By Lisa Cipriano
Karen Binno Akouri and Wesson Kassab are wives and mothers each with their own babies. These babies are not children. They are their businesses. They created them essentially on their own, are nurturing them and watching them grow and thrive.
Binno Akouri’s baby was born in 2016. That’s the year that she created and founded what is now known as drench salad dressing.
Karen Binno Akouri
She went to college for accounting and worked many years as a Certified Public Accountant (CPA) and Certified Internal Auditor (CIA). The importance of feeding her family healthily led her to begin creating her clean, natural salad dressing line in her home kitchen in West Bloomfield.
“Like many of the moms out there, you want to feed your family something healthy. I’d make a nice, healthy salad and then put a store-bought salad dressing on it with all of these chemicals in it. It defeats the purpose,” explained Binno Akouri.
She knew that she could do better and that’s exactly what she did by making her own salad dressings with fresh ingredients that you can buy at a grocery store as opposed to a chemical lab.
Her family and friends ate it up. “They all said how good my dressings are and I thought that they were just being nice,” said Binno Akouri.
That is, until she started seeing a demand.
“They’d call me when they had gatherings and ask me to make my salads and homemade dressings and offer to pay me for it. The response was pretty overwhelming and I knew that I was on to something,” she added.
Binno Akouri began to bottle her creations, gave them a brand name and drench was officially born.
She didn’t know the industry, but learned quickly and now has a co-packer in Detroit which packages and labels her product per her specifications and under her watchful eye.
Despite suggestions that she use cheaper, less healthy ingredients to keep costs down, she has not budged in her commitment to quality, healthy, non-GMO ingredients with no emulsifiers, preservatives, gluten, dairy, soy or nuts.
“I only use the highest-quality oils like olive, grapeseed and avocado oils. I refuse to use the cheaper canola or soybean oils because 80 percent of those are GMO. I will not compromise my product for cost,” explained Binno Akouri.
She also uses Michigan grown products whenever possible for farm-to-table freshness and to help the local economy. Binno Akouri’s perseverance has paid off in that drench is now available at Plum Market, Market Square and Beyond Juice among numerous other locations. And, the list just keeps on growing. You can also stock up on drench by shopping online at www.idrench.com and eventually at amazon.com and thrivemarket.com.
In fact, she’s had to hire a few employees and is looking for a distributor to help keep up with the growing demand.
Binno Akouri admits that she was a bit apprehensive at first about starting her own business and all that it entails along with her other responsibilities as a wife and very involved mother.
“I was a little scared. But, because I got such a positive response, that just made me think, I can do this,” she said.
And, she did do it and is always in the kitchen creating something new to offer.
Binno Akouri’s goal is to revolutionize the salad dressing/marinade industry in a healthy direction and become as big of a household name as Heinz Ketchup.
She attributes her drive and persistence to being Chaldean and says that members of the Chaldean community have been some of her earliest and most devoted customers.
“We’re definitely a driven bunch! We also help each other out whenever we can,” she concluded.
Kassab’s baby, Gabby’s Garden Natural Foods, was born in 2010 out of a desire to provide her ailing sister, Faye, with delicious, nutrient dense, protein rich salads that fit into her strict holistic diet plan.
The Commerce Township wife, mother and entrepreneur has always been in the food industry. In fact, she and her husband owned a 1950s style diner for over a decade until the economic downturn in 2009. Kassab took a job as a nanny and her husband, Nick, found a job at Market Square in West Bloomfield. That’s where she found not only the first paying customers for her healthy salad creations, but her passion again.
“My love of food comes naturally. I love to create and experiment with new recipes. There is nothing else that I’d rather do. It makes me happy,” Kassab said.
As the demand increased for her salads at the three Chaldean owned Market Square/Market Fresh stores and other retailers, she went from creating her recipes in a 1,300 square feet facility in West Bloomfield to a 10,000 square feet warehouse in Wixom.
Gabby’s Garden (named after Kassab’s oldest daughter) is now an official wholesaler of ten different salad creations – as well as turshi – that are currently being sold in 50 different specialty markets, juice bars, gyms and even at some stores in Detroit Metro Airport.
Kassab’s baby has grown to employ 13 people and soon will include a gluten free, vegan soup line.
“Vegan is the direction that we’re heading with everything. I’m a firm believer that if you can get your protein and nutrients front plant-based foods, that’s the best way to go,” explained Kassab. “I get so many comments from people saying that they feel so much better and have lost weight eating our salads,” she continued.
Like Binno Akouri, Kassab refuses to compromise quality for cost and only uses fresh, quality and whenever possible, Michigan grown ingredients.
Kassab admits that starting her own business was and still can be a bit scary because you never know what’s going to happen from day-to-day. She says the rewards are more than worth it and the example that it sets is priceless.
“It’s nice to know that I have a God-given talent that I can use to support myself. It feels good and demonstrates confidence and leadership to young women,” Kassab said.
Kassab says that the Chaldean community has been extremely supportive of Gabby’s Garden, especially the younger generation who send her pictures of their small children enjoying her healthy salads.
Again, like Binno Akouri, she credits her determination and success to her Chaldean blood.
“We’re driven and have a hard work ethic. It’s instilled in us that hard work pays off if you’re honest, don’t complain and just persevere,” explained Kassab.
Kassab firmly believes that her baby, born out of the love of her sister who passed away in 2014, has grown and thrived thanks to Faye’s heavenly hand.
“I’ve had different businesses in the past and some were not as successful. I just know that she’s watching us and sending down her blessings from above,” Kassab concluded.