Ulukaya came to the United States from Turkey in 1994 to study business. He said the yogurt he found here was full of sugar and runny — nothing like what was available in Turkey — and he saw a need to fill. But unlike the other Greek yogurt that was available, he pushed retailers to stock in the main dairy aisles. He was focused on big-name retailers, which paid off.
One of those who met Ulukaya when he first bought the Kraft plan was Betsey Baio, who owns New York Pizzeria in nearby New Berlin with her husband Frank.
“We got to be very close in those early days,” she said. “It’s like having a friend who won the lottery.” When he comes into the restaurant, “he’s still just Hamdi. He hasn’t changed.”
His company has been very generous with donations to hospitals, YMCA, even the Jewish Temple in Norwich when it was vandalized, she said, adding there doesn’t seem to be an event in the area that he doesn’t sponsor. His employees are also very involved in the community, Baio said.
She met Ulukaya when he first bought the plant.
“I thought he would go bankrupt, and I would have to console him,” she said, and didn’t know how he was going to get his product to the market. But she didn’t realize how talented he was, she said.
“He has a gift for picking the right people for his management team. He surrounds himself with great people,” she said. “These people are so loyal — together they make it happen.”
In 2011, the company broke ground on a new plant at Twin Falls, Idaho, needed to meet the demand of the top-selling Greek yogurt in America. While there is worldwide potential, Chobani is committed to growing current markets, particularly the United States where per capita consumption is lower that in other areas, particularly Europe and Canada, Kos said.