As much as Soom Foods’ mission is to educate American consumers about the delicious ingredient that is tehina, its health benefits and many uses, we’re also committed to saving upstanding food establishments from the “tahini” they’ve been subjected to all these years. I can’t tell you how many chefs have described the “tahini” they have tasted as being chalky and bitter.

It all started with Michael Solomonov, the owner of Zahav restaurant, one of Philadelphia’s most popular restaurants. Zahav is an Israeli restaurant, and Michael is passionate about Israeli cuisine. We talked to him several times before our import arrived, and he was beyond excited about the prospect of having real tehina to work with. [Please see more about Zahav in these JFE stories: Mouth-Watering Israeli Food Scarce in DC and A Trip-Worthy (Kosher) Restaurant.]

Hummus made with Soom tehina at Zahav

Hummus made with Soom tehina at Zahav

I called Michael once our product was ready, and he invited me for a tasting immediately. To say I was nervous is an understatement. I sat in a back room of the restaurant next to Michael, his partner and the executive chef. They all tried it. Michael said, “I love it. What do you think?” His partner and the chef agreed. Michael asked me how many cases he could get that day. I said as many as he wanted. He bought two and congratulated me for officially being in the tehina business. Now I deliver to Zahav at least once a week.

The second restaurant we starting selling to was Eat-A-Pita an awesome pita/sandwich/salad establishment in the middle Philadelphia. How we connected is a good story.

One evening, I taught a class with a cooking demo at The Collaborative, a Philadelphia group for young Jewish professionals. Afterwards, some of the attendees went to Eat-A-Pita. They happened to meet the owner, told him all about the “best tehina in the states, and it’s local!” and got me his email information. From there a meeting was set. They, too, loved our tehina, and we’ve been happy to drop off an order every couple weeks ever since!

How, though, do we reach others?

First, we look for ways to meet chefs and restaurant owners. This can include emails, cold calls, drop-in visits and networking events. I personally love the networking events. You never know who you’ll meet—a person whose friend owns the restaurant you’ve been trying to contact, a local chef or a community leader with ideas and introductions to be made. Most recently, I met some chefs at an event called “Feastival” and more great people to know at an SPCA fundraiser.

We’ve quickly learned that calling and emailing does not get us far in terms of communication. (I got my BA in Interpersonal Communication…I should’ve known!) However, timely drop-ins work great.

We got the opportunity to provide tehina to a wonderful vegan establishment, Vgë, by dropping off a sample and introducing ourselves. Dropping into Pure Fare, a Philadelphia establishment that prides itself on providing delicious, fresh and all-natural foods, led to a similar relationship.

Lemon tehina dressing (left) at Agno

Lemon tehina (left) with other dressings at Agno

The same owners recently opened Agno, a Chipotle-style healthy Mediterranean restaurant. There’s no better feeling than opening an email that reads, “Hi Amy, How are you? I am one of the owners of Pure Fare/Agno, and I wanted to start sourcing your tehina at our stores. It is delicious…congratulations! How do I get started?”

We delivered their tehina the next day.

We’ve also been well received in the DC area. Maryland is home for my sisters and me, and with home comes connections. For example, through the local Jewish community, we know the owners and managers at Moti’s Market (formerly Kosher Mart), Shalom Kosher and Brookville Market. They all were more than supportive of our new endeavor by inviting us to the stores for tastings to introduce our product to their clients and our future consumers. With positive tasting results, the stores put Soom tehina on their shelves…and (more importantly) were pleasantly surprised at how well it has moved off of the shelves and into shopping baskets!

How has Soom Foods gotten started? Through personal introductions, face-to-face communication and the highest possible “consoomer” relations.

Top photo: Pita sandwich at Eat-A-Pita with Soom Foods lemon tehina dressing