Thanks to ‘Vision, Passion and Grit,’ Mariam Elghani Has Burst on the Grocery Scene with Mariam’s Garlic Goodness
Growing up working in her family’s restaurant in California’s Silicon Valley, Mariam Elghani teamed with her father to perfect traditional Lebanese recipes. When they started dressing wraps with their own handmade “room” — a bold and creamy Middle Eastern garlic sauce — customers began asking for the condiment as a side dip. It didn’t take long for the toom to become a hit at the restaurant, the Falafel Bite Mediterranean Grill, which opened in 2008.
Toom itself has been enjoyed in the Mediterranean region for many years. But according to Mariam’s father, who grew up in Lebanon, toom was one of those secret recipes that stayed within families. But over the years at Falafel Bite Mediterranean Grill, Mariam and her father fine-tuned their own recipe without using egg white, starch or dairy. Their version uses only garlic, lemon, oil and salt, which gives it a thick, fluffy texture which is difficult to attain.
Toom is a food where the ingredients themselves are few and simple, but the process of making it requires precision. It took the Elghani family a few years to perfect their toom. Now that it has become so popular, Mariam has extended its availability.
The Berkeley, Calif.-based entrepreneur rolled out Mariam’s Garlic Goodness, billed as a plant-based Lebanese garlic dip, to grocery stores, health food stores and supermarkets throughout California. The dairy-free and keto-friendly dip can be used as a condiment on sandwiches and wraps, as a dip with crackers and chips or as a flavorful way to marinade fish and proteins. It comes in original garlic, chili pepper and Jalapeno flavors for a suggested retail price of $5.99.
“I think our toom became popular with the community because we simply didn’t shy away from bold flavor,” Elghani says. “The more garlic, the better. But we are mindful and careful to keep a balance between texture and taste experience so that it is not too overwhelming, but still adds magnificent flavor and boldness to any given dish it is added to.”
Elghani started working at her family’s Mediterranean restaurant when she was 16 and learned about cooking, customer service, marketing, business development, business-to-business sales, working with suppliers and how to manage many moving parts.
“My family’s restaurant catered events for a lot of Silicon Valley-based tech companies,” she says. “When we first introduced toom, they started requesting side order containers of it for their events. Soon it became so popular that they were requesting entire trays of toom.”
Demand became so great that Elghani realized she could produce more of it for people beyond the valley.
“That was in 2018,” she says. “I’m thrilled that today we’re in stores from Northern California to Los Angeles, and people can enjoy this healthy food at home.”
Elghani says “it took a combination of vision, passion, and grit” to get her product into grocery stores throughout California. In the process, she read a lot of books, talked to a lot of people, listened when experts were sharing their wisdom, and held on tight to the vision she had created for herself and her business.
She decided early on that she did not want to self-distribute her product to stores. Throughout 2020, she became laser-focused on getting into more grocery stores and becoming more popular within the community so that that she could leverage the popularity with distributors and convince them to take a chance on an up-and-coming brand. Her efforts paid off and Miriam’s Garlic Goodness landed in Erewhon Market, a prestigious grocery store chain in Southern California.
For the next three months, Elghani drove weekly from her commercial kitchen in Northern California to the six Erewhon locations to deliver product. The drive was roughly eight hours each way, but the hard work was worth it: Mariam’s Garlic Goodness was picked up by a Southern California distributor.
In the long term, Elghani hopes to add other Mediterranean snacks to her product line. But for now she is focused on growing Mariam’s Garlic Goodness, increasing distribution and educating consumers on a delicious Lebanese delicacy.