For Fabalish co-founder Paul Majcherczyk, the question “what am I doing this for” led the engineer working for a tech start-up to his own start-up venture in the better-for-you food world with aquafaba.
Fabalish“provides the stepping stones towards a healthier, plant-based diet”. We provide clean and healthy foods that are better for you and better for our world. We use chickpeas in our baked falafels and we utilize the chickpea water, aquafaba, for our sauces and dips. The aquafaba is a dairy and egg replacement so it is an allergen free and healthy alternative.
I was an engineer doing the operations and business management in a financial institution and had the itch to be helpful in a smaller setting. I took a job with a tech start-up and was soon wearing many hats in addition to the engineering one: fundraising, operations, CFO, to name a few. I started to burn out and asked myself “what am I doing this for”. The start-up had a successful exit but I did not want to work for the buyer and had to figure out what was next.
My wife, Jess, is a chef who started to really look at the type of food she was consuming when she faced some health issues. She believes that food is fundamental to our health yet is often overlooked. She was able to heal her own issues through dietary changes and became very passionate about it. She took her prize money from Food Network’s “Cooks vs. Cons” and went to Culinary School and became a private chef. She discovered aquafaba by inventing dips and sauces for her clients that were allergen free. The sauces and dips were met with such rave reviews that she decided to launch a business around it.
Fabalish launched in early 2019 and I decided that helping my wife with this business was where I wanted to put my energy and find the passion I was missing in my previous job. It is not lost on me that the start-up I was working for was AI used in the quick-service restaurant industry and now I was going to try to get a health food company off the ground! Jess and I make a great team: she is the heart and soul of Fabalish and I am the muscle. Her creative and innovative side paired with my analytical side are what make Fabalish hum.
We launched Fabalish in retail stores in New York City and by then end of 2019, we were in 100 stores. We were also selling the product at farmers’ markets, festivals and doing in-store demonstrations. We sold 11,000 units in our first year and then the pandemic hit and dried up our marketing channels and our ability to launch in more stores. The types of stores (health food store and smaller grocers) we were in were not prepared for the pandemic and their foot traffic dropped as their consumers were looking for the “one-stop” shopping of the larger stores.
We had to pivot quickly and launch a website and figure out how to ship perishable goods from our own facility. Our products are fresh and perishable so we had to work hard to balance manufacturing and shipping so as to not lose shelf life as well as not have astronomical shipping costs that would turn customers off. All of our efforts paid off as online growth quadrupled between Q1 and Q4 of 2020.
As we start to see retail return to some normalcy, our goal is to stay focused on the online growth we established during the pandemic and continue to grow in-store retail. We have added a head kitchen manager, assistant manager and 2 field representatives to the team. We are looking to exceed $1 million in sales for 2021.
Starting your own business is always a challenge. Starting a business when a pandemic hits adds physical, emotional and mental strain that were not anticipated. We did learn in looking back that we didn’t celebrate the wins enough and were focused on how to navigate the setbacks. Going forward, we plan to make sure we celebrate the wins and not just focus on the challenges. Our next biggest challenge is going to be how to scale the business, but we are prepared for that.
Our vision is to help people lead healthier lives, balanced with nature, through plant-based foods as a cornerstone of their diets.
Fabalish co-Founder and chef Jess Gebel knew that the water from a strained can of chickpeas, otherwise known as aquafaba (organic and BPA-free, of course) possessed similar powers to that of an egg. She whipped up this liquid gold, emulsified itwith organic sunflower oil and then formulated a delicious blend of spices to provide unbridled flavor.
Upon the tasting of her first aquafaba based meal, a friend told her, “this is the best thing I’ve ever put in my mouth!” Jess could feel it in her heart, this was just the beginning. Thus began her love affair with the chickpea, its watery by-product aquafaba and the birth of Fabalish.