March 17, 2014
The name, Hummus Chick, is a play on words. Not only is the founder, Javaneh Hemmat, a woman (hence – a ‘chick’) but hummus is also made from chickpeas. This playful name itself says a lot about how Java approaches the creation of new flavors.
Sure, there’s hummus on the market. But if you’ve ever traveled to the Middle East, you soon realize that what we call hummus here in the US and the flavors and texture of hummus overseas are two very different things. At its most basic, it’s those authentic flavors that Java set out to create when she started up her company in late 2012. But it’s more than that really.
You see, Java was born to Persian parents living in United Arab Emirates so Middle Eastern cuisine is something she knows quite a bit about. In 1998 she came to the US to study and found herself in, of all places, Nashville TN. At the time, Nashville was not exactly known for its hotbed of international food and Java, homesick for her mother’s cooking, began experimenting in the kitchen. Soon she became the ‘go-to-girl’ for bringing the food when one of her friends was having a get-together or party.
Thinking that her culinary passion was nothing more than a hobby, when Java graduated she took a management position in a business company and started working. It’s that business experience that she now credits with being the backbone of helping her run her company today. At the time though, the career didn’t hold much allure to her and eventually, as the economy soured, she was downsized.
Java applied and was accepted to a pre-med program as she hoped to turn that passion for nourishment into a career and she figured medicine was the best route to get there. However, it was during a trip to California, when she was sitting on a surfboard waiting to catch a wave, that she realized that the most obvious answer was the one that had been staring her in the face since her college days. Java had never tired of making food, specifically hummus, for friends and she decided then and there – while on that surfboard – that she was going to give the business a shot.
Like any true great American entrepreneur story, Java returned from that trip with $40 in her bank account but didn’t let that stop her. She found a full-time job as a personal assistant that gave her the money she needed to live and leave a little bit left over to fund her part-time start-up.
In the first year, Java focused exclusively on farmers’ markets and she used her time there to develop her product line and gain customer feedback. “I learned about the spending behaviors of my customers,” Java says of her time at farmers’ markets, “and that helped me as I’ve gone on to develop new products that meet their needs.”
Java also used the farmers’ markets to help train a team of people she now works with (Java left her personal assistant position in January to focus on Hummus Chick full-time) so that they can fully share the Hummus Chick story with consumers. Java recognized early on that her strongest marketing asset was her story and how she connected with people and she wanted everyone who every worked for or with Hummus Chick to exude that as well. “It was a great learning experience for all of us,” she says.
One of the reasons Hummus Chick has been so successful is Java’s ‘American’ twist on the product. As she explains, in the Middle East hummus is made one way and that’s the way it’s been made since the dawn of time. “Americans have this delicious curiosity of taking a dish and putting a spin on it,” Java says. “It’s a very creative culinary culture. Hummus has become this canvas for me. It’s really exciting for me to be able to play with flavors and customize the products.”
Currently Hummus Chick has seven flavors as well as several seasonal offerings as well. These range from more traditional flavor combinations like roasted garlic to a chocolate hummus that’s offered around Valentine’s Day. Because some of her customers can’t eat garbanzo beans, Java has also introduced a black bean and lime flavor which is just one of the many ideas her customers themselves have given her. “I have fun imagining new flavors and get excited to run into my kitchen to experiment.”
Hummus Chick plans to be at area farmers’ markets again this year but is now being sought after by retail stores as well. For now she’s focusing on local stores but has plans to grow into different sections of Nashville and into different regions down the road in addition to attending some of the musical events this year that have made Nashville famous.
So has Hummus Chick alone been responsible for Nashville’s transformation into a foodie town? Perhaps not single-handedly, but the company’s success and following in that city says a lot about how artisan food can change a town and a community.
Java shared these 5 business tips for aspiring food entrepreneurs:
- You have to believe that this passion can become a career and you have to approach it as such. Yes, it’s a creative industry, but you have to want to understand the business and marketing behind it in order for it to become successful.
- Understand your numbers. I look at my pricing daily as my ingredient costs go can fluctuate and I need to understand how that impacts my margins and my profit.
- Networking is key. You need to constantly be asking questions, making connections, fact finding, and meeting people in the industry who can help guide you.
- Create annual goals and work towards them. But be compassionate enough with yourself to know that you won’t necessarily achieve all your goals and that’s ok as long as you’re making strides in the right direction.
- Keep your marketing in-house for as long as possible. It’s important that you are the face behind your company and that people connect with the brand and with you.