This blog has been a little uh .. can you say cricket-friendly for the past couple of months. But for good reason! I’ve been busy with a program called the Founder Institute, which is a startup accelerator – it’s a fancy way of saying they help with startup businesses. I got some exciting news coming your way in that regard; but until then, I’d like to introduce to you someone I met at the Institute in the fall, and I’ve grown to love his idea and the company he has founded. George Roche wants to help people eat better. He also wants to lend a helping hand in solving world hunger while also improving the lives of farmers all over the world. Yes, it’s like we’re kindred spirits! George’s newborn company, Small Small, does all these things by selling hot sauce! Take a look at the video below. Then read on to learn more about Small Small and how to get yourself entered into this giveaway to win either an Ethiopian berbere spice rub, or a bottle of the red pepper sauce – I tried a little sample of both and was really impressed with the taste. Can’t wait to try out some authentic Ethiopian recipes with these!
Interview with George Roche, Founder of Small Small
1. Small Small is a great name for your company – what inspired it?
When I was in Liberia doing work with the US government, I noticed that despite being one of the most food insecure countries in the world, they still maintain an interesting cuisine that you can’t get outside of the region. That’s really how the idea for Small Small was born. The locals have a great saying where instead of saying “a little” they would say “small small.” For instance they would say, “use the sauce small small.” I thought it was the perfect way to describe what we as an organization are trying to do, which is to make a small change in a big system.
2. What are your goals for the first Small Small Indiegogo crowdfunding campaign?
With the Indiegogo campaign, I’m looking to create some awareness of the company and test the market to see if this is really something people are interested in. Indiegogo is the perfect platform for Small Small because it specializes in social impact organizations and it showcases some real innovators in the space.
Heba here – Speaking of which, check out the campaign here, and feel free to contribute what you can (each contribution amount has a reward listed on the right – seriously, who wouldn’t want some Ethiopian spices in their kitchen … make your weeknight meals come alive with flavor!
3. Tell us a little bit about the Small Small products you have currently: the berbere spice and the red pepper sauce. What makes them unique?
It took about a month to figure out which products to start with, and I couldn’t be happier with the berbere and red pepper sauce. Berbere is the most popular spice in Ethiopia (which is a country of over 100 million people) and awaze – which is the inspiration for the red pepper sauce – is the most popular sauce in the country. Although the products may seem foreign to many Americans, the flavors are great – very agreeable – and they’re incredibly versatile. Yet for both the spice and the sauce, it’s very hard to find them in the US outside of some specialty ethnic stores and restaurants. These are high-quality products that are gluten-free, vegan and authentically Ethiopian.
4. Many of this blog’s readers are quite meticulous about the food they eat – making sure it’s sustainably grown and produced ethically. Please share a bit about what makes Small Small an ethical and sustainable food company.
Having been a vegetarian for over two years, food quality and sustainability are extremely important to me. From what I’ve gathered working with other food companies, I believe that impact initiatives can be done better, and food development can be made more sustainable. What differentiates Small Small is that we source our products and ingredients from Ethiopia, which helps drive demand for the farmers’ products. We then donate a portion of every sale to teach Ethiopian farmers how to get better crop yields. This allows us to help them along the entire supply chain and raise their standard of living as well as allow them to grow better crops and expand their operations in the future!
5. Where do you source all the different ingredients to make the red pepper sauce and berbere spice? Are all the ingredients GMO-free?
Our products’ main ingredients are sourced directly from Ethiopia. Our Berbere spice blend is shipped to the US and is used as the main ingredient in our Red Pepper Sauce, which is manufactured in DC. No one is currently bottling it in Ethiopia – it’s very much a “make it at home” kind of sauce there. Basic berbere is made by combining allspice, cardamom, cloves, fenugreek, ginger, black pepper, salt, and a substantial amount of hot red pepper (cayenne) – hence why I called the awaze, “Red Pepper Sauce”. At this point, because the blend comes from farmers across the region, it is hard to tell if all the ingredients are definitely GMO-free, but I’m fairly certain they are given the smallholder nature of the farmers. However, this is something dear to me and something I am working to ensure moving forward.
6. I personally love spices – they can take a meal from bland and unadventurous to flavorful and exciting, often transporting us to the lands where they originated. Tell us a little bit about your exposure to Ethiopian cuisine, and please share some ideas for how readers can use the berbere spice and red pepper sauce in their own kitchens!
One of our taglines is actually “eat adventurously” because we, like you, believe that with the help of spice and sauce you can take a trip around the world with the food you eat. I don’t mean to talk in generalities but it’s not uncommon for Ethiopian families to add berbere and awaze (red pepper sauce) to almost everything – rice, veggies, meats, fish, butter, eggs, tofu, you name it. My favorite uses are in a dish called kik wat which is a great lentil dish and gored-gored which is traditionally a beef dish but I personally make it with tofu. If possible, try to get your hands on authentic Ethiopian bread – injera – to make the experience even better!
7. What advice do you have for aspiring entrepreneurs who want to create an impactful company in the food space?
The food space is interesting because you have so many people in it for their love of the products and their passion for food – not to make money. It is certainly a tough industry because of all the competition, but with Small Small it really is a labor of love. We have niche products that aren’t available anywhere. I’d recommend people really take time to find their niche and own it!
8. Who have been the biggest supporters of Small Small so far?
The biggest supporters have been my family and friends. Without their guidance and feedback I would have likely given up a long time ago. I was a Baker Scholar at Georgetown as an undergraduate, and that program – in addition to the Founder’s Institute – have been integral to helping Small Small get off the ground.
9. Who is currently on the Small Small team and … are you hiring?!
Small Small was just me for a long time, and I’m still the only one working on it full time. A few weeks ago I brought on a great intern, Deanna, who is a junior at Georgetown. She’s done an amazing job. I would also never say I did this alone though because of all the support I’ve gotten along the way from family and friends.
10. What is one thing you’d like to tell readers about Small Small and the Indiegogo campaign?
I’d like to thank the readers for their support and consideration. I hope they enjoy our first products and to keep their eyes open for additional offerings in the near future on our website buysmallsmall.com! I think together we can make a real difference.
That’s it folks! Hope you enjoyed the interview. Go ahead and enter the giveaway for a chance to win either the berbere spice rub or the awaze (red pepper sauce). Then you can try awesome recipes like this Ethiopian Lamb & Onion Stew which call for the elusive berbere spice. Yum!
Who is George?
While working as a management consultant at Deloitte where he focused on food security, he saw first hand the changing nature of business in the developing world. His dream has long been to create a social impact food company taking a new approach to development. He is a graduate of Georgetown University where he was a Baker Scholar. He currently lives in Washington, DC. This picture is of him pitching Small Small at the Founder Institute.