Seed + Mill: Sowing Seeds of Delight in Every Bite
Seed + Mill, a brainchild of three passionate women – Lisa Mendelson, Monica Molenaar, and Rachel Simons – is a testament to how a single, sprouting idea can blossom into a brand loved by many. The foundation of Seed + Mill was laid in 2016, but its essence, inspired by Middle Eastern flavors and a deep-seated love for food, had been brewing in the hearts of its founders for years. Nestled inside bustling Chelsea Market, this venture has not only provided an avenue for food enthusiasts to experience innovative sesame-based delights, but has also built bridges between diverse cultures, celebrating the rituals and traditions that center around food.
Join us as we dive into an enriching conversation with Rachel Simons, where she delves deep into the personal motivations that led to Seed + Mill’s inception, the challenges and triumphs along the way, and the aspirations that lie ahead.
Background and Inspiration:
Rachel, can you tell us about the very moment when the idea for Seed + Mill came to life?
Seed + Mill was launched by three women – Lisa Mendelson, Monica Molenaar and myself. We officially opened our doors in 2016, but the idea for the business was something that was percolating for all three of us over many years. It was primarily Lisa, who is Israeli, who saw the opportunity to introduce more Middle Eastern food to the US market. But, Monica and I are both world travelers and had an enormous passion for food, cooking and Middle Eastern flavors. The three of us took the seed of the idea and brought it to life over many months of dreaming up our business, taking a historic ingredient like sesame – and building a contemporary brand that celebrates its versatility, nutrition and taste.
What personal experiences or passions drove you to start Seed + Mill?
Food has always been an important feature in my life, whether it’s cooking with my mum, sharing frequent meals, travelling around the world to search out local artisans, marketplaces, collecting cookbooks and working in restaurants. But, more importantly, I’ve also loved meeting and learning about people from different cultural backgrounds and the opportunity to interact with so many interesting people through Seed + Mill has been a dream come true. There are roughly 20,000 people a day that walk through Chelsea Market and while I clearly don’t get to interact with all of them, I feel like I’ve learned more than I could ever have imagined I would about food, culture, the way people celebrate rituals through their food and so much more!
How did you land on the name Seed+Mill, and does it hold a special significance?
Coming up with a business name is always hard! We really wanted a name that was contemporary and allowed us to experiment with other products or at least seeds – and not only focus on sesame. I really like the word ‘seed’ because of the space it gives for so many metaphors for life. Life begins with a seed, great ideas and businesses all start with a seed. It’s a great opportunity for story telling!
The Journey of Seed + Mill:
What are the core values that guide your company and how did you decide on them?
Our core values include holding ourselves to the highest standards of ingredients and clean label products, excellent customer service, team respect and appreciation and building community. I am probably most proud of the team we’ve built at Seed + Mill, the opportunities we’ve created for their career development, learning and constantly advocating for fair and compassionate working conditions. Some of my team have been with me since the day we opened our doors.
In what ways has Seed + Mill evolved since its inception, and were there pivotal moments that redefined its course?
We started as a single brick and mortar shop in Chelsea Market and you can now find our products in over 1000 stores around the US. It honestly blows my mind how much we’ve grown and built a close and highly engaged community. I love nothing more than interacting with our customers – whether it’s behind the counter, over email, Instagram. etc. I’ve actually made genuine friendships with customers who I first interacted with on social media, people I will keep in contact with forever!
Product and Offerings:
Please tell us about your favorite product and the story behind its creation.
It’s hard to pick favorites, but our most popular item at Chelsea Market is our tahini and halva sundae. It’s definitely a product I’m always excited to share with people because it’s so unique. When we first opened our store, I was eager to show people how versatile tahini was as an ingredient and how it was great in sweet things like ice-cream, cookies or brownies – as much as it was an ingredient to make hummus or to drizzle over falafel. We now have people that travel from all over the world to try our ice-cream and I’m always thrilled to see people sharing their ice-cream pics on social media.
Community and Relationships:
Businesses thrive on the connections they foster. Can you share an experience where the community’s support truly touched you?
Another hard question to answer because I feel like we get a kind email from a customer, almost every day. I read and reply to every single one because I want our community to know how much we value their feedback – whether it’s good or bad! Last year we ran a customer survey and received 1100 answers in two days. I was blown away by the number of people that took the time to tell me what they thought of our brand, what they wanted for the future and what mattered to them when it came to food and cooking. I still pinch myself sometimes to think that I’ve built a community who care this much about our brand.
Collaborations often lead to wonderful outcomes. Are there any businesses you dream of collaborating with in the future?
Yes!!!! Where do I start here? I absolutely love interacting with other brands, putting our products together and highlighting what is special about our respective products. The product collaboration I love most in our history is the Tahini Swirled Chocolate Bar we created with Raaka – a small artisan chocolate company based in Brooklyn. They use fair trade, organic chocolate and the business is run by a wonderful group of people, many of whom I now count as friends. If there is one dream collaboration I would love to do in the future, it would be a halva chunk ice-cream with Jeni’s, a woman owned ice-cream company based in Ohio. Jeni and her team make exceptional ice-cream and it’s my favorite.
What are your aspirations for Seed + Mill in the coming years, and are there any exciting projects on the horizon?
I would love to see Seed + Mill expand into other international markets. We’ve had a lot of customers visiting us from Asia, especially from Japan. It would be a dream come true to open a Seed + Mill in Tokyo. My mum’s dream come true would be for Seed + Mill to open in my home town of Sydney, Australia!
Finally, if you could offer one piece of advice to budding entrepreneurs, inspired by your journey with Seed + Mill, what would that advice be?
It’s okay not to be great at everything. Just make sure you surround yourself with a good team and make them feel really valued and appreciated. No one builds a successful business alone. Sometimes I think the founder or entrepreneur gets a bit too much credit when a business succeeds. It really takes a village and my job as the founder is to sow the seeds of what that village might eventually look like, then start building the foundation, but very quickly identify who else is needed to keep the town not only surviving, but thriving.