NEW YORK – Chickpeas, the list of versatile and nutritious legume garnish trends of recent times, are at the heart of product development for New York-based start-up Fabalish. Currently, the brand offers frozen baked falafels as well as a range of dairy-free dips made with aquafaba, with the liquid left over from soaked or cooked chickpeas. Jessica Gebel, who co-founded the company with her husband Paul Majcherczyk, sees “endless” possibilities for additional savory or sweet product lines featuring the popular vegetable.
âPaul always tells me to slow down because I have a lot of ideas,â said Ms. Gebel, a graduate of the Natural Gourmet Institute and winner of the Food Network competition.
Previously a personal chef in Miami, preparing meals for âmany vegan or vegetarian families or with multiple allergies,â Ms. Gebel designed her signature dip several years ago, which included aquafaba, lemon juice, mustard and a mixture of smoked paprika, cumin, garlic, fennel, cilantro and cayenne pepper. Based on the response from her customers, she started beating it up and selling it at a local farmers market.
âThe first week I did the farmers market, I had a lot of leftover chickpeas that I thought I could live with as a family, and we didn’t,â recalls Ms. Gebel. âI had to throw it away and I felt so guilty that I thought to myself the next week that I would cook some falafel and taste it with the sauces.
Her take on falafel, a traditionally fried Middle Eastern street food, has proven to be just as popular as the dips, Ms. Gebel said.
âPersonally, I like falafel, but it’s usually too grainy, fried and dry,â she said. “I created my own version however I would like, and I guess a lot of people liked it too.”
Recognizing a market opportunity, the couple moved to New York and began to grow the business. Mr. Majcherczyk, former director of operations at a tech start-up, joined the company to provide operational and financial support. By early last year, Fabalish had launched into around 100 specialty food stores in the area with plans for continued retail expansion.
âWhen the pandemic hit, many small stores were hit hard,â said Majcherczyk. âWe couldn’t demonstrate anymore, which was huge for us. We had to suspend retail. We continued with a lot of accounts that we were in that we had a good base in, but our retail business dropped by almost half, and then we moved on to the internet.
The company’s revenues nearly quadrupled from the previous year to $ 233,000, with direct-to-consumer sales accounting for 85% of the business. Mr Majcherczyk predicts $ 1 million in revenue this year as the brand expands online and in retail stores, raises a round of seed funding to support marketing efforts, and partners with a contract manufacturer. Fabalish currently manufactures all of its products in small batches with a small team in its third factory in two years.
Dips are available in original, tzatziki, ranch, and queso flavors, and baked falafel varieties include spicy carrots and zucchini zucchini. All products are organic and vegan as well as gluten, soy and nut free.
“Jess is picky and doesn’t compromise, so every time I bring her a new ingredient that could be cheaper and we can be more readily available, but if it doesn’t suit her or the product well,” she will say no, âsaid Majcherczyk. âIt’s been a good friction to allow us to evolve while remaining true to Jess’s product.â
The brand recently hit the shelves at Los Angeles grocery chain Erewhon and is expected to expand to online retailers Hungryroot and FreshDirect. Fabalish has also appeared on the QVC TV shopping network, showcasing the two product lines. One of the program’s hosts, a self-proclaimed meat eater, gushed over the falafel, “I would go vegan if I could eat it every day of my life.”
Future innovation could include a falafel burger, a frozen dessert formulated with aquafaba, or chocolate chickpea cookies. The company offered the latter as a limited edition product online or as a bonus item for repeat customers. The brand is also testing additional flavors for its dips.
âJess would love to be in all categories of the store while staying true to this vision of clean, organic and allergen-free products around chickpea,â said Majcherczyk. “And between chickpeas and aquafaba, there are so many possibilities.”