Rachel Simons is the owner of Seed + Mill, a NYC tahini, halva, and spice shop that produces their premium seed-based products on-site in Manhattan’s Chelsea Market. Rachel is a Mom, former-lawyer-turned-entrepreneur, and major traveler. I was lucky enough to sit down with Rachel this past week and talk to her about her journey with Seed + Mill and how her business came to life. This is Rachel’s story.
Seed + Mill was started around 4.5 years ago by three friends: Rachel, Lisa & Monica. All women had previously lived abroad and traveled extensively, especially around the Middle East. Rachel recalls how impactful the flavors and cuisine of the Mediterranean were to her; how wonderful and versatile they could be, and how unique they were from her Australian palette. Upon moving to North America and NYC, all three women noticed how absent these incredible flavors were from every day American cuisine. Not only were there limited options to purchase tahini and other seed-based products like halva and za’atar, but few people had even heard of these foods. All three women see food as a global experience and being able to introduce a product like tahini and halva that contains such nostalgia and is so lovingly used around the world is really exciting and special. Thus, a gap in the market was seen and Seed + Mill was born.
After having spent 18 years as a lawyer in Australia, Rachel was originally unfamiliar with the NYC food scene. In fact, Seed + Mill was partly born out of a desire to enter this new and exciting world of artisanal food that had always been close to Rachel’s heart. Rachel is an avid traveler and would often find herself exploring cities and learning about culture through their food. Rather than spending time in museums, she would seek out the local grocery stores and specialty food shops. She realized that it’s these small shops that make each city richer and more vibrant.
“Food is such a global experience; it’s a big part of how we understand and learn about different cultures. It’s also these types of shops that attract consumers who really care about the brands and producers behind the products. Sure, consumers are looking first and foremost for delicious food, and when they also understand why a product is special, and that they’re supporting a small business with their purchase, it creates a much more meaningful interaction and community. It’s these shops – shops like BKLYN Larder – that Seed + Mill believes are a perfect complement to their philosophy. I’m the consumer who goes into stores like BKLYN Larder. I love the thought that goes into why they supply this particular cheese and that specific honey. They’ve put great thought into their product mix and packaging and that’s why we cherish our product being sold in stores like BKLYN Larder” says Rachel.
Seed + Mill started as a small kiosk in Chelsea Market in 2015. A mere four months after they opened, they we were written up in a New York Times story that explored sesame’s influence in NYC. Rachel described that they hardly had a functional website prior to the article, but thankfully got it up in the nick of time! That writeup was the start of business really kicking off. Rachel notes that there’s still a lot of learning to be done, but in the past 4.5 years, Seed + Mill has been able to foster a clearer vision for brand growth, and begin offering their products to new audiences across the U.S.
The company also continues to innovate with new flavors and partnerships. They will have a za’atar tahini launching later this year, and recently released a limited edition tahini swirl chocolate bar with Brooklyn-based Raaka, a small-batch, artisanal chocolate producer. Part of Seed + Mill’s goal remains consumer education around how to use seed-based products in everyday life. “In Israel, tahini is used daily – you could even spoon it out of the jar and eat it like you would peanut butter! In North America, the education around how and when to use these products is missing. How about smearing halva on warm morning sourdough toast – the halva melting into the perfectly buttery texture – or dunking your veggies in tahini instead of ranch? Why not add tahini to your brownies for an extra-creamy texture and unique flavor punch? There are so many options” explains Rachel.
When asked about words of wisdom to share with future women entrepreneurs, Rachel mentions trying to be kinder to oneself. While looks can be deceiving, everyone doesn’t always have their ducks in a row – although it may look that way from the outside. If you’re giving strangers the benefit of the doubt, why can’t you do it for yourself too? Finally, Rachel checks herself daily to make sure she’s setting a positive example for her husband and two kids. Which is only hard part of the time – after all, she loves what she does!