Ages: 33 and 34
Food is the foundation of the decade-long friendship between Ethan Frisch and Ori Zohar, co-founders of Burlap & Barrel, which ethically and sustainably sources spice from all over the world. “Ethan is a chef, so we kind of built our friendship around that,” says Zohar.
But Burlap & Barrel isn’t the first company that the pair launched together. Back in 2010, they launched Guerilla Ice Cream, an activist ice cream brand, which had four successful months before closing when Frisch went to London for graduate school.
After graduating, Frisch took a job at an NGO, building roads and infrastructure in Afghanistan. It was there, in 2012, that he discovered a variety of cumin that grows wild in the mountains. After realizing how much flavor the cumin added to his own personal cooking, Frisch considered bringing the ingredient to the global market. He brought the cumin on trips home and shared it with his fellow chefs, whose enthusiasm for the spice led to Burlap & Barrel.
They began by connecting with farmers in Afghanistan, Zanzibar, and Guatemala to export spices to the U.S. “One country, once spice at a time, we built a network,” says Frisch. From there, they began selling the spices in bulk, to restaurants/foodservice, and direct-to-consumer.
As the coronavirus pandemic began to take hold, foodservice sales slowed considerably. However, due to the increased number of consumers cooking at home, Burlap & Barrel’s e-commerce sales soared. “People were buying ingredients they hadn’t been interested in. It’s given us a license to introduce ingredients that may be new to people but will elevate their home cooking,” says Frisch.
Burlap & Barrel has begun partnering with other companies to create co-branded products like jam and soap. The owners also hope to continue their support of small businesses. At its heart, Burlap & Barrel is a company devoted to social change. “We want to create a richer and more representative food system,” says Zohar.
Arielle Feger is content association for Specialty Food.
Photo credit: Burlap & Barrel