These Brothers Want to Sell You a Better Pasta
Founding a food business was never something Brian Rudolph saw in his future. After graduating from college in 2012, he moved from the New York suburbs to Detroit for a program called Venture for America and worked for a tech startup.
Without a lot of extra money to spend eating out, he found himself cooking at home regularly and trying to make healthier versions of the foods he had loved to eat while growing up.
“As a kid, I was the pickiest eater. The joke in my family was that I stuck to the three main food groups: bagels, chicken nuggets and spaghetti,” he says. “But toward the end of college, I became interested in nutrition. I realized the better I ate, the better I felt.”
Rudolph favored a Mediterranean diet, especially hummus, and he began experimenting in the kitchen, making everything from high-protein ice creams to chickpea pancakes. Eventually, he decided to try to make pasta from chickpeas.
“I was trying a bunch of healthier pasta options, but was consistently disappointed. At some point it clicked that there wasn’t a single pasta made out of chickpeas. Chickpeas [garbanzo beans] are delicious and have a great starchiness, in addition to their nutrition profile, so I started messing around with a hand crank.”
After a few weeks of experimenting, he brought his “pasta” to work to see what his co-workers thought. They liked it as much as he did, and their rave reviews made him realize that he was on to something.
He convinced his brother, Scott, to join him as a business partner. “We actually launched at Eastern Market. We’d wake up a 4am, cook and pack boxes in the trunk of my car to sell. It was scrappy and exhausting, but the pasta really resonated with people.”
For customers who purchased three or more boxes, they offered a fun incentive: free hugs. “I’m not sure if it helped, but it was a totally real expression of my gratitude. We were able to tell people our story face to face and try all kinds of dishes, products and messaging until we found what people liked.”
Rudolph says that Banza (his name for his garbanzo bean pasta creation) cooks and tastes like traditional pasta, but it’s grain-free, has double the protein, four times the fiber and nearly half the net carbs.
“People love pasta! It’s a universal feel-good food. But people also want to be healthier. With Banza, there’s no tradeoff.”
Banza is now available in 4,500 stores across the country. Despite his company’s growth and success, Rudolph still reads every email that comes through the website.
“We learn from our customers every day,” he says. “But the best part is when people try what you’ve made and it really resonates. Like when you’re out at Eastern Market and meeting dozens of people, and having their faces light up and say, ‘It tastes just like pasta! Honey, you’ve got to try this.’”
Check out this video from Banza