Fifteen start-ups in 32 years - some going, that. It’s Hossain Rezaei’s entrepreneurial tally, and includes three in 18 months. The 54-year-old multi-millionaire is especially noted for the successful Pride Valley Foods.
The unique bakery at Seaham was his 12th enterprise when it was sold in 2006 for £20m to Gruma, the world’s biggest maker of tortillas. Now he’s back, no longer burnt out and fully fit.
He’s also just returned from Sorrento; a surprise anniversary getaway sprung by his German wife, Nicole. The sound of Vivaldi in the background, playing softly against our conversation, suggests his heart might still be in central Europe, but no.
“After a week in sunny Italy, the first thing when I got back was to tell the guys, ‘I’ve missed you, I’ve missed the buzz’,” he admits.
“It’s not about having to work; I want to - for the changes one can bring for lots of people.” We chat like old friends at his magnificent new home at Hindley Hall, near Stocksfield in the Tyne Valley. We sip cappuccino in a large lounge hinting of an oriental majlis; the proliferation of sofas, cushions and elegant ornaments signalling Rezaei’s Iranian origins.
He is still the ideas man and the moneymaker, but he has now also become a mentor. “I don’t want to do it all myself again,” he says.
“There is lots of good, raw young talent in our region; people who could be nurtured into lots of Hossains ... but better.” He cites Justin Perkins, director of Flatbread Cafe - one of his latest ventures.
“He’s a prime example. Many people have dynamism, but they need to learn the lessons that I have learned. They need to see and feel the problems and come through with the sort of help I can give.” The background music now is Land of Hope and Glory ...
“wider still and wider shall thy bounds be set”. Rezaei amplifies: “They can then do in five years what took me 30.” His other new enterprises are The You Company - “a cost-effective health and wellness assessment service to the occupational health and insurance industries” - and Bedou Kitchen, a manufacturer of healthy food.
Two or three more start-ups could follow, and might have done already but for recession. He believes Flatbread Cafe in Newcastle and the Metrocentre is ripe for three more siblings in the region. In total, up to 80 openings for the group are thought feasible, eventually.
As he talks, Rezaei glances with squire-like satisfaction through expansive windows to the rolling lawns that set off the hall - the focal point of Hindley, a hamlet dating to 1232. Previous residents of the hall have included Mrs Elizabeth Montagu, an 18th Century blue stocking, Sir Ralph Wedgwood and his daughter Dame Veronica - he general manager for 16 years of the London and North Eastern Railway, she a noted writer of 17th Century history, who died in 1997.
Other occupants have included a surgeon relative of Robert Surtees (author of the Jorrocks stories), also a relative of Alice Liddell, Lewis Carroll’s inspiration for Alice in Wonderland. Now, as the tradesmen outside bring the 1861 hall up to scratch, Rezaei says that this provides the home-work environment he needs now.
Company HQ is four minutes’ drive away, at Bearl Farm, Viscount Allendale’s statesupported £1.5m green development of 10 rural offices between Stocksfield and the A69. Rezaei has three of the units.
“I love it here,” he says. “It has taken me a couple of years to shift from the Seaham- Durham job-home scenario. Instead of two hours a day travelling, it’s now just eightminutes - one road junction, no traffic lights, no city, no parking issues, very little pollution and nature all around.
“At my stage of life and experience, softer things become more important, particularly if you’ve worked hard and burnt yourself out once already. You’ve learnt from it and know how not to go in that direction anymore.
It’s important to me now to keep this work and life balance.” No surprise, then, that he should have dreamed up The You Company; a £4m investment. Planned over four years and online since last summer, it sells to firms upholding staff wellbeing, and to individuals who want to monitor their own health. With a staff of 20, the prospects are considerable, he reckons.
His hand-picked launch team included as chief executive Dr Fred Wright, former head of the Centre of Excellence for Life Sciences in Newcastle, and as marketing director Paul Jobling, former director of operations at South Tyneside Health Authority.
The sales pitch runs thus: while private health checks abound, this one uses unique technology, and is quicker and cheaper.
A US launch had been considered, but he says: “For various reasons we decided to focus heavily on the British market instead, then Europe, and then go to the Americans.” America will be tough.
But, he points out: “It’s the biggest English-speaking nation, with the biggest desperate need for this product.
It’s where the next big crisis of our generation - health, or the lack of it - will hit first; a new trillion dollar industry of wellness.” Even the traditional dishes from many parts of the world served at Flatbread Cafe are chosen for their nutritional value.
Rezaei’s third recent venture, linked to Flatbread Cafe, is Bedou Kitchen in Gateshead’s Team Valley, which he has consolidated through buying Kris Blackburn’s award-winning corporate caterer Church’s Kitchen.
Kris, now general manager of the new business, brought 16 staff to join 10 others in the enlarged operation. Besides supplying Flatbread Cafe, it delivers local organic food to workplaces, offers corporate catering and manages events.
Head office for the three businesses will be at Bearl Farm, Rezaei says, until space runs out. In this centralised management, he suggests he is the “dogsbody” - but few would believe that. “I’ve tons of good, solid business ideas,” he says.
“It’s a question of which do I get on with first? I look for people who can help to bring those ideas to fruition. Ideas plus a little cash is an explosive concoction.” Leaving Hindley Hall, as the electric gates hum to a close, it’s hard to imagine those ideas will be contained for very much longer.