Get Adobe Flash player

Sultry Spices and Silky Fruits Skyrocket First-Time Entrant to Five sofis

By Lorrie Baumann

GA_1789 for webLe Bon Magot® surprised the specialty food community at this year’s Summer Fancy Food Show with a display of five sofi Awards, all earned this year with the new company’s very first entries into the sofi Award competition. Naomi Mobed, the company’s Founder and CEO, launched the brand in February 2015 and then exhibited in the 2016 Summer Fancy Food Show to test its flavors with Fancy Food Show attendees before she was really ready to face the sofi Award competition. “Actually, we validated the taste and flavors of our products with trusted palates even before being incorporated into a company,” she said.
With her five 2017 sofi Awards on her shelves, Mobed is ready to scale up production to meet the demands of the national market. She’s debt-free and looking for investment capital to help her grow. “We’re keen to attract external investment and believe we have a sound and scalable business model,” she said.

GA_1532 for webLe Bon Magot currently offers just five products, all based on regional African, Middle Eastern and South Asian flavors, with sophisticated spice blends with depth and nuance that also appeal to contemporary American palates. Each of them reflects their branding – “magot” is a French word that means a hidden treasure. “The name was for a variety of reasons – one was the pure marketing reality that the common language among gourmets continues to be French,” she said. “I like the fact that it doesn’t have one specific meaning, not just a treasure, but jewels, loot, coffers, bounty and booty. Each one of our products is of a vibrant gem-like color. I came from a finance background and I am passionate about jewelry, so our name also has a tongue-in-cheek element to it.”

Her Tomato and White Sultana Chutney, winner of this year’s gold sofi Award in the condiments category, was her first product and is still her company’s top seller. The chutney marries the sweet fruitiness of tomato to Kashmiri chiles, ginger and garam masala. Next in production were the White Pumpkin and Almond Murraba and the Brinjal Caponata, made of purple aubergine, cumin and curry leaves and the winner of the bronze sofi Award in the pickles category. The Brinjal Caponata is a traditional western Indian condiment made from a recipe that came from Mobed’s grandmother by way of her mother, who tweaked it a little bit, and that Mobed herself played with also before settling on its current formulation. The White Pumpkin and Almond Murraba includes cardamom, cinnamon and vanilla in a preserve that’s traditionally used for celebrations in Central Asia and Middle East.

Spiced Raisin Marmalata won a gold sofi Award and an award for the best new product in the jam and preserves category. This product offers jumbo black raisins imported from South Africa blended with ras al hanout, dried rose petals, green cardamom and smoked cinnamon. “We wanted to recreate the oud scent but for the palate,” Mobed said. While oud is the distinctive scent of a resin found in agarwood trees that is used for incense and perfumes and valued in many cultures for its distinctive fragrance, Mobed uses smoked cinnamon alongside dried rose petals, cardamom and other spices to recreate the musky notes. Like the other products in the Le Bon Magot line, Spiced Raisin Marmalata was made to pair with cheese and charcuterie, but can also be used as a cooking ingredient, perhaps to be added to a spiced oatmeal raisin cookie or a Linzer cookie. The company’s final product is its Lemon-Sultana Marmalata with Caraway and Saffron, the winner of a bronze sofi Award in the jam and preserves category.

All of the products are made from recipes that came from Mobed’s grandmother and great-grandmother that were originally written down in a dialect that Mobed speaks but doesn’t read. Her mother translated them, interpreting measurements that came from a system that was once used across Asia but is no longer common.

Mobed is a Parsi born in Pakistan with family from India. Her father was employed in the oil industry, while her mother worked in the pharmaceuticals industry, and they raised Mobed in Iran, Hong Kong and Europe as well as in the U.S. Her first American home was in Bartlesville, Oklahoma. She left the U.S. to go to the London School of Economics when she was 21, after receiving her undergraduate degree at Mount Holyoke College in South Hadley, Massachusetts. “I’d always wanted to be in the food business since the latter years of my undergraduate degree,” she said. “I was applying to grad school and culinary school. I decided to go to the London School of Economics, thinking I could do culinary later.”

Mobed lived in London after finishing her education there, eventually moved to Muscat, Oman, then came back to England, and did some more moving around from Johannesburg to Dubai and all points in-between before returning to the United States two years ago. Her business is now based in New Jersey, where she says she is settled for the immediate future. “A business settles you,” she said. “My mother lives here. My grandmother now lives here. I’m as settled as I ever will be.”

She says that, while she brings her finance experience with her into her business, making and selling food is a part of her family culture that she values highly, and a number of her female family members have flourishing food businesses around the world. “For a lot of women in Iran and Pakistan, catering and foodservice is a way for women to gain independence and empowerment without leaving their homes,” she said. “The same goes for other countries in the Middle East as well. That’s why you have so many female entrepreneurs.”

H & H Midtown East Bagels Launches at Retail

By Lorrie Baumann

Boxed Bagels Variety - Resized2H & H Midtown East Bagels has been making its crunchy-on-the-outside, soft-on-the-inside bagels in its Manhattan location at the heart of New York City for 43 years. Famous among the bagel-loving cognoscenti, the H & H Midtown bagels have won more top scores on local “best bagel” polls than Owner Jay Rushin can recall right off the top of his head, but he’s confident that New Yorkers who’ve moved away from the city that never sleeps will greet with enthusiasm the national launch of H & H Midtown bagels into the retail market.

“The number one complaint from retailers is that they can’t get a great bagel where they live. Everyone complains that they just can’t get a great bagel, and we are the answer to that,” said Mark Weinberg, H & H Midtown’s National Sales Director, who’s spearheading the drive into the retail market. “I don’t want to sound over confident but … the reality is that we are different, and a lot of customers who demand the best request H&H Midtown Bagels by name.”

Some of that confidence comes from the success of the H & H Midtown East Bagels in the foodservice channel, and some of it comes from the company’s online retail sales. “People are already ordering bagels online from all over the country,” Weinberg said. Those online sales reflect the migration of New Yorkers from the city into some of the biggest growth markets in the country, including California, Florida, Texas, North Carolina and Colorado, according to Weinberg. “They move to different states, and they settle down, and nobody can find a decent bagel,” he said.

The bagels that are now being offered at retail are the same sold at the company’s Manhattan retail store, made by Baker David Figueroa who started with the company when he was just 16 years old and has been there now for 25 years now. He’s using the same recipe that’s been used at H & H Midtown East since the business started and much of the same equipment, although the ovens and mixers were recently refurbished, Rushin said. “We still follow the old-fashioned way of making bagels and we use the finest ingredients money can buy,” he said.

The flour used in the bagel dough is one of the most expensive on the market, he added. “All that combines to make a classic New York water bagel,” he said. “We still use the kettle to boil the bagels, and we still use the burlap-covered boards to bake them.”

His personal favorite bagel is the classic plain bagel, and for him, the combination of taste and texture offered by the H & H Midtown bagel means that it doesn’t have to be topped with anything at all. He said, “You can make a cheaper bagel or a quicker bagel, but that shows in the quality.”

The H & H Midtown Bagels are offered for retail sale in six-packs that retail for around $3.99. “I truly believe that being in the retail stores, it’ll be a home run for anyone who carries our brand,” Weinberg said. “We can provide signage, we have the demographics, and, most important, we have the demand for our world famous brand!”

Cheese Shop Finds Foodies in Des Moines

By Robin Mather

For a while, C.J. Bienert thought that he’d love to run his own cheesemaking company. Then he went on a year-long “cheese sabbatical,” as he calls it, and learned something important about himself.

“Cheesemaking is really about washing a lot of dishes,” he says. “I learned that while working at cheese companies in that year. One day someone asked me what I wanted to do and I was surprised to hear ‘I want to open a cheese shop’ come out of my mouth.”

So, after a year of working “when I could” and interning “sometimes for free” with various cheesemakers around the United States, C.J. returned to Des Moines, Iowa, and opened The Cheese Shop of Des Moines in 2011.

IMG_6159The shop, with storage and production in a 600-square-foot basement and a retail space of about 550 square feet at street level, specializes in artisanal American cheeses and domestic charcuterie, he says. It’s located in a strip mall called The Shops at Roosevelt in the Historic Roosevelt Cultural District. “It looks like a standard strip mall,” Bienert says, “but it’s really food-centric.”

The mall is also home to specialty grocer VomFASS, which sells wine, spirits, specialty oils and gourmet foods; and to La Mie, a long-time Des Moines artisanal bakery and cafe. “Most of our employees live within two to four miles of the shop,” Bienert says, “and many of our customers also live in the neighborhood. Each of us (the other food shops) brings in customers for the others, so it works really well.”

The shop is open Tuesday through Saturday, so Bienert and his six-person staff can enjoy a full two days off each week. “We’re a family business,” he says. “I believe we all need time off to reenergize.”

That’s particularly important for Bienert, who with his wife, Kari, has two children: 2-1/2-year-old son Solomon and infant daughter Coral, who was born in early June — the same week that the Bienerts opened Cheese Bar DSM, a 3,000-square-foot 70-seat cafe that offers more seating for customers than the original Cheese Shop can provide.

C.J. met Kari when he was selling cheese in a gourmet shop and she was working in the store’s wine department. “She’d been in organic farming,” C.J. says, “and she’s definitely a foodie, so we had a lot in common.” Today, Kari juggles the company’s bookkeeping and payroll duties while staying at home with the kids. “I don’t think she’d like to hear me refer to her as a ‘stay-at-home mom,’ “ Bienert quips. “She’s probably feeding the kids while she does payroll right now.”
 Bienert credits ZingTrain, the business development company in the Zingerman’s family of businesses, with much of his success, he says. “We wouldn’t be here, probably, if it weren’t for ZingTrain.” He calls himself a “servant-leader,” and encourages his staff to develop their potential.

“Like I did on my cheese sabbatical, I encourage my employees to take the time to find out what they really want to do,” he says. “I say, ‘If you want to take the summer off to go intern at a cheese plant, you can do that.’ I keep a current list of cheesemakers seeking interns available at all times.”

Bienert qualified for the American Cheese Society’s Certified Cheese Professional accreditation a couple of years ago, he says, and he’s encouraging his staff to pursue that, too, if they’re interested. “I have some staff people who’ve been with me for five years, and some of them came to me with no cheese experience, but now they’ve fallen in love with cheese. I’ve been in the business for 16 years, but I like to be a good ‘servant-leader’ and lead by example. The accreditation has definitely opened some doors for me.”

Bienert got his start when he was just 19, working for Barbara Horn at her Des Moines shop, Wine Experience, which closed in 2006. “The shop was ahead of the curve and it had a great cheese counter, but in those days, there wasn’t a plethora of web sites or cheese information out there like there is today,” Bienert, now 34, says. “Barbara said then, ‘This is a growing industry.’ And today I tell my employees the same thing — cheese is a growing industry.”

Bienert enthusiastically works to help Des Moines help the cheese industry grow. Classes and samplings at Cheese Shop aid in the growth. “We do classes at the cheese shop once a week, on Mondays,” he says. “They’re themed — things like wine and cheese pairing, cheese 101, cheese 2.0, comparing wine vs. beer for pairings, things like that.” Somewhat to his surprise, the classes have become much more than he expected. “When we first started six years ago, we thought the classes would be just marketing, but they also promote revenue. We seat 25 people, oftentimes sell out and sometimes have people standing for the whole class. We make money on our classes.”

His customers have been appreciative, he says, and that keeps his own enthusiasm revved up. “It excites me that people are that interested in good cheese,” he says.

He recognizes that his store occupies a very special niche, but that’s part of its strength.

“I used Europe as our model and travel to Europe annually. We visit cheese shops and independent retailers, and they have a niche that larger stores can’t provide,” Bienert says.

As examples, he says, “Our main competitor would be grocery stores, but they don’t have our relationship with producers. We’ll drive nine hours to pick up a cheese from the producer on our day off, turn around and drive nine hours home again, just so that cheese will be in perfect condition when we get it to the shop.

“We also do products from La Quercia,” Bienert says of the Iowa company that produces prize-winning domestic prosciuttos and other salumi. “Large stores have a hard time doing things like the hand-carving of a full prosciutto with the hoof still attached, and then giving it proper care. But again, that’s something we can do. It’s not only theatrical and looks cool, it’s also tasty.”
There’s no other shop in Des Moines like his, Bienert says, “but I feel there will be more, and I encourage the competition. Again, we’ll rely on our connection with our producers.”

Find it HERE first!

Follow me on Twitter