This post was contributed by Shelby Zitelman CEO of Soom Foods
I was not yet a mother (not yet married!) when I started Soom Foods (www.soomfoods.com) with my sisters, Jackie and Amy. Actually, we were all experiencing major life transitions – Amy graduated from University of Delaware, I was living abroad in Israel working for a Jewish non-profit organization, and Jackie just started dating (her now husband,) Omri.
Omri has been in the Israeli tahini industry for a dozen years. When Jackie finally mustered up the “courage” to introduce me, her older sister, to Omri, I not only fell in love with him, but also the product he was selling.
The tahini Omri distributed to Chefs throughout Israel was unlike any tahini I had tried before. I thought of tahini as an ambiguous white sauce you would drizzle on falafel, or a chalky, bitter ingredient that was used to make hummus. And both of these products could only be found in US grocery stores on the bottom shelf of the ethnic aisle, gathering dust.
Omri’s tahini was flavorful, nutty and creamy and reminded me of peanut butter. I wanted to eat it plain, with a spoon. What was this delicious ingredient that was amazing on everything? Why was it so different from what we could find the United States?
Those questions and the many more that followed sparked our business plan. And while we never discussed starting a business together, the pieces just fell into place for me, Jackie and Amy. We have complimentary skills, shared values and a respect for each other that allows us to grow and operate our family business without putting family and business at odds with each other.
Flash forward four years since we started Soom Foods, and I am now a wife to Dan, mother to Malcolm, and soon-to-be-baby Stamm (ETA June 10 +/-). Jackie is married to Omri, mother to Liel and soon-to-be-baby Horvitz (ETA July 14 +/-), and Amy is married to Darren and dog-mother to Taz 🙂
And business is (thank god) growing. Soom Tahini and Chocolate Halva spread is nationally distributed to some of America’s top restaurants, caterers and manufacturers, Soom Tahini is the #35 ranked product in Amazon’s Nut & Seed Butters, and we have a mighty team of six.
It has been quite a whirlwind growing our Company while also growing our families, but because we are a family business, we have figured out how to make it work.
Here are some of the ways I personally balance motherhood with CEO-hood:
- I don’t bring-in Malcolm to the office. I have had to on a few rare occasions, but I believe that because I separate motherhood from office-life I am able to be more present and productive in both places. And if I need to take time out of the office (because Malcolm’s school is closed, for instance) I make sure to get my work done when Malcolm is sleeping, or on Sunday etc…
- I communicate and plan a lot. With my husband, with my sisters, with our employees and with Malcolm’s childcare. If I need to leave the office early to take Malcolm to a Dr.’s appointment, my staff knows why I am leaving early. If I know that I have a late-night work event coming up, my husband knows in advance. This communication has alleviated a lot of ambiguity and last-minute changes.
- I am blessed to have a lot of support. My in-laws are local, our Aunt & cousins are local, and our grandma is local. All of these people (yes, even our Grandma!) help Dan & I with Malcolm’s childcare, and we have an amazing support network to call-upon if we are ever in a bind. I have to especially mention Amy, who carries a lot of the business weight while Jackie and I were/are on maternity leave & caring for our kids.
And I would be remiss not to include how meals factor into all of this! Healthy meal planning has been a big part of motherhood, and I am not much of a planner. I also don’t love recipes. Instead I mostly cook based on what is in our fridge and pantry, so yes, we use a lot of tahini! And I prefer to make easy-to-create meals & snacks.
When Malcolm started eating solid foods, I would blend tahini with sweet potatoes, bananas, avocados, beets etc… This gave the fruit/vegetable puree a creamy texture, and gave Malcolm essential vitamins and minerals like calcium, iron and protein.
Now that Malcolm is 2 years old, he loves plain “Soom!” with his pretzel sticks and he uses baby carrots as a vehicle to get to hummus. I also blend tahini in our morning smoothies, oatmeal or yogurt. As a treat, I give him Soom Chocolate Halva Spread spread on a sandwich, or as a dip with apple or banana slices.
My husband Dan also loves Soom products because he is unfortunately allergic to peanuts and almonds. As a marathon runner he gets his post-run protein from sesame instead, and loves mixing Soom Tahini with a bit of honey. He also loves stir-fry in the wok, and we make delicious Asian-inspired noodles with Tahini instead of peanut sauce.
While it does not come without its challenges, it is such a blessing to have the opportunity to run my own business while also raising a family. And the fact that my family nutritionally and culinarily benefits from my Company’s products makes it all-the-more worthwhile.
Inspired by her entrepreneurial family, Shelby Zitelman graduated from the Wharton School with a concentration in entrepreneurial Management. She applied this degree to her subsequent jobs at Ben Franklin Technology Partners as a fund analyst, PresenTense as US Director of Programs and Operations and now as CEO of Soom Foods. Shelby is responsible for the managing the Company’s strategy, team, finances and accounting, and overseeing contractor relationships. She has led the Company to double sales each year, since inception.
Shelby loves connecting with other entrepreneurs and spends her downtime practicing yoga and exploring Philadelphia with her husband, Dan, their two-year-old son, Malcolm, and baby-to-be (ETA June 2017!). She has been a “Big Sister” through Big Brothers Big Sisters for 9 years, and is involved with various non-profits in the Philadelphia area.