I don’t actually consider myself an adventurous eater. An adventurer, maybe — but never the first to dive into some unknown plate. Yet when the bowl reached me, it seemed innocuous enough. Small, white and round with a few specks here and there. Plus, they looked like they might be crunchy, and I was desperate to stay awake. The sunshine and the gentle breeze floating in the through the open windows along with the three hour lecture had made me dozey. So with the intention of maintaining my attention, I popped one in my mouth.
The moment that little unidentified puff hit my tongue I was hooked. I watched intently as the bowl circled around the room once more, counting down until the bowl reached me again. I spent the rest of the class counting and craving, awaiting the moment I could find out what had so enticed my taste buds.
I learned that what I had just tried was called phool makhana, or a popped lotus seed. Beyond that, I didn’t know much except that I really, really, liked it.
The next day while my classmates scattered to the wind to search out a cold beer or maybe even familiar flavors from home at some international chain, I returned to the same café. I sat alone, savoring each bite, seed by seed at a time. This time, the whole bowl was for me. Never before had I tried something quite so craveable and satisfying. Light, but filling, crunchy, but not sharp.
When I returned home from my time studying international business in India, the cravings did not subside. So like any good millennial, I took to the Internet to find out where I could get more of these enticing seeds.
But there really wasn’t anywhere to find them. I expected to find a deluge of products on Amazon or other retailers but every search turned up more or less empty. And the more I learned about the seed , the more fascinated I became with the product.
The lotus flower is an important symbol in many eastern cultures and religions. It signifies purity, renewal and rebirth. But while phool makhana (the Hindu name for our product) is commonly known as a lotus flower, it is the species euryale ferox which is also known as a gorgon nut, fox nut, or prickly water lily seed.
Lotus has been cultivated in China and India for thousands of years. It has been used continuously in both traditional Chinese Medicine as well as Indian Ayurveda to treat a variety of ailments; including issues with the spleen, kidneys, digestive and reproductive systems. It is considered a cooling food in Ayurveda and said to balance the Vata and Pitta doshas*.
Makhana is an aquatic plant and grows in wetlands in Asia. Much of the world’s supply in produced in one state in India, Bihar, on the border with Nepal. Because it is able to grow in wetlands, Makhana is critical to preserving traditional habitats as farmers living in these regions have a way to earn and income without altering the landscape around them.
Still unable to find them online, I started calling grocery stores across the Midwest and finally I found someone who could get them. I immediately ordered all that they had in stock.
Back at home I started experimenting with different recipes. I brought them to friends and families and classmates. Their incredible taste was contagious. Time and time again, people told me I should sell them. Wondering if anyone would really buy them, I decided to start a business called Karmic Kitchens.
From day one, I wanted to build a mission-driven business. As soon as I decided to start selling them, I began reaching out to friends and connections for contacts on the ground in Bihar. From the beginning, I was determined that we would be a business that lifts the tides for all boats: hence the name Karmic Kitchens. Working directly with the growers to pay them fair wages was always the goal, regardless of the name.
We started with a single farmers market in late October of 2016. I stayed up into the wee hours of the morning trying to crank out bags after work in our new home at a commercial kitchen. I was working full-time and terrifically nervous that my friends and family had been lying and they hated the snack. That no one would buy my recipes. I had full confidence in the popped lotus seed but absolutely none in my creations.
But that first day was magical. People loved it. We easily sold out and would have done so even if the mass of friends and family hadn’t shown up. And I was hooked. That first day stoked a fire deep inside to turn this into something real and something powerful.
On this blog, I will continue to share my experiences in starting Atlas Provisions. The good, the bad, and the ugly. I have learned a tremendous amount about food and entrepreneurship over the past few years and I see no other option than to be transparent about that learning. I made a lot of mistakes. I still do—almost every single day.
But hopefully my mistakes can save someone else some heartache. By every consideration, I had every advantage. I have my MBA for goodness sakes. But I can honestly say, starting my own business has been the most difficult thing I have ever done. Absolutely the most rewarding but without a doubt, the most challenging.
I hope you learn something. At the very least laugh along with my crazy mistakes.