Co-owner of Fabalish, Jessica Gebel discovered aquafaba could take organic food to the next level. With some strategic financial planning and the right credit cards, Fabalish is now making waves in the vegan snack food space.
Eating healthy doesn’t have to have the taste equivalence of cardboard. Jessica Gebel, co-owner of Fabalish, has proved that organic, plant-based foods can be just as exciting and delightful as any other.
The treats offered by the unique food brand are made without any gluten, soy or nuts, as the majority of the ingredients come from soybeans and their derivatives.
Gebel’s love affair with the golden little beans began when she was working as a private chef in Miami, focusing focus on vegan and plant-forward diets. During that time, she discovered that boiled chickpeas release a water called aquafaba, which can be used as a versatile dairy and egg replacement. So, she started to experiment with the liquid.
“I began using so much aquafaba, that my husband Paul and I just couldn’t eat all the leftover chickpeas,” says Gebel. “So, I began baking falafels to sample the sauces with – and clients began requesting that I sell those as well! I knew I was on to something.”
Soon, her customers began to encourage her to bring her products to a wider audience. In response, she set up a table at a farmers market every Saturday. “They were an instant hit,” she says. “If I missed a weekend, I had clients reaching out to me to find out when I would be back.”
In 2018, Gebel launched Fabalish, and the public responded wholeheartedly. Today, her delectable creations are available online as well as in select retail stores on the east coast. Gebel’s fame escalated when she appeared on the Food Network’s hit cooking competition program “Cooks vs Cons” and won the cash prize. “I went on the show as an amateur chef against professionals and proved that cooking healthier can be a winner!”
However, making waves in the vegan snack food space didn’t occur overnight. Gebel needed a financial plan to propel her and her “liquid gold” forward. In this case, credit cards helped launch this delicious endeavor.
See related: Alleviating some discomfort with the right product
How did you get Fabalish off the ground and into people’s hands?
We moved from Miami to New York, where the cottage laws around food manufacturing are much stricter. It took us several months (and a lot of headaches) to figure out how to open a food business.
There was a lot of paperwork, permits and licenses to get in order – not to mention creating labels with nutrition panels, finding a commercial kitchen and getting all the right insurance in place. Navigating all of this took a lot of research.
We’re definitely still in the startup phase. We’re in about 50 stores in the New York City metro area and are gearing up to expand in the region in 2020.
And you used credit cards to start up?
Yes, they were critical to launch. We basically funded the business on credit cards in the beginning.
Now, we pretty much purchase everything through credit to maximize cash rewards. We use the Bank of America® Cash Rewards credit card (which offers up to 3% cash back on our category of choice and 2% on grocery store and wholesale club purchases up to $2,500 in combined quarterly purchases), and charge pretty much everything. Among the things we purchase are all our ingredients and packaging materials. Because we’re constantly on the road selling into grocery stores, our travel expenses also go on the card.
Do you carry over debt or are you in the black?
I don’t think it’s possible to start a food business, especially consumer packaged goods, without being leveraged somehow. The margins in this business are just so tight that it requires high volume to become profitable – and it takes a lot of time and money to get that volume. To make it all happen, we’ve relied on credit cards, personal savings and loans and investments from friends and family.
Borrowing money is an ongoing challenge. This is a very cash hungry business. We have to think about cash flow every day. The fundraising never stops.
Do you have any regrets?
No, nothing specific. To be clear, though, we have made many mistakes. But we have learned from them, and I don’t think it’s possible to avoid them.
What are your plans for the business?
Expand, expand, expand! We definitely want to go national and become a staple in America’s diet. If we can introduce just a few more plant-based options into everyone’s diet, even if it’s just one meal a week, that would be a huge accomplishment.
Can you give advice to entrepreneurs who are just starting out?
Don’t catastrophize. We’ve stressed too much about the business and about things we couldn’t even control. That’s not to say you shouldn’t be constantly thinking about how the business is going and how to address any issues or roadblocks. But once you make a decision on how to deal with something, move on.
Running a business is just so overwhelming that you need to have a level of trust and faith in the process. We need to remind ourselves that even if we fail, life will go on. Enjoy the process, be present, and take it one day at a time.