North Bethesda Sisters Go International For Unique Business Idea

From left to right: Amy, Jackie and Shelby Zitelman while visiting EthiopiaThree sisters from North Bethesda hope their international business can fill what they see as a big gap in the U.S. food market.

Shelby, Jackie and Amy Zitelman started Soom Foods along with Jackie’s husband Omri to put tehina — the sesame seed paste in hummus, baba ghanoush and other popular Middle Eastern dishes — on more store shelves here.

Their company buys White Humera sesame seeds off the Ethiopian Commodities Exchange, manufactures the tehina in Israel and so far is selling its 100 percent Humera Tehina at Brookville Market (3427 Connecticut Ave., NW), Kosher Mart (4860 Boiling Brook Pkwy., Rockville) and Shalom Kosher Market (1361 Lamberton Dr., Silver Spring).

The sisters hosted tastings of the product at the Central Farm Markets in June. The goal is to one day buy sesame seeds directly from Ethiopian farmers through a supported collective. They visited Ethiopia, where Amy Zitelman said they quickly learned there was a different business culture.

“They have certain expectations based on business conversations,” Zitelman said. “The biggest challenges are culturally.”

Soom Foods put out their tehina products at Central Farm Markets in JuneAmy, the youngest of the three, and Shelby, the oldest, live in Philadelphia where the company is based. All three grew up near Tilden Lane and went to the Jewish Day School in Rockville.

Shelby, 28, was abroad in Israel when she first thought about making tehina — prevalent in Middle Eastern countries — a marketable product in the U.S.

Amy, who handles the marketing, took a course on market research and said she found out “there was no good tehina on the shelves.” Jackie and Omri oversee the manufacturing process in Israel.

“With the trends in health foods coming about and particularly with people’s fascination with hummus, we thought it would be a great time to get into this,” Amy Zitelman said.

Photos via Amy Zitelman

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