographically,” he says.“The restaurant is starting to open another location in North Raleigh, in the fall. We’re aiming for early December. That project is going to be led by Munir, our retail man. Once that store really takes off, there will be other stores coming for the retail and the restaurant. As far as the bakery is concerned, we want to be definitely the source of bread in North Carolina. In my lifetime if possible, I want us to be a very well-known and renowned bakery for the North Carolina consumer, but also regional for the Southeast.”