Karen Binno Akouri
Karen Binno Akouri, founder and owner of drench dressings and marinades, never knew where her creative ideas might take her. The married mother of three lives in West Bloomfield and grew up in Bloomfield Hills. After attending Lahser High School, she earned an accounting degree from Wayne State University and became a CPA and a certified internal auditor.
Akouri put her career on hold to raise her children, who are now grown. She said she officially launched her business five years ago that was inspired by them. “As the kids were growing up, I would try to feed them healthy food and I started paying attention to ingredients and labels,” she explained. “I couldn’t even pronounce some of them, especially salad dressings. To make a healthy salad and then put all these chemicals on it didn’t make sense.”
So, the resourceful mom started making her own dressings that got lots of compliments from the teachers at her kids’ Bloomfield Hills schools: Marion, Brother Rice and St. Regis. “At first, I thought they were just being nice because I was bringing them food,” said Akouri. “But then they started asking for the recipes and if they could buy the dressings from me.”
As she worked to perfect her recipes, a friend suggested she sell them. Her husband, on the other hand, said she should add this to the list of all the other things she wanted to do. But, Akouri said, he was right. “I always had so many ideas and inventions. His comment really did make me think I really need to follow through with this.”
Her efforts led to five dressings, such as Vegan Caesar, Mediterranean Lemon and Balsamic Fig Vinaigrette, that are locally made and sold in 25 states. Individual packets and larger sizes are available for food service.
Planted Detroit salads feature the dressings and drench is also partnering with Grand Rapids-based Revolution Farms for to-go salads that will soon be sold at Meijer stores.
New flavors in the works include Champagne Vinaigrette, Sesame Ginger, Lemon Tahini and Red Wine Pomegranate.
The current dressings can be found locally at Plum Market, Market Square, Papa Joe’s, Whole Foods, Westborn Market and Hollywood Market. They are also sold on her website and at the Farmington Farmers Market weekly and the Birmingham Farmers Market on occasion.
“One taste is all it takes,” said Akouri about her products that are free of most common allergens and contain no artificial colors or flavors or GMO oils like soybean or canola. Instead, they feature finer oils, such as olive and/or avocado oils.
The dressings also work well as marinades, especially the Mediterranean Lemon, which can enhance chicken or salmon or a seven-layer Mediterranean dip Akouri makes with hummus, feta, parsley, cucumber, tomatoes, black olives and pine nuts.
“You can drizzle Mediterranean Lemon dressing on it or add it to a Greek pasta salad. You don’t need a lot. It’s so flavorful, a little goes a long way,” said Akouri, who was recently selected to apply for Goldman Sachs 10,000 Small Businesses, a program that helps entrepreneurs grow their businesses. “It’s such an honor.”
She encourages others to pursue their passions, but she knows there is no easy road to success.
“It was really hard in the beginning. I did it the old-fashioned way with traditional grassroots cold-calling. I didn’t have the marketing and advertising dollars, so it was all word-of-mouth,” Akouri said. “I’m so grateful for that and it has been so rewarding to see the dressings on the shelves and think ‘I created this.’”
Story: Jeanine Matlow
Photo: Laurie Tennent