Living in Shanghai, there weren't any grocery stores offering hummus or baba ganoush where Hannah Awada could get a quick fix for the Lebanese flavors she grew up with in Toledo, Ohio.
"There's no hummus in China. There are no grocery stores offering it," Awada said, explaining the origins of her Birmingham-based business, Hummus Goodness. "There are about a million expatriates living in China. There's no access to salsa or dips, or things like Ranch dressing. It just doesn't exist there. The ingredients are hard to come by, and expensive, especially if you're just going to make it one time for a party. You have to buy in bulk, and the average person isn't buying 25 gallons of tahini."
Discussing it with friends, Awada set out to make some different flavors of hummus she could sell to others to offset the cost of making her own batch. He goal was to sell 50 six-ounce containers of hummus a week.
"I sold 65 containers the first week, and after nine months, I was doing 450," she said. "It was all done by word-of-mouth. There was a need I didn't even know existed."
Nine months after starting Hummus House in Shanghai, Awada was on the move to the Detroit-area, where her husband works in the auto industry. A former high school history teacher turned marketing professional, she and her husband had moved around the globe before landing in Birmingham.
Sharing her experiences with her neighbors and friends, they quickly encouraged her start up the hummus business again. While she was initially hesitant because of the number of choices already available in the area, she knew she could make hers stand out by offering a fresh-made, natural product. She also had another advantage: 26 different flavors she had already developed while living in China.
"One thing I realized was that store-bought hummus doesn't usually taste fresh, so the people I knew here said I should try it and see what happens," she said.
Rather than selling directly to customers, Awada approached local grocery stores to see if there was interest, starting with Holiday Market Select, in Birmingham. From there she was able to get her hummus into Market Fresh, Market Square, and other locations in Ann Arbor, Grosse Pointe and Clarkston.
"I was surprised there was so much interest, especially for hummus," she said.
Working out of the commercial kitchen at St. James Church in downtown Birmingham, Awada, three employees and a few friends make hummus one day a week. Batches include five varieties, as well as a rotating seasonal flavor. Regular flavors include a "naked" traditional hummus; Balsamic goodness, with roasted garlic and caramelized onion; her "Notorious RBG," which features roasted beets topped with goat cheese, honey and pistachios; "Let's Taco-Bout Hummus," that includes pico de gallo; and the spicy "Raging Bull" hummus that offers a slow, strong heat.
With more than two dozen flavors under her belt, expect Awada to roll out new flavors in the future, but don't expect to save it too long.
"We work in small batches because quality is very important. We don't use any preservatives, like citric acid. We use raw garlic and roast it in the kitchen, and caramelize the onions ourselves," Awada said. "We don't do anything to extend the shelf life. I don't think things should last six weeks in the fridge."
Photo: Laurie Tennent