Hummus business spreading across Utah
Mohammed Sbeity was on track to earning a master's degree in economics at the University of Utah when he thought about selling his homemade Lebanese hummus. He knew it was good and different, so he started selling it to his professors. And classmates. And then a co-op.
A few months later, the Laziz brand hummus was in farmers markets across the valley.
By the end of April, Laziz hummus, along with two other Middle Eastern spreads, will be in 40 Utah stores just a year after Sbeity and his partner, Derek Kitchen, began their business.
This from a guy who didn't know how to cook when he moved to Utah from Lebanon six years ago, but had watched his mother make meals about everyday growing up.
And beginning this week, all 16 Harmons Grocery stores will carry the hummus, along with Muhammara, a sweet red pepper dip, and Toum, a garlic spread. The products will be in three Lee's Marketplace stores in Cache Valley late next week.
"As a local grocer we enjoy supporting local businesses and highlighting as many local products as possible," said Bob Harmon, Vice President for the Customer, Harmons Grocery Stores. "Laziz Middle Eastern Spreads are a delicious addition to our shelves."
An 8-ounce container of hummus sells for $5. Muhammara costs $8 and Toum is $9.
Laziz is not the only Utah company to make this Mediterranean spread. Happy Monkey Hummus as been making fresh hummus in funky flavors such as Margarita, wasabi and mole and selling it at farmers markets and grocery stores since 2009.
Sbeity was born in Texas, raised in Lebanon and moved to Utah in 2006 to attend Utah State University. He said Utahns crave Middle Eastern food, but selections are mainly limited to restaurants.
He wants to see his condiments topping bruschetta, adding flavor to burgers, or giving zing to mashed potatoes.
"Our goal is to provide a line of Middle Eastern foods to take home [and] to integrate into your daily diet, or in your kitchen creations," he said.
Unlike most garbanzo bean dips, Laziz hummus doesn't have oil or spices. Those should be added after it's bought, said Sbeity who makes the hummus from dry beans that are soaked for 20 hours and cooked for about four hours, extracting the gasses.
He suggests adding cumin, cayenne or caramelized onion to the spread, or his favorite: basil, cumin, tomatoes and olive oil.
Muhammara is a traditional Syrian dip because it is typically made with Aleppo red peppers. Laziz's version doesn't include bread crumbs, to keep it gluten-free, and it includes pomegranate molasses and walnuts.
Toum is a strong garlic spread made with garlic, lemon juice, olive oil and salt, much like an aioli. It's traditionally used on a shawarma, a type of sandwich. But Sbeity suggests using it in place of mayonnaise or adding it to scrambled eggs and pasta sauces and sauteing vegetables with it.
The word Laziz means "tasty, enjoyable and lighthearted" in Arabic, he said.
"We thought that was a simple, perfect name that gave the feel of the company that we liked and gave the attributes of the food we produce."
The company is working on a fourth item, wet falafel mix that cooks can bake, fry, grill or saute on their own. The partners are investing in commercial kettles to triple the amount they're able to now make in stockpots. And they've hired a third employee.
Sbeity's economics background is coming in handy after all.
"I never in my life thought I would be in the food industry," Sbeity said. "I thought I'd be a researcher."