Lilea Eshoo’s family business, California Lavash, began in a garage — not unlike some other successful Silicon Valley ventures.
Standing amid attractively packaged flatbreads in the California Lavash booth during the Winter Fancy Food Show recently in San Francisco, Eshoo spoke about the company established by her parents, Christian Assyrians who grew up in Iran and immigrated to San Francisco at the eve of the Iranian Revolution.
Rene and Rosette Eshoo based their business on memories of lavash baking in tandoor ovens outside homes in their villages, Lilea said. It was stored as dried cracker sheets in the pantry, and the sheets were taken out and sprinkled with water to be made pliable again.
Rene, with background in engineering, worked at first as flight instructor in San Jose. In 1992, Lilea says, Rene invented the machinery to flatten the dough as a side-project in the garage, basing the formula on his grandma’s lavash recipe. It was a consistent and efficient way to bake authentic lavash the family was used to eating in Iran.
California Lavash started in Morgan Hill and moved to its present location in Gilroy a decade ago.
“The entire family chipped in at the start,” Lilea recalls. “Rene’s sisters did the design work, cousins were calling on customers, the kids slept in bakery baskets during some of the late nights, and grandma made sure everyone was fed. They started with deliveries to ethnic retail markets in the Bay Area. Rene and Rosette would bake the bread at night and deliver it in the mornings.”
Lavash, also known as cracker bread, is from ancient Assyrian, Armenian, Persian and Turkish cultures. It is a thin flatbread with signature bubbles and a soft texture, different from other flatbreads in that it is fully baked with no oil or sugar. The word in Aramaic means to cover or wrap.
There are many ways to use lavash — as is, for wraps, heated, toasted, baked, or made into crackers, pizza or bread crumbs. California Lavash is made without artificial preservatives, chemicals, dough conditioners, or gums. The company is Non-GMO Project Verified, vegan and kosher/halal. It seems against the odds that, with all those restrictions, the lavash remains very tasty.
California Lavash first participated in the 2009 Winter Fancy Food Show in San Francisco. Soon after, Narsai David and Mark Walker (executive chef at Macy’s in San Francisco) became aware of the product and their endorsement helped spread the word. California Lavash’s retail line is sold in hundreds of stores on the West Coast, including Whole Foods Markets, NorCal Safeway, Vons, Sprouts, Fresh & Easy, and many others.