Food

Startup sees ‘endless’ possibilities for chickpeas



NEW YORK — Chickpeas, the versatile, nutritious legume topping trend lists of late, are central to product development for New York startup Fabalish. Currently the brand offers frozen baked falafel as well as a line of dairy-free dips based on aquafaba, the leftover liquid from soaked or cooked chickpeas. Jessica Gebel, who co-founded the business with husband Paul Majcherczyk, sees “endless” possibilities for additional savory or sweet product lines featuring the popular pulse.

“Paul always tells me to slow down because I have a lot of ideas,” said Ms. Gebel, a graduate of the Natural Gourmet Institute and a Food Network competition winner.

Previously a personal chef in Miami, preparing meals for “a lot of families who were either vegan or vegetarian or had multiple allergies,” Ms. Gebel several years ago crafted her signature dip featuring aquafaba, lemon juice, mustard and a blend of smoked paprika, cumin, garlic, fennel, coriander and cayenne. Based on her clients’ response, she began jarring and selling it at a local farmers market.

“The first week I did the farmers market, I had a lot of leftover chickpeas I thought we’d be able to go through as a family, and we didn’t,” Ms. Gebel recalled. “I had to throw it out, and I felt so guilty that I told myself the following week I would bake off some falafel and sample with it with the sauces.”

Her take on the falafel, a traditionally fried, Middle Eastern street food, proved just as popular as the dips, Ms. Gebel said.

“I personally love falafel but it’s usually too grainy, deep-fried, dry,” she said. “I made my own version the way I would like it, and I guess a lot of people liked it, too.”

Recognizing a market opportunity, the pair moved to New York and began building the business. Mr. Majcherczyk, formerly an operations executive at a technology startup, joined the venture to provide operations and finance support. By early last year, Fabalish had launched in about 100 area specialty food stores with plans for continued retail expansion.

“When the pandemic hit, a lot of smaller stores took a big hit,” Mr. Majcherczyk said. “We couldn’t demo anymore, which was huge for us. We had to pause retail. We continued with a lot of accounts we were in where we had a good foundation, but our retail dropped by almost half, and then we pivoted to online.”

The company’s revenue grew nearly fourfold from the prior year to $233,000, with direct-to-consumer sales representing 85% of the business. Mr. Majcherczyk is forecasting $1 million in sales this year, as the brand expands online and in retail stores, raises a seed round of funding to support marketing efforts, and partners with a contract manufacturer. Fabalish currently makes all of its products in small batches with a small team at its third facility in two years.

The dips are available in original, tzatziki, ranch and queso flavors, and the baked falafel varieties include spicy carrot and zesty zucchini. All products are organic and vegan as well as gluten-, soy- and nut-free.

“Jess is picky and won’t compromise, so every time I bring a new ingredient to her that might be cheaper and we can get more readily available, but if it doesn’t meet her palate or doesn’t fit well with the product, she’ll say no,” Mr. Majcherczyk said. “It’s been a good friction to enable us to scale while staying true to Jess’s product.”

The brand recently landed shelf space at Los Angeles grocery chain Erewhon and is set to expand into online food retailers Hungryroot and FreshDirect. Fabalish also appeared on television shopping network QVC, showcasing both product lines. One of the program’s hosts, a self-professed meat eater, gushed over the falafel: “I’d go vegan if I could eat those every day of my life.”

Future innovation may include a falafel burger, a frozen dessert formulated with aquafaba, or chocolate chickpea-based cookies. The company has offered the latter as a limited-edition product online or as a bonus item for repeat customers. The brand also is testing additional flavors for its dips.

“Jess would love to be in every category in the store while keeping true to that vision of clean, organic, allergen-friendly products around the chickpea,” Mr. Majcherczyk said. “And between chickpea and aquafaba there’s just so many possibilities.”



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