Hummus Sweet Home with a Taste of Heaven
Savannah Kuang, CUESA Staff
November 8, 2019
Most of us are familiar with hummus, the thick, hearty spread made with chickpeas, lemon juice, olive oil, salt, garlic, and tahini (ground sesame seeds and oil), all blended together into a creamy consistency.
People have grown chickpeas, or garbanzo beans, for over ten thousand years, which has given way to many variations, and many Middle Eastern and Mediterranean countries have claimed hummus as their dish. This nutrient-packed spread is now a common staple on many restaurant menus and in grocery stores across the United States. In 2018, Americans spent four times as much money on hummus as they did ten years prior, and an estimate of 25 percent of American homes now stock hummus in the fridge.
Staying ahead of this growing trend, Hummus Heaven, a small-batch hummus business based in San Leandro, has been crafting uniquely flavored hummus with local ingredients for 20 years. A regular seller at Mission Community Market on Thursdays and Jack London Square Farmers Market on Sundays, brothers Mourad and Tarek Cherif bring a taste of the Middle East to market regulars and visitors alike through their hummus, tapenades, grape leaves, pita chips, and olives.
“We don’t take any shortcuts in our business,” says Mourad. “Quality is very important to us.”
From Engineering to Making Hummus
The Cherif brothers started their business in Anaheim, with inspiration from their father, who served food during their childhood in Tunisia before the family immigrated to the United States. Prior to starting Hummus Heaven, Mourad studied engineering at the University of California, San Diego, receiving both bachelor’s and master’s degrees. However, working in food has always been his calling.
“My brother [Tarek] and I have always had a passion for food and serving the community,” he says. “At the time, I used to go searching for this type of food, but I couldn’t find it anywhere that was similar to what I’m familiar with. That’s what drove us to start this business—to provide delicious food that people will enjoy and love.”
Sourcing Locally from Farmers
The majority of Hummus Heaven’s sales come from farmers markets, and they sell their hummus and accompanying items at various markets in the Central Valley, East Bay, South Bay, and San Francisco. They also source ingredients from local farmers. “It makes the most sense for our business to source the ingredients locally because it’s accessible for us,” says Mourad.
Mourad finds sourcing local ingredients to be challenging at times due to late seasonal harvests or crop shortages resulting from weather uncertainty. However, he sees this obstacle as a minor bump on the road and continues to seek out local ingredients at their various market locations and distributors. “At the end of the day, our commitment is to get these things locally,” he says. “It’s what we need to do to keep our business going.”
One Small Batch at a Time
Inspired by their North African roots, Hummus Heaven offers 17 unique flavors of hummus and other spreads, such as artichoke, roasted red pepper, and lemon mint, all made in their small-batch production location in San Leandro. They release at least four to five new products each year during the winter season, often working directly with loyal customers as thy try out new flavor profiles. Before bringing their products to farmers markets, they offer samples to family members and employees for feedback.
“After testing them out, we slowly bring products out for the customers to give some feedback, too,” says Mourad. “I’m a hands-on person, so when I go to the market and I receive that feedback from my customers, it makes me feel satisfied because people are loving what we’re offering.”
With that sense of community, Mourad and his brother Tarek aren’t planning on mass-producing their hummus anytime soon, despite the ample requests they receive from retailers. “It was originally on my mind for a long time, but I never want to overproduce our food because I don’t want to throw anything we make away,” he says. “If we start selling in big stores, we might need to mass produce. But, we prefer to continue offering high-quality food that’s healthy and tasty for everyone.”
Visit Hummus Heaven on Thursdays at Mission Community Market and Sundays at Jack London Square Farmers Market.
First, second, and fourth photos by Tory Putnam.