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Q&A with Jill Ginsberg from Thou Shall Snack

Jewish Grandmas are known for their special gift for feeding – and over feeding – their loved ones. But for Jill Ginsberg (second from right), her Grandma Rose not only filled her belly with chicken soup, rugelach, and blintzes – … Read More

By / November 26, 2007

Jewish Grandmas are known for their special gift for feeding – and over feeding – their loved ones. But for Jill Ginsberg (second from right), her Grandma Rose not only filled her belly with chicken soup, rugelach, and blintzes – she also sparked Jill’s entrepreneurial spirit.

In 2005, Ginsberg founded Thou Shall Snack – a line of kosher snacks products that recreate traditional Jewish recipes, while giving them a decidedly contemporary twist (they’re kosher as well as baked, free of trans fats and genetically modified ingredients, and made with 70% organic ingredients). Read an interview with Jill below.

LK: How did you come up with the original idea for Thou Shall Snack?

JG: The first time I got the idea for Latke Crisps was after I heard of my friend’s Jewish beer company, HeBrew Beer. I thought, someone better make some latke crisps to go with that beer! It was really more of a lark in the moment, but it ended up becoming our first product.

[I also realized] there were a lot of other ethnic-inspired snack foods out there, which got me thinking about the Jewish foods I grew up eating. I began to wonder why no one had done something like this before.

LK: How do you generate new product ideas?

JG: There are a few commonalities between Latke Crisps, Babka Bites, and the third product I’m working on, which is a secret right now. They have to be a Jewish food that most people [including non-Jews] are going to recognize. They tend to be foods that are heavier and provide a little bit of guilt if you eat too much of it. And the third things is that these foods are difficult too make in the kitchen – they’re laborious. [These commonalities] have defined how we’ve marketed the products. You can have access to traditional tasting foods and flavors without having to do all the work, and also without feeling too guilty about it.

crisp.jpgLK: It’s great that you are taking traditional, heavy Jewish foods and updating them. But when you get down to it, snacking is snacking – there’s always going to be a sense of indulgence. How do you strike the balance between a delicious product and a healthy product?

JG: I try to remind myself that we are not setting out to create the world’s healthiest product. I want my products to be as healthy as they can, while still maintaining the integrity of the original recipes. If we can’t get them to taste authentic, it wouldn’t be a product I’d put out there. At the same time, I want it to be a product I’d eat myself and one I’d feed my kids.

LK: Your kids must love it when you test recipes in the kitchen!

They do! [I started developing] Latke Crisps by making really flat latkes and baking them in the oven. The Babka Bites was more of an R&D process. I bought babkas from the supermarket and from a great kosher deli around here, and I taste tested the version we were working on at the manufacturing plant versus the actual babkas.

LK: Did you have a culinary background before starting Thou Shall Snack?

JG: I’ve always enjoyed cooking, and I come from a family where cooking was a big thing, but I didn’t have any experience in the food industry. I have a business degree from University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill – and this work perfectly combines my interests in marketing and business. I’ve probably done the majority of my cooking in the last three years.

JG: What has surprised you the most along the journey of being a food entrepreneur?

I think the most surprising thing is that it takes so much energy to make everyone happy. In the food business, it’s not just like you’re a retailer selling to your customer – you’re selling to multiple people and you have to make them happy along the way. It’s really a challenging, exhausting process, but it’s something I take very seriously. I have a little bit of understanding about how reading something bad about yourself in a tabloid might feel. I want everyone to love our product and that’s just not going to happen!

[Still] I feel incredibly fulfilled and content with what I’m doing. Instead draining me creatively, I feel this work brings out all the creativity in me. I’ve also been surprised by the amount of interest and acceptance we’ve received from a wider breadth of people than I would have expected. I’d sure hope we’d get attention by the Jewish community – and we have – but there’s a larger group of people that are taking notice because they think [our products are] unique and also because they’re low fat and all natural.

LK: As a Jewish food entrepreneur, what recent trends have you noticed in the Jewish food world.

babka.jpgJG: There’s definitely a trend towards all-natural and organic food. You hear a lot of people talking about the convergence of kosher and organic. It’s happening because kosher and organic [certification] make people think that foods are safer, healthier, cleaner – so there’s just some natural overlap there. But I think that the biggest trends are really more health related. There are lots of foods out there now that are fortified with vitamins. When people are having a snack, they want to feel like they’re doing something healthy.

LK: Is there a Jewish food you’d never consider for a Thou Shall Snack product?

JG: I joke around with people that we’re going to make a gefilte fish popsicle. There are the consummate Jewish foods that people love, and then there are the ones where people feel sorry for us for being Jewish. I think gefilte fish is one of those, though I happen to like it – especially when people make their own.

LK: What does your Grandma Rose think of Thou Shall Snack?

We were featured in the Every Day with Rachel Ray magazine, and I mentioned how the products were inspired by Grandma Rose. I sent her a copy of the magazine and she was so excited! I really don’t think she knew who Rachel Ray was, but she was very proud. Though, my grandma would be proud of anything that I did.

She also seems to genuinely love our products. I sent her a bunch of bags of Latke Crisps, and she called me the other day and said, “You know – I had one bag for lunch, and I already know I’m having a sandwich for dinner, do I’m going to have another bag to go with it!

Find out more about Thou Shall Snack here.

(x-posted at The Jew & The Carrot)

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