Interested in starting your own entrepreneurial journey in food & spices but unsure what to expect? Then read up on our interview with Kimberly Jung, Founder of Rumi spice, located in Chicago, IL, USA.
What's your business, and who are your customers?
Rumi Spice is a Chicago-based company selling premium saffron, whole seed spices, and unique spice blends, direct-sourced from farmers and foragers in Afghanistan. We are a certified B Corp, helping to provide reliable wages and economic stability to the people of Afghanistan that grow and harvest these beautiful spices. Through our authentic, bold spices and blends, we are on a mission to create connections to the vibrant culture of Afghanistan and the Middle East, its delicious food, and its people.
Tell us about yourself
Rumi Spice was founded by myself and two fellow US Army veterans, Keith Alainz and Emily Miller, while we were stationed in Afghanistan. While deployed abroad, we came to know and love the people and culture of Afghanistan and wanted to find a way to contribute to the growth of this dynamic region. We started Rumi Spice to empower Afghan farmers and women workers to be connected to the international marketplace through saffron. Rumi Spice has been a dream for us since its inception, and we are so proud of how far it has come.
What's your biggest accomplishment as a business owner?
I am so proud of how we have created a sustainable social enterprise that continues to grow and evolve. What started as selling saffron online to a handful of customers and restaurants throughout the Midwest has grown into a vast portfolio of whole seed spices, bold Middle Eastern spice blends, and a new line of Seasoned Salts. We have made the rich agricultural products of Afghanistan available on a global scale, creating connections to this vibrant region. Our products are currently available in Whole Foods Market stores nationwide as well as direct-to-consumer through our website and on Amazon. There are even more new product launches in store for Rumi Spice later this year, and I am so excited to see the portfolio continue to grow alongside our network of devoted farmers in Afghanistan.
What's one of the hardest things that come with being a business owner?
One thing Afghans and military veterans share in common - our narrative is often written for us. For the veteran, we are often painted as broken, needing a hand-out, or carrying an unspoken burden. For the Afghan community, it is coming from a broken country, needing hand-outs, and recently, of the inevitable fall of the country to the Taliban. Neither could be further from the truth. When I think of both Afghans and veterans, what comes to mind is resilience, determination, deep humanity, and understanding of the human condition. It continues to be a challenge to re-write this narrative, but that is the reason we do what we do. That is what keeps us motivated every day. We founded Rumi to use spices to counteract this story. We believe that when Americans are shown the story of real Afghan people, they can come to know the vibrancy of the region and people, not just war and strife. Our mission is to create those connections and, with them, peace.
What are the top tips you'd give to anyone looking to start, run and grow a business today?
- Support for-profit social enterprises where the business is sustainable. When a business is sustainable, it does not rely on donations and therefore treats its farmers and workers as business partners and valued members of the supply chain rather than recipients of charity. This has allowed us to bring Afghanistan as an equal partner to the international market.
- Find the right partners. We are so fortunate that the network of farmers we started working with nearly ten years ago continues to be the driving force behind our business today. While deployed in Afghanistan, we developed our strong Afghan networks and on-the-ground understanding of how business is conducted. With this knowledge, we built the critical relationships, partnerships, and organizational infrastructure necessary to operate within and out of Afghanistan. These close personal relationships are key to Rumi Spice’s success.
- You must have determination and passion for what you do. Not only do you need to have a deep passion for your mission, in our case economically empowering Afghan farmers and building out Afghanistan’s agricultural infrastructure, but you must also have a deep passion for the products you're bringing to market. I am confident that the agricultural products we're selling at Rumi Spice are among the best in the world. Every time I get a whiff of one of our spices, I'm immediately transported back to my time in Afghanistan. I am so honored that we can share these memories and rich flavors with an American consumer while giving back to the community that made us feel so at home in Afghanistan.
Where can people find you and your business?
If you like what you've read here and have your own story as a solo or small business entrepreneur that you'd like to share, then please answer these interview questions. We'd love to feature your journey on these pages.
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