Bringing Palestinian American Representation To Hummus With Rana Kamal Of Baba’s


With the rise of the hummus category, Arab American entrepreneurs have been largely left out of the conversation — until now. Enter: Baba’s, an award-winning Arab American/ Palestinian American owned brand founded by second-generation Palestinian American siblings Rana Kamal and Khalid Ansari.

Baba’s is named after their own father, or “baba,” who immigrated to the Twin Cities from Jerusalem in the ‘70s and opened one of Minnesota’s first-ever Middle Eastern restaurants — the longstanding Mediterranean Cruise Café — which is still open today. It was in his original kitchen that Baba’s signature creamy, bold hummus was created.

“Baba’s is a taste of the Palestinian-American experience,” says Baba’s co-founder, Rana Kamal. “It’s a true mix of our Palestinian-American identity through food and culture. Our traditional hummus is a family recipe our baba brought with him from Jerusalem that embodies the authentic, super creamy, velvety hummus you would find at a street cafe tucked away in the Old City — hence the name Jerusalem-Style.”

The company’s original flavor, Creamy Dreamy Traditional is a family recipe that the siblings’ baba brought with him when he immigrated from Jerusalem to the United States. When Jamal opened his restaurant, The Mediterranean Cruise Café in 1979, hummus was one of the first items on the menu.

According to the siblings, it was a risky gamble to open one of the first Middle Eastern restaurants in a predominantly white suburb in the Twin Cities in the 70’s. That said, 45 years later it’s still the number 1 selling item on the menu. Naturally, their father’s hummus was the first product for Baba’s.

The siblings started Baba’s in 2018 as a passion project. Confident that their hummus was incredible, and certainly something special worth taking a risk for, they set out to share it with their community.

“Being able to share our food with our community and beyond has been the most rewarding part of the business,” continues Kamal. “Just seeing our product grow from 20 stores to almost 500 stores across the Midwest has been my biggest joy since starting our business. It’s been incredible to look back at how far we’ve come since we started in a commercial kitchen and now expanding into a 10,000 sq foot production facility.”

Today, Baba’s is a leading Midwest food brand that can be found everywhere from Whole Foods to Kowalski’s. While the hummus can only be found in Midwest retailers (for now), Baba’s Baba’s Pita Puffs is the brand’s national product. The puffs are inspired by mini puffs that Baba’s served at the Minnesota State Fair, one of the largest in the country.

Following the acclaim of their flagship hummus, the Creamy Dreamy Traditional, they’ve since released fun modern flavors such as Sriracha, truffle, and roasted red pepper.

“Our spin-off flavors, like Dill Pickle, Truffle and Sriracha are the representation of our playful, rebellious and ‘melting-pot’ American side,” explains Kamal. “They are a mashup of Middle Eastern flavors and American cult favorites.”

In honor of Arab American Heritage Month, we chatted with Baba’s co-founder, Rana Kamal on her and her brother’s Palestinian American heritage, Arab American representation to the hummus category, entrepreneurship and more. Here’s what she had to say.

How has your Palestinian American heritage informed your love of food?

My parents both immigrated from Jerusalem to the United States. Although they both had different experiences starting anew in a foreign land, they both brought one thing with them: their unwavering love for their homeland. From as young as I can remember, everything was centered around Palestine — from our tatreez throw pillows, to the art pieces of the Old City adorned on every wall in our home and most of all, the food.

Our mama made it a point to cook Palestinian meals almost every night. Whether it was ma’looba (upside down lamb and rice), mussakhan (roasted chicken with sumac and onions over taboon bread), war’aa anab (grape leaves) or fresh hummus from our family restaurant, I can still smell the beautiful aromas from the spices that filled our home every night.

Food was a connector to our Palestinian heritage. Often nights we gathered with our aunts, uncles and cousins over a table of home cooked Palestinian food. It is our love language. Growing up in a culturally rich home led me to appreciate and fall in love with food of all kinds.

Why do you think it’s important to bring Arab American representation to the hummus category? What are the challenges that you’ve faced as a Palestinian entrepreneur?

Arabs have been a fabric of America since the 1800’s when people from Lebanon and Syria began to immigrant to the United States. A wave of more Middle Eastern migrants including Palestinians followed suit in the 1940’s and today over 4 million Arab Americans call America home bringing with them their customs, traditions and rich flavorful food.

Growing up as second-generation Palestinians, we grew up with parents that valued their roots to the core. Food was and is a way to appreciate and celebrate our Arab heritage in America. But outside of our home and our family restaurant, The Mediterranean Cruise Cafe, we rarely saw our culture represented at grocery stores aside from ethnic markets.

In mainstream grocery stores, hummus was being sold by big box-retailers that tasted nothing like the true, authentic chickpea dip we knew and loved. This sparked the idea to a create a brand that represents and celebrates true Arab American food made by Middle Eastern makers.

As a small business owner, there is hustle and grind that every founder faces to build their business. As a Muslim Palestinian American woman, there’s another, more complex layer of hustle and grind on top of that — challenges that minorities face from finding relevance of their food in the mainstream market; to being accepted in the business arena; to building the courage as a minority woman to embark on such a journey. All while having the tenaciousness to push every day when you have all these voices and odds stacked against you.

It’s been an exciting relief to see the tide start to change. I’m encouraged to see more celebration of cultural foods and amplification of more marginalized founders. That said, my work as a woman, a Muslim, and a Palestinian American has only just started. It’s been our greatest honor to share our family recipes with so many and receive praise and acceptance with open arms. It’s the very reason why we started Baba’s — to help amplify, celebrate, and share our culture.

What habits have helped you get to where you are today?

Coming from an entrepreneurial, immigrant family and restaurant setting. I’m always inspired by my baba’s experience — the luck of coming to America for a better life and working around the clock to provide for his family and make his American dream come true. My brother and I have taken the roots of his tree and branched out. We are blessed to have the best of both worlds: second-generation immigrants born in a Palestinian household whose parents are from Jerusalem, merging that with our American side.

With this in mind, I always strive to be true to myself and my own experiences, without being afraid to be creative and innovate. That principle helps me make decisions in my business, my career, and in my life.

Does your experience as a journalist inform your work at Baba’s? If so, in what ways?

I was a journalist for ten years. I began my career as a reporter in Jerusalem and followed suit as a TV Host for the CW Twin Cities. Working in broadcast journalism taught me independence, resilience and the value of trusting yourself. Essentially, during the entirety of my journalism career, I was my own boss. There I was a reporter, but I was also the editor, the creator, the writer and many times the photographer. Like in BABAS, in any day, my brother and I wear many hats. I run from being the brand manager to product manager to accountant to social media and content creator.

Designing Baba’s brand leveraged my passion for storytelling and empathy for connecting with people. Building Baba’s brand has been like telling my story as a second generation Arab American. It also taught me resilience, ability to juggle multiple hats and focus to get things done.

What is the process for developing a new and original hummus flavor?

Developing new flavors is probably the best part of the business. This is where we put our creative juices to work. Our tagline is Modern Middle Eastern. And when it comes to our flavors, we are mashing Middle Eastern and American staples together. Much like ourselves – we are a mashup of Palestinian and American culture.

We grew up eating home cooked Palestinian meals daily, but being from the Midwest, we also had a palate for cheese curds, dill pickles and anything ranch! Our creamy, dreamy traditional hummus is always our base. When a new flavor is chosen, for example, dill pickles, we blend our traditional hummus with dill pickles.

We also turned to our amazing community and ask them what flavors they’d like us to launch next. As we continue to grow, our community will have even more of an influence on what flavors and products to launch.

What do you see as the next frontier for category growth in hummus

If you would have told me 20 years ago hummus was going to blow up into a mainstream staple, I wouldn’t have believed you! At that time, I was the only kid in my class eating hummus sandwiches ☺

Middle Eastern food, notably hummus, is continuing to gain mass popularity in the United States over the past decade. According to Reportlinker, the North America hummus market is expected to grow US $70 million by 2027. Consumers are demanding more healthier options with clean labels and the popularity of the Mediterranean diet has unveiled the good-for-you cuisine.

And we plan to ride that wave and continue to step-further in celebrating Middle Eastern food in an authentic, approachable, yet modern way leading with hummus. Hummus is a versatile product; we are mashing it with truffle, dill or even ranch, turning this ancient chickpea dip into magic.

We are also re-imaging hummus bowls that we first introduced at the Minnesota State Fair in 2021 and now will be opening a permeant hummus house with innovative offerings such as a za’atar hummus bowl topped with garlic chili oil, kimchi and scallions; or a ranch hummus bowls adorned with buffalo chicken, blue cheese and hot sauce – all paired with our mini, puffy, pillowy pitas, we call pita puffs.

It is a recipe where we mash food from our two cultures, Palestinian and American. Baba’s feels like a scalable platform where you can reinvent Arab food and reintroduce it in the American context and experience.

What’s next for Baba’s as a brand?

We remain focused on growing our wholesale business. Our goal is to give our entire nation access to BABAs through horizontal and vertical expansion, while testing a new retail concept. We’re opening a 10,000 square foot production facility, built to help accommodate Baba’s rapidly growing wholesale business and targeting our goal to be a national brand.

In addition, this summer, we are opening a physical expansion of the Baba’s brand in Minneapolis’ Uptown neighborhood! A 50-seat cafe that will be a first of its kind in Minneapolis: a hummus house, mana’eesh bakery, and market selling Baba’s products, Arab pantry ingredients, and merchandise. This retail concept comes at the heel of a successful introduction of our hummus bowls at the Minnesota State Fair and receiving incredible reception from our community.

Khalid and I grew up going to hummus houses — hummus-focused casual eateries that serve up fresh bowls of hummus — during our family trips back to Jerusalem and we’re thrilled to bring this part of our culture to Minneapolis.

The menu will include playful takes on the classic dishes like hummus bowls mana’eesh, and include a Middle Eastern flatbread baked in a traditional dome oven called a furun and usually topped with savory ingredients like halloumi cheese and za’atar — is a food we’re excited to start serving alongside beverage options like Palestinian coffee and tea in a welcoming modern colorful cafe-style setting. Palestinian food is not only rich in flavor, it is also rich in history.



Read original article here

Denial of responsibility! Pedfire is an automatic aggregator of the all world’s media. In each content, the hyperlink to the primary source is specified. All trademarks belong to their rightful owners, all materials to their authors. If you are the owner of the content and do not want us to publish your materials, please contact us by email – [email protected]. The content will be deleted within 24 hours.

Leave a comment