Deena Kvasnik of Deena’s Gourmet

Jill Lewis / Heavy Table

Jill Lewis / Heavy Table

Faced with the prospect of a job layoff, many people cry, yell, or drink away their fears of financial insecurity. But when Deena Kvasnik got the news last spring that Macy’s was eliminating her position as a children’s clothing buyer, she saw it as a good omen. Pregnant with her first child and already contemplating a more family-friendly career, Kvasnik knew her future wasn’t in corporate America — it was in hummus.

Though she hasn’t a drop of Middle Eastern blood and no culinary background (“When I got married, the joke was that my husband would lose weight because I couldn’t cook,” she recalls), hummus had become Kvasnik’s claim to fame among her circle of friends and family. A recipe she created for an afternoon barbecue one day, with (gasp!) no tahini on hand and roasted red peppers and feta in its place, was an instant hit with partygoers and became Kvasnik’s most-requested dish.

“People just loved it and started asking for it at every party. Every holiday, people would ask, ‘Could you bring that good hummus you make?’” she says.

Kvasnik was already thinking big about her hummus before the Macy’s layoff, but her sudden unemployment gave her the impetus to approach the St. Paul Farmers’ Market mere weeks before it opened for the 2008 season. With her husband David’s help, she quickly obtained a business license, reserved space in the St. Paul Incubator Kitchen to whip up her hummus, and printed her labels, designed by her sister-in-law, on sticker paper at a nearby Kinko’s.

“I stopped working at Macy’s in April and just three weeks later, I found myself standing behind a table at the St. Paul Farmers’ Market with a black tablecloth and a sign that said ‘Hummus,’” she says. “I didn’t know how much to make, and we sold out in 90 minutes on first day. Everyone just loved it. People were lining up to buy more as we were packing up the table. We showed up the next day with twice as much and sold out in two hours. I was shocked people wanted to give me money for this little snack dip I made up for a party!”

Jill Lewis / Heavy Table

Jill Lewis / Heavy Table

Since that first weekend at the market, Kvasnik has brought her three flavors of hummus (original, eggplant, and roasted red pepper and feta) to numerous local co-ops and specialty food stores, such as Linden Hills Co-op, Mississippi Market, and Golden Fig. She has also expanded her reach to the Minneapolis Farmers Market on Lyndale Ave. and Nicollet Mall, often deploying her husband, mother-in-law, and friends to help man the tables.

Jill Lewis / Heavy Table

Jill Lewis / Heavy Table

“It is a family affair — it’s great. It draws us closer together as a family. And I have so much time with my son [8-month-old Davin] when I’m not in the kitchen,” Kvasnik says. “It has been the hugest blessing I could ever ask for. I’d much rather be standing with a little apron on at the farmers market talking to people who love my product than working for a big corporation nowhere near a window.”

A market customer as well as a vendor, Kvasnik buys many of her ingredients from the farmers she sees at neighboring tables every weekend. The hours pass by quickly as she listens to the creative ways her customers are consuming the hummus, such as mixed in with scrambled eggs or baked inside meatloaf.

Though thrilled by the reception her hummus has received locally, Kvasnik maintains a measured approach to expanding her business. New flavors are likely on the horizon, she says, but shoppers nationwide won’t be seeing Deena’s Gourmet on their grocery shelves anytime soon.

“Obviously, you want to see your business grow, but I don’t want to compromise the quality of the product – ever. At a certain point, you have to start adding preservatives to go to other states, and that’s not a bridge I’m up to crossing just yet. I think as long as I keep focusing on quality, it will be successful no matter what.”

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Jill Lewis

The great-granddaughter of an Eastern European Jewish baker, Jill Lewis cannot escape her genetic predisposition to carbs. Her love of baked goods, wine, cheese and chocolate may not come in handy for her day job as a Twin Cities PR professional, but it proves infinitely helpful for her gigs as a contributing writer for The Heavy Table and the co-author of the Cheese and Champagne blog. A former resident of Illinois, Texas, Wisconsin and suburban Washington, D.C., Jill now lives with her husband, two young sons and cat in St. Louis Park.

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8 Comments

  1. Daniela 06/16/2009 Reply

    It really makes me happy to see small businesses like Deena’s Gourmet and Sweet Cheeks Baby Food be successful. Kudos to the local farmer’s markets for helping to makes this possible. Kudos also to St Paul Incubator Kitchen.

    I really like Deena’s hummus, despite the fact that I’m basically a crumudgeonly, why-mess-with-tradition hummus-lover. And I always make a point of getting some at the St Paul Farmer’s Market.

  2. Michelle 07/27/2009 Reply

    I couldn’t be prouder of my sister! She saw the decline in this economical crises as an opportunity to expand a desire she didn’t even know she had.

    I have helped man the table at the Farmer’s Market and this type of business is very friendly. Not only do you get face to face interaction with your consumers, but you are doing something close to home. Witnessing how this business brings their and our family together is really inspiring.

  3. My friend and I get Deena’s hummus nearly every week at the Minneapolis Nicollet Mall farmer’s market. LOVE IT!

  4. I buy it nearly every time I’m at Valley Natural Foods now. It’s so good!

  5. Melissa Engel 07/29/2009 Reply

    I can eat a container of this hummus by myself in one day! I can’t get enough of it. I would love to see it in an area by me, Maple Grove. I wonder if Byerlys would consider? I suppose I should start asking for it.

  6. Seward Co-op in Minneapolis now carries Deena’s Hummus – all 4 delicious flavors. I get withdrawal symptoms when I don’t get my fix of Red Pepper Feta! :)

  7. Jessica 06/15/2011 Reply

    I absolutely love Deena’s Black Bean Hummus. Thank goodness I can get it at Kowalski’s if I don’t have time to get to the market because I go through at least a container a week. Its great with roasted potatoes, on a sandwich, or right out of the container with some pretzel chips. Can’t wait to see what new flavors may come!

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