Moving to Saint John gives newcomer a “peaceful feeling”

Reza Zarif

Reza Zarif left his job at one of the biggest forging companies in the Middle East to provide different opportunities for his sons.

Reza helped develop the company and its factory from the ground up, and worked as the general manager for around 18 years. Life was very busy for him; Reza would leave home at 6 a.m. and drive the 40 kilometres to the factory. Often, he wouldn’t return home until late in the evening, or would be further delayed by meetings and business trips.

Reza chose to move to Saint John because it is a quiet and safe city. “Canada is a peaceful country” where he feels his boys can reach their full potential. Reza immigrated to Canada as part of the Provincial Nominee Program. He came here with the intention of starting an industrial fabrication business; it was only after moving to Saint John that a friend advised Reza to rethink his plan, because of the many industrial businesses in Saint John.

Reza and his wife, Samaneh, had always enjoyed cooking and baking as a hobby, so they made the decision to change the business plan to a focus on healthy and organic foods. They started their own company: Reza Foods. The bakery specializes in traditional Iranian breads, cookies, dips and gluten-free products.

Reza fondly remembers life in Iran, and calls it a vast and historical country with many different languages and cultures. Reza’s first language is Farsi, but his grandfather lived in the north of Iran where the language is primarily Turkish. Reza says you could leave northern Iran in the snow, and by the time you reached the south it would be a warm and sunny day. Reza’s home city of Mashhad is also the site of the vast Holy Shrine of Imam Reza – his namesake.

Despite the rich culture and history of Iran, its position at the centre of the Middle East means it is surrounded by conflict. Reza explains that his country and home city are very safe, but Iran often has to react to the wars and struggles surrounding it.

In Iran, Reza also missed spending time with his family due to his busy work schedule. Now, he rents an industrial kitchen in west Saint John and works side-by-side with his wife, growing their business together.

“She is my best friend, actually,” he says.

While Samaneh develops the recipes and flavours for the bakery, Reza has found a way to put his engineering background to use. He has developed special tools to use in the bakery, and used a 3D printer to create them. Reza is working to develop more equipment to help mass produce their products, with a goal of one day having Reza Foods carried on the shelves of big grocery stores like Costco and Sobeys.

The most difficult part of moving to Canada has been the language. Reza learned English throughout his education in Iran, but the slang often heard locally makes it difficult for him to understand at times. Still, Reza appreciates the people he has gotten to know since moving here.

“The people of Saint John are very kind and respectful,” he says. Small gestures – like holding a door open for the person behind you – have made an impact on him, as they’re not so common in bigger cities. The respect with which people treat one another gives him “a kind of peaceful feeling” – one of the things that make Saint John a great place to call home.

“Now, the Iranian people just say ‘thank God,’ ” says Reza. “Everything is OK. My sons can go to school, my sons can grow up, my wife is happy – everything is OK.”