Persistence is Key to Teta Foods’ Success
With more than 15 years of experience at an investment advisory firm and an MBA in finance, Tarek Abouljoud is a numbers guy. So food entrepreneur might seem like an unlikely career for the man who emigrated from Lebanon at age 19, eventually enrolling at the University of Michigan to study accounting.
But after he lost his job as a portfolio manager, it was serendipitous that he was at home one day watching TV. He saw someone talk about fattoush dressing and, “I screamed and told my wife, ‘My gosh, this idea has been in my mind for some time,’” Abouljoud recalls. He told his wife that he could make a product that would be better than anything available on the market.
While there are many Middle Eastern restaurants in metro Detroit, there are few products available at the store to make an authentic shawarma or fattoush salad at home. To launch Teta Foods, Abouljoud went back to his roots.
His love for food started in Lebanon where he cooked as an 8-year-old boy with his grandmother; he would help prepare the fattoush. His tasks entailed chopping vegetables, squeezing lemons and making dressing.
Years later that experience would be one of the building blocks for creating Teta Foods. The name is a nod to his grandmother, whose image graces the bottles of his fattoush and tahini dressings, shawarma and shish tawook marinades and garlic spread, all of which are made with non-GMO, gluten-free and vegan ingredients.
Now in its sixth year, Teta Foods products are sold in 900 stores in Michigan, including Meijer and Kroger, and in other states such as Kentucky, Florida and Nebraska; Abouljoud projects to be in up to 1,600 stores by next year.
The company has seen steady growth since launching in 2010. Last year Teta Foods moved from a 1,700-square-foot building to a 3,800-square-foot space with a loading dock.
Persistence is a key ingredient to this success story, “and not giving up when they turn you down,” Abouljoud says. “I had some businesses that turned me down more than five times and by the end they called me back and they wanted the product.”
Did his background in finance help with his second career? “Big time,” he says. “My background in finance even helped me go to the penny in terms of product pricing where I can meet [the] sweet spot for the consumer and for ourselves to be a profitable company and having a sustainable business model.”
He has always had an entrepreneurial spirit, having launched his own construction business in Lebanon at the tender age of 14. But he knew he wanted to live in America.
“This is the thing I love in this country, the freedom to do what you want,” Abouljoud says. “I wouldn’t have been able to pursue [this business] in any other country.”
He goes further, saying that Michigan, between governmental and local organizations, has offered support that has been key for Teta to succeed.
Find out more at Teta Foods