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“…the street foods were so fresh and the varieties you could get were so diverse, eating out was truly an adventure with lots of friends.”

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Armed with a kitchen knife, a blend of spices, a bunch or two of plantains, and fond memories filled with appetizing aromas from her mother’s kitchen, Geetha Jayaraman, an Indian who was raised in Malaysia before she came to the U.S. many years ago, has not only succeeded in bringing the mouth-watering flavor of her mother’s fried plantains to the walls of her Indian-American home, but to those of several others across the country.

Grab Em Snacks provides healthier snack choices with plantains in a variety of flavors to suit any palate. To expand the business, they needed a larger and dedicated commercial kitchen; this expansion evolved into Spoon & Sprout Cafe, a vegetarian cafe providing an eclectic menu with vegan and gluten free options.

Geetha Jayaraman, Grab Em Snacks and Spoon & Sprout Cafe - Owner & Chef

MO: Where does your love of food and healthy cooking come from?

Geetha: My mom was a great cook, although she was comfortable only cooking traditional South Indian food. Growing up in Malaysia, the street foods were so fresh and the varieties you could get were so diverse, eating out was truly an adventure with lots of friends.

MO: You haven’t any formal training in cooking. How did you start the process of becoming a self taught chef and what has the transition been like going from cooking for your family to a café full of customers?

Geetha: Some of the menu items at the café have been inspired by what we cooked at home. My passion and belief that including diverse ingredients in moderation is a healthier way than extremes of total avoidance or over-indulgence.

MO: Your first business was creating Grab Em Snacks. Where did your idea come from to use plantain as a snack food and how hard was it to get this idea from your kitchen to market?

Geetha: Growing up in Malaysia plantain chips were far more prevalent than potato chips. Despite the obvious health benefits of plantains in general, and our own superior formulations in particular, it has been a very difficult journey to get this idea to the U.S. market. For one, I am taking a product perceived as ethnic and marketing it to the mainstream. A good percentage of people at the time I started the business, had never tried a plantain chip or if they had, they thought the chips were greasy and lacked taste – this was the hardest part in taking the chips to specialty and gourmet stores.

MO: What was the biggest challenge you faced when trying to open a new restaurant, especially one concentrating on international health food?

Geetha: How do I get the word out…..Although the café was not the main focus when we opened the place, it definitely seems to have a mind of its own and I have figured out what people ‘s tastes are,although at some point, you build the reputation and trust and people are more willing to try new things.

MO: Do you think that there are misconceptions about international vegetarian and vegan food or are people developing more adventurous palates?

Geetha Jayaraman, Grab Em Snacks and Spoon & Sprout Cafe - Owner & Chef

Geetha: It is common to assume that Indian food has vegetarian options. From my name and ancestry, some people naturally assume that our cuisine is Indian and are pleasantly shocked to But most cuisines have vegetarian/vegan options or can be adapted to be vegetarian/vegan. Spoon and Sprout Café offers well-BALANCED meatless dishes that taste great and are prepared fresh – once people realize this, they will drive great distances (often with small children or babies) to come and enjoy our preparations.

MO: Congratulations on getting approval by QVC to air your Grab Em Snacks plantain chips. How did you secure a coveted spot on QVC and are you excited to be getting national coverage for your product in April?

Geetha: Excited yes, but nervous and stressed out may be more appropriate. This is a huge leap for Grab Em Snacks, and we are hoping to get exactly that, national exposure, so marketing the product will not be a big challenge.

We participated at an event for Women Entrepreneurs and there were buyers from different organizations, QVC being one. We made a pitch about our product and had them taste our product. And here we are getting ready to launch.

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