When James Gardner of Belton got the idea to start a hummus company, he didn’t realize there were already two big ones in Kansas City: Yummy’s Choice and Mohamed’s World’s Greatest. But he quickly found out when he began to plan and develop his own line.
“They both offer wonderful, very authentic Mediterranean products,” Gardner says. “They offer hummus and also other products such as baba ghanoush and tzatziki. We only have a recipe for hummus, and we want to stick to that.”
Actually, the Hummus Company has one base recipe but five distinctive flavors: Lemon & Roasted Garlic, Garden Basil & Chive, Fire Roasted Red Pepper, Smoky Southwest Chipotle and Spicy Jalapeno & Lime.
“We want to be the Ben & Jerry’s of hummus,” Gardner says. It does not surprise him that his roasted red pepper version generates the least sales: “Everybody makes that.”
What is a surprise is that the Spicy Jalapeno & Lime flavor, which he made just for himself because he loves extra-hot foods, has turned into the second-best seller. That one comes with a warning on the label that reads, in part: “This stuff is just for you if you enjoy pleasing and torturing your taste buds!”
Gardner, whose company celebrated its one year anniversary March 1, started out in just one store, a place called Grab It in Lee’s Summit. (It has since been sold and no longer carries the Hummus Company’s line.) His big break came one evening at his job waiting tables at Brio, where he still works.
“The guy who became my business partner came in one night, looked at the menu and told me there wasn’t much there he could eat, because he’s a vegan. I asked him if he ate hummus and he said, ‘I love hummus,’ ” Gardner recalls. “I gave him some of mine that I had with me to give to people to sample, and he said, ‘This is the best hummus I’ve ever had.’ He worked at Hy-Vee and got me a meeting at the Leawood store, and they agreed to carry it.”
Now the products are at three Hy-Vee stores: 8900 W. 135th St., Overland Park; 12200 State Line Road, Leawood; and 6801 W. 91st St., Overland Park.
A second break came when he hooked up with American Food & Vending, which provides food to Cerner’s world headquarters and its Innovation Campus.
“I just delivered 400 pounds of hummus to Cerner,” he says.
Orders like that mean Gardner has outgrown his small production facility in Belton, and he is preparing to move into a larger place with 1,500 square feet of kitchen space soon. He seems well on his way to achieving his goal of leaving his wait job and making hummus full time.
More information at the Hummus Company’s Facebook page and Twitter.