Heath Barnes and Tish Ghigleri used to make a living shipping Palouse-grown chickpeas across the country.
Now they’re diverting some of those shipments into hummus for Inland Northwest eaters with their new business, Bronzestone Corp.
Barnes and Ghigleri, who worked for the Pacific Northwest Farmers Cooperative in Genesee, Idaho, say they were struck by how much of the local chickpea crop was shipped across the country to hummus makers.
Barnes was a commodities merchandiser and Ghigleri a logistics coordinator for the cooperative until six months ago, when they left to focus on their new business.
“We grow all of these great things in our backyard and yet they were being shipped to Boston and to other manufacturers,” Barnes said.
The Clarkston couple started experimenting with small batches of hummus whirled in a blender at home. They liked the flavor of their homemade hummus better than other commercial dips they tried; so did their children and many of the friends and family who tasted it.
They dabbled for a few years perfecting the blend of garbanzo beans, olive oil, tahini and spices. But other than a killer hummus recipe and a taste for great food, they had no food manufacturing experience and little hope of getting a small business loan, Barnes said.
Then, about two years ago, they heard about a business plan contest sponsored by the Port of Whitman and Washington State University. Top prize was $10,000, but Barnes and Ghigleri had no illusions they might win. At worst, they thought putting it all down on paper would be a good experience.
They planned to skip the dinner where the winner would be announced, but relented at the last minute – and won.
The prize gave the project a much-needed boost. Instead of finding a traditional business loan, the couple convinced friends to invest.
Since then, Barnes and Ghigleri have outfitted a USDA-certified processing plant in the Port of Wilma industrial park near Clarkston. They’ve perfected the recipe again in the industrial-size cooking vats and blending machines.
They cook the Palouse-grown chickpeas in an 80-gallon kettle, caramelize onions in a 35-gallon skillet and whirl the hummus in a 60-gallon vertical cutter mixer. (For the record, they had graduated to a quartet of food processors before moving into the manufacturing plant.)
They do all of the work themselves, with a little help from their five children, who range in age from 4 to 18 years old. That includes cooking, packaging, marketing and sampling, and until recently, Ghigleri says, they were still cutting labels for the hummus tubs by hand.
They named the company Bronzestone while they were brainstorming during a drive one day: bronze for the color of the dried beans and stone for the texture.
The finished hummus has a smoother, lighter texture than many other commercial brands. It also has a very short ingredient list, with less sodium than other comparable hummus dips and no preservatives.
Barnes says many people have described the flavor of their hummus as “clean” and he likes the way the flavors shine through without the extra salt. He and Ghigleri pride themselves on finding high-quality ingredients and buy them locally as much as possible.
There are three flavors on area shelves – garlic, roasted red pepper and caramelized onion – and they’re still experimenting with others, including sun-dried tomato, five-spice and super spicy. Ten-ounce tubs sell for $3.99.
Competition for shelf space is stiff, but Bronzestone Corp. hummus can be found on shelves at Rosauers stores in Spokane, Moscow and Lewiston; Yoke’s Fresh Markets and Super 1 Foods on 29th Avenue in Spokane; and the Moscow Food Co-op, where Bronzestone first tested samples of their hummus while they developed the recipe.
The hummus will also be in Metropolitan Markets in the Seattle area mid-month and Super 1 Foods stores in Idaho and Montana on Jan. 10.
Barnes and Ghigleri will also be offering samples of the hummus at the Relish Cooking Show and Expo on Thursday at the Greyhound Park and Events Center in Post Falls.
The cooking show runs from 5 to 9 p.m. Tickets are $13 and can be purchased at Super 1 Foods stores in Post Falls, Coeur d’Alene and Hayden; Great Floors in Spokane Valley, Post Falls and Coeur d’Alene; and Granite Transformations, 1014 N. Pines Road, Suite 102, Spokane Valley.
Middle Eastern Sliders
Courtesy of Bronzestone Corp., www.bronzestone.biz, from www.rachaelraymag.com
4 pita breads
1 1/2 pounds ground beef
1 teaspoon ground cumin
Salt and black pepper, to taste
1 romaine heart, thinly sliced crosswise
1 cup grape tomatoes, halved
1/2 cup dill pickle slices
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice, plus lemon wedges for serving
3/4 cup hummus
Preheat a grill to medium-high. Stack the pitas and wrap in heavy-duty foil; place on the grill and cover to warm.
In a large bowl, combine the beef with the cumin, 3/4 teaspoon salt and 1/4 teaspoon pepper; shape into 12 1/3-inch-thick patties.
In another large bowl, combine the romaine, tomatoes and pickles; toss with the olive oil and lemon juice and season with salt and pepper.
Remove the pitas from the grill. Transfer the beef patties to the grill, cover and grill for 2 minutes on each side for medium.
Spread each pita with some of the hummus, then top with some of the salad and 3 patties. Serve with the lemon wedges.
Yield: 4 servings