We all love to snack, whether it’s kettle corn and ice cream at a Nationals game, sangria and chips at Jazz in the Garden or even those stale doughnuts at the office. DC is a young and innovative city, so it’s no surprise that it is home to some of the most delicious, healthy (and Jewish) snacks out there. Plus, there are some amazing resources here for young food entrepreneurs: incubators for start-ups, communities to ask questions in and grants from local universities.
Here are three snacks you may not have heard of, from local Jewish founders. Each of them has a unique story, a passion for changing people’s lives and something delicious to snack on!
Launched in November 2016 (founded in April), Amazi Foods are baked, not fried, plantain chips sourced from direct-trade and organic farming cooperatives in Uganda. While studying abroad there, Renee Dunn discovered that people there had an entrepreneurial spirit, but few took the steps necessary to add value to their business. Trying to figure out a way to address all the problems (business stagnation, unemployment, food waste), Renee discovered agri-processing—adding value to natural resources—and from that, the idea for Amazi Foods was born.
It wasn’t until after college, with her lease ending and no next steps planned, that Renee decided to take the idea and turn it into a business. She returned to Uganda in 2016 to find suppliers and figure out a way to get the healthy chip she enjoyed there back to the US for others to consume as well. While there, she met an organic-certified company that was working to export products to the US; a few conversations later, she had someone with whom to develop a new product.
Amazi Foods is driven by tikkun olam (repairing the world). Renee hopes to bring a “mindful munch” to farmers and businesses in Uganda. With every purchase, she is able to organize and train farming groups, teaching them organic farming requirements as well as business lessons, empowering them to operate in the future on their own.
Working in DC, Renee has found the food community so helpful and supportive despite her different business model (she sources from Uganda and therefore doesn’t need kitchen space here). “People are always willing to partner for events, sit down and chat… There isn’t a sense of ‘We can’t open doors for you when we worked so hard ourselves to get it.’”
What started as a health scare in college, inspired Rebecca Peress to not only change her diet and lifestyle, but also create a product that could make these changes accessible for everyone. Swapples are plant-based waffles made out of yucca root and other fruits, natural spices and flavors. They are sold in the freezer section at a number of grocery stores and come in both sweet and savory flavors.
One of her most popular flavors, the Everything, comes from her love of New York bagels and childhood memories of large Jewish family gatherings over fresh bagels. While she can’t eat them now, she wanted to create a flavor that brought all the flavor without the bread. She also gets requests from family members to bring home lots of Swapples during Passover—they are kosher for Pesach!
The choice to eat clean wasn’t always easy for Rebecca. After her health scare and doctor’s note that she needed to cut out all sugar for a year, her ventures to the grocery store left her frustrated and often empty-handed, Not finding readily made foods available, she had to start cooking everything from scratch. Her homemade waffles were a hit at her work in a local food group, with co-workers becoming her first customers and encouraging her to pursue it as a business. After setting up a meeting with Union Kitchen in October 2016, she signed up right away and was ready to start selling by January.
SWAP’s growth can be accredited to Rebecca’s perseverance and willingness to take on any challenge. When MOM’s markets told her they were going to put her in all of their markets after three months of launching, she quickly made the necessary business developments to be prepared for this venture.
Now, with Swapples sold in more than 30 stores, Rebecca’s homemade lunches have become something everyone can enjoy. For her, the motivation to keep growing comes from her customers. “The feeling of knowing that I created something that someone else is benefitting from and happy about, that makes their life easier… that is the most rewarding thing in the world. That’s why I did it.”
The life of a college student is very busy. From multiple classes a day to hours of reading each night, it’s hard enough to find time for a part-time job, but Daniel Berg decided to go one step further, launching a business while being a full-time student at George Washington University.
Berg Bites are a homemade “health ball,” full of nutritious ingredients like oats, chia and hemp seeds along with nut butters. Daniel prefers his frozen for dessert, but they can be eaten anytime: a quick breakfast on the go, a snack before or after a workout or even stuck inside a kid’s lunchbox for a sweet lunchtime treat.
Like a typical Jewish mother, Daniel’s mom made these snacks growing up and sent them to him while he was in school. His friends kept asking for more—that was the final push he needed to enter the health-food industry. As a consumer, Daniel was constantly upset by what he saw in stores. From highly processed foods to “health” bars with lots of sugar, he was disappointed by the lack of simple ingredients that consumers can understand and feel good about eating.
Working out of food incubator Union Kitchen in DC, Daniel, too, finds the community to be very welcoming. He makes his product across the room from Rebecca of SWAP Foods and gets support and advice from everyone there. He recently came in second place and won $25,000 at GW’s new venture competition, so once he graduates he has big plans for the business, expanding with other products and bringing it nationwide. In the meantime, Berg Bites are available online and in some DC-area stores.
Top photos courtesy of Amazi Foods (Photo credit: Kara Schab of Right Foot Creative, LLC), Swap Foods and Berg Bites