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Leslie Touma

Leslie Touma, owner of Bloomfield Hills-based Freekeh Harvest that launched last year, is happy to bring a unique snack to the American food scene. “We’re the first in the country to use Freekeh grain in a snack food and we have the highest protein of any pita chip in the country,” said Touma, who partnered with Maria Font Trabocchi and Chef Michael Fusano among others.

Touma, who grew up in Pleasant Ridge, has lived and worked all over the world. With an initial focus on history and the national security arena, she earned a graduate degree in International Affairs from John Hopkins and got her start overseas working for the Pentagon followed by other impressive career moves before she switched gears.

“During COVID, I was thinking of doing something fun. On my travels, I kept seeing this grain and there really wasn’t much going on with it in the U.S.,” said Touma who asked Chef Michael to come up with an idea. “Being Italian, he did pasta and I tried to cook the grain, but the uniqueness is that it has a great roasted flavor and protein. I thought it would be better for people to rip open a bag to have a taste of it, so we tried pita chips.”

Touma also wanted the product to be locally made, so she contacted the MSU Product Center that offers food counseling for a nominal fee.

“They were fantastic, and from them, I was able to identify a product facility,” she said. “It took some time to go from prototype to tabletop, but it went very well. We went from zero to 55 stores, and we’re on track to add another 40 in February. We’re really pleased at the reception.”

Current stores include Market Square, Market Fresh, Westborn Market and Cantoro in Plymouth, with plans to add Plum Market in March. “We are doing a lot of store demos where we usually pair the pita chips with hummus because the taste is unique,” Touma explained.

In addition to the nutty flavor, the slow-roasted ancient Mediterranean supergrain is naturally high in nutrients. “I grew up with the Mediterranean diet,” said Touma, whose Lebanese heritage comes from her father’s side of the family where frequent gatherings have always featured delicious spreads with hummus and baba ghanoush.

The baked pita chips go well with hummus and other dips. People also add them to soups and salads and include them on charcuterie boards.

Touma’s recent journey has been good so far. “Having an idea and making it a reality has been one of the rewards,” she said. “I love that challenge and it’s a lot of fun learning when you go through that process. I’ve worked with exceptional people and MSU has been great all along.”

Others in the industry have been helpful as well. “There is an esprit de corps among food entrepreneurs in Michigan,” said Touma, whose product was a finalist in the MI New Favorite Snack Competition. “As part of that, we met some great entrepreneurs and had a really nice exchange of information.”

`For others who wish to pursue this path, she shares some advice. “Identify a niche that is unique,” she said. “It takes common sense and hard work.”

With such a successful start, there are future plans to expand outside the state and other products are in development. “Michigan is a great place to be a food entrepreneur,” said Touma. “Michiganders are really supportive of local businesses and there is a really strong network of support here.”

Story: Jeanine Matlow

Photo: Laurie Tennent


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