"Americans look at it like they've never seen a bicycle. It's a real invention! It's something else!" exclaimed Ami Blashkovsky enthusiastically. Blashkovsky, 47, is the man behind the new squeezable hummus initiative.
Blashkovsky arrived in the US 25 years ago. He is married, fathered two children who made aliyah without knowing a word of Hebrew, got divorced, and remarried a year ago to New York television newscaster Emily Frances. He grew weary of his t-shirt business, went into real estate, where he grew even wearier.
"I realized that I am missing something that is my baby, something that will really do it for me," he said with light shining so brightly from his eyes that it threatens to takeover the small, central-Manhattan office.
"Across the street from my house, there is a hummus place, an Israeli hummus joint. I saw that it was picking up steam, that their stores are always full. So I started taking an interest in the story of hummus. I said, 'Wow. It's not normal how much it's developing.' The more I understood the figures in the field, I understood that hummus has not yet entered mainstream America. I understood that something is missing.
"My wife, who is American, saw me scooping hummus up with a pita (the common way of eating hummus in Israel, also known in Hebrew as "lenagev" - literally "to wipe" - hummus), and she told me it is simply disgusting to do something like this."
Disgusting? Lenagev? You know, we grew up on that.
"Right. For sure. This is how we grew up as Israelis, but Americans didn't grow up on this. So I had to invent something that would fit their mentality. Their whole thing is dipping. Hummus in a tub container can't be used for dipping because what is an American supposed to think when he takes the hummus out of the refrigerator that he opened yesterday or the day before? It's used; it's not aesthetic. So I solved the problem for them. I invented squeezable hummus. Just like mustard, ketchup, or mayonnaise. I am the next generation of hummus."
The real Zohan
Blashkovsky says he invested about $200,000 in his hummus project.
"I invested all of my savings in this. My wife and friends think I'm crazy, and sometimes I have nightmares that I will go back to living with rats like I did during my first weeks in the US," he says.
At first, Blashkovsky called the business Zohan Hummus, after the Adam Sandler movie. "I sat with my wife on the beach in Malibu, and next to us Adam Sandler sat with his daughter. My wife interviewed him several times already, so they know each other. So Sandler tells his daughter, 'This is the real Zohan.' I said to myself – what a great name."
"I checked to see that there aren't any copyrights on the name. I wrote to Sony in order to receive their permission. They said it's all good, but a month later they wrote that there was a misunderstanding and I have to give up the name. I didn't want to get entangled with them, just that they would return the $75,000 that I spent on the Zohan. I changed the name to Squeeze Z Hummus, which is much more authentic. Zohan Hummus is nice, but it sounds like a joke, not like an authentic product."
Who wants Israeli-style hotdog?Squeeze Z Hummus, which costs $5.99 a bottle, can be found in a range of supermarkets throughout New York, as well as at points of sale in Los Angeles, Washington, and Baltimore.
For now, Blashkovsky is looking for a business partner in order to up his penetration into the American market. "I am convinced that the American hummus market is far from saturation, despite the jungle that has taken over here in recent years," he says.
While his wife Frances interviews Hollywood stars and travels to the hottest spots in Manhattan, Blashkovsky is busy setting up his business infrastructure, doing just about everything, including modeling for the package label in a red crown.
As part of his quest to change Americans from homo sapiens to hummus sapiens, Blashkovsky placed sales people on the street to hand out free hotdogs to passersby. However, unlike the usual hotdogs Americans are accustomed to with ketchup and mustard, Blashkovsky put only hummus on the bun.
"They need to get used to hummus as being on the same level as the rest of the products they place on their refrigerator door," he says.
You must be aware that as soon as the hummus giants see that you are succeeding, they will start producing a similar package.
"Clearly. That is why I have new developments underway. What is important to me at this stage is that my hummus is differentiated and that people understand its quality. Look, I live a block away from one of the biggest supermarkets in the city, so I've simply started sleeping in the store. In New York, people don't have time. The customer walks through and puts things in his basket while moving, most times while talking on the cell phone at the same time. If I put a naked girl standing next to the eggs and milk, he'll take the products without even seeing the girl. I wanted to teach them that hummus is next to the eggs and the cheese, that it's part of breakfast, lunch, and dinner, and their munchies. Everything goes."
Do you plan to penetrate the Israeli market as well?
"That isn't part of the plan, but go figure. Israelis will buy hummus in a squeeze bottle only after it becomes a hit in America, never the opposite."
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