Photo credit: Bonnie Sen
An entrepreneurial spirit runs through Shelby Zitelman’s family; her parents and grandparents were entrepreneurs. Now, Shelby and her two sisters run Soom Foods, a company that sells natural tahini products. Below, Shelby shares about the inspiration behind her business, what it’s like to work with family and a white lie you just might want to test drive at home.
Congratulations on your company, Soom. What’s the inspiration behind Soom?
I guess you could say the inspiration was love! My middle sister Jackie, started dating her now husband, Omri, when I was working abroad in Israel. Omri has been in the tahini and sesame industry for over ten years. When I met him, I tasted the product he was selling throughout Israel. It was unlike any tahini I had ever tried before; this tahini was nutty, almost like peanut butter, and silky smooth. It wasn’t chalky or bitter at all.
After I tried it, I started asking a lot of questions:
Why does this tahini taste so good?
Why hadn’t I tasted tahini like this in the U.S.?
What types of tahini exist in the U.S.?
What do American know about tahini?
These questions basically informed a business plan.
The more we learned, the more we wanted to share our knowledge about tahini. We wanted people to experience the same type of discovery I’d had – realizing that tahini is a delicious, nutritious and versatile ingredient that can be enjoyed for so much more than hummus.
What’s your favorite tahini-based recipe?
Honestly, my favorite way to use tahini is on it’s own! I enjoy its roasted, nutty sesame flavor and creamy texture. I like drizzling it on roasted veggies, mixing it into my rice bowls, adding it to my smoothies and drizzling it on my yogurt and granola in the morning.
What’s it like to be in business with your sisters?
It has been amazing. I love that we talk every day, and that we’re able to bring our “family vibe” and values into the workplace.
Growing up in a family filled with entrepreneurs, it doesn’t surprise us that we came together to start and grow Soom Foods. We have complementary skills and interests, and we have mutual respect of one another’s opinions. We disagree sometimes, but we “agree to disagree” and majority rules.
If you could hand off one chore to someone else each day, what would it be?
Cleaning up after dinner and washing the dishes!
What is your favorite thing to do to relax and unwind?
Honestly, drinking a cold IPA or glass of wine. In silence 😉
What is your best parenting hack?
Mimicking Malcolm’s (my three-year-old) manic feelings. If he is yelling or angry, I act really upset, put my head down and start “crying.” He quickly stops his episode and comes over to make sure I’m okay. It’s really rather sweet.
What is the best white lie that you’ve told your child?
The best white lie I’ve told Malcolm is that the kitchen is “closed” after dinner, and if he doesn’t eat his dinner no, he won’t be able to open the cabinets and fridge. I can’t take the credit for this – I learned this one from my parents! For years, I seriously believed the kitchen was under lock and key!
If you could describe motherhood/fatherhood in one word, what would it be?
What’s one moment in your motherhood journey that has made you proud?
The other day I came home from a work event as Malcolm was getting into bed. As I tucked him in, he asked, “Mommy, how was your meeting? Did you sell a lot of Soom? Did people line up to try it?” I was so proud that he was paying attention to and interested in my day and was so excited about my work! Awareness and empathy are important attributes, and I’m proud Malcolm is developing them at such a young age.
What is one piece of advice you want to pass along to your children?
Enjoy the moment. It passes quickly.
What is one piece of advice you would pass along to other moms?
Don’t spend time and energy worrying about what’s outside of your control (for both parenthood and business).
How do you tackle the work/life balance?
Work/life balance is a constant struggle. I don’t have a method to the madness, but framing work/life balance as a marathon instead of a sprint helps keep me grounded. Some weeks I’m on top of my work to-do list, other weeks it piles up out of control. Some weeks I feel like I’m nailing the motherhood thing, other weeks I feel like I’m a hot mess.
But when I look back on the past five years of Soom Foods and the past three years of raising Malcolm, I realize I’ve done a pretty good job of managing both— with the help of my village. I have to call-out the amazing support I’ve received from my husband, my family and friends, my sisters, and my team at Soom Foods.
What was the last book you read?
Behold the Dreamers by Imbolo Mbue.
Favorite Beauty Product:
Franklin and Whitman Cleansing and Face Serum
Favorite Form of Exercise:
Yoga & HIIT (high-intensity interval training)
What is on your DVR?
Fool Us and Impractical Jokers – I really like brainless TV that allows me to just unwind and be entertained/laugh. Although I did just finish The Handmaid’s Tale Season 2. SO GOOD!!
Google Calendar. Lame but so necessary.
Favorite Kids Store:
I hate shopping! Amazon Prime all the way.