Ak-mak Bakeries, a Family Business 125 Years Strong
Nov 29, 2018 11:00AM
By Kayla Anderson
Story by Kayla Anderson
CONSIDERING THAT ak-mak Bakeries is celebrating its 125th anniversary, it’s safe to say they must be doing something right. Headquartered in Sanger, ak-mak crackers have been a staple in many American households as a healthy alternative to processed foods and a filling snack for people of all ages.
Made of organically-grown whole wheat flour, naturally cold pressed sesame oil, clover honey, dairy butter, yeast, sesame seeds and salt, the crunchy baked crackers pair nicely with pretty much anything you put with them, including wine, cheese, tapenade, veggies or by themselves. They’re even portable enough to enjoy on a hike or a road trip.
The foundation started in 1893 when Armenian immigrant Jacob Soojian came to America and started baking and sharing his hometown foods, such as Arabic (pita) bread, Dernackly bread and Armenian cracker bread with his fellow brethren. Settling in Massachusetts, Jacob’s son Paul and nephews Sarkis and Michael soon joined the emerging family business. In 1936, the family moved to Fresno and renamed the company ak-mak as it launched new product offerings. In the early 1970s, the business relocated again to Sanger.
Jacob’s great-great-niece, Tanya Hodge, and four other family members manage the business today. The eldest of Michael’s three sons and family patriarch Manoog Soojian is 96 years old and still goes to work every day.
Hodge grew up working at ak-mak at a young age, helping out wherever she could – along with the rest of the town.
“Most of the community or their family members and friends worked here at some point in their life,” Hodge says. “Ak-mak has so many extended friends and family. It’s nice to have that legacy.”
Being a family-oriented business, Hodge got to know a lot of people in the community.
“It’s nice to have forged those relationships early on in life. A lot of people who worked at ak-mak are still friends of mine today,” Hodge says. “Work was work and the family was pretty serious about it, but one thing I remember is when we used to produce an Armenian pizza called Lahmajoon and we had a day (around the holidays) where we would all get together and make packages of it to give out to family and friends.”
Hodge’s nose has become so accustomed to the sweet smell of baking crackers that she doesn’t consciously recognize it anymore, but that’s not the case for most people who visit ak-mak headquarters.
“People comment that they can find the place by the smell, that they follow their nose here,” Hodge says.
Not much has changed to the recipe for the Armenian cracker bread, with one exception – it’s getting easier to find organic ingredients. Growing up, Hodge says that healthy eating was always inherent in her childhood and ak-mak has always been particular about finding sustainable, high-quality ingredients for its products, but it was going against the grain of other popular processed convenience snacks.
“It was hard to find organic foods in the 1950s, but today it’s a lot easier to source,” Hodge says. However, it’s not just the quality of the crackers that’s kept ak-mak alive.
“I have to give credit to our customers. It’s been a generational product to their families; they grow up eating it and then they give it to their grandkids. That’s what has kept us going; we’re very grateful to them for enjoying and sharing it,” she says. “We’ve really enjoyed reading the stories of the people who have written in and told us how ak-mak has impacted their lives and families. (Ak-mak) is a healthy alternative to other foods; it encourages us to work hard on the belief that our family built and continues creating something that people enjoy.”
Hodge admits that she eats a lot of ak-mak crackers.
“My husband’s favorite thing is to melt hot pepper cheese on top of a cracker. I like avocado and ak-mak I eat that all the time but I also like it with hot spicy hummus. It goes great with red or white wine, too, but it all depends what I put it with if I’m doing a charcuterie,” she says.
“For a working mom, our round pepper bread or country-style is great to make pizzas with. Add some spaghetti sauce, cheese, vegetables, put it in the oven and broil it, and it’s done in five minutes. People are always surprised at how good it is and how easy it is to make,” she says. •
ak-mak Bakeries • 89 Academy Avenue, Sanger • (559) 875-5511
www.akmakbakeries.com • Find them on Facebook
Country style or round cracker bread
Cheddar cheese – shredded
Habanero cheese – shredded (optional)
Whole black beans (rinsed)
Chorizo or bacon (cooked)
Hot sauce (optional)
Directions: Brush cracker bread with olive oil. Mix shredded cheese with cilantro and spread onto cracker bread and top with meat and black beans. Bake at 400 degrees for 5 minutes. Top with fried egg, avocado, and hot sauce.