Ithaca is People: Samantha Abrams
The #IthacaisPeople Files
You might call it a happy accident. Who knew that when Samantha Abrams was learning the art of healthy macaroon-making from Ian Gaffney that the tasty little snack would be the beginning of a long and fruitful journey to being one of Ithaca's most popular health food lines? See how Emmy's Organics went from Ian's mom's kitchen to the operation it is today!
Emmy's Organics is really blowing up right now. We'd love to hear about how it started, and what the first product was that you unrolled?
So Ian (Gaffney) and I started Emmy's Organics in his mom's kitchen seven years ago here in Ithaca and Ian had taught me how to make this macaroon recipe that he had made for himself because he has a lot of food allergies; he can't eat like, gluten or dairy, and he had made the recipe because he wanted a treat. So he taught me how to make these macaroons and we realized that there wasn't anything like that that was available on the market and it was a very simple product, just as far as the ingredients that were involved and they were very simple to make so we decided to make them and it was actually his mom's house, so we got her home kitchen certified and we started selling locally.
Wow, I didn't even know that you could do that.
Well we actually don't know if you can anymore! It was a long time ago.
(Ian): Yeah it was like a home processor's license that the state or the county stopped allowing.
At least in the city I don't think you can anymore. So we were lucky that we could.
So then when did you move out of your mom's kitchen?
I think it was a few months later. Like 2 months.
Yeah so then we outfitted another relative's basement which was to become our next facility which was part manufacturing and part office and...well, it was in a basement.
Where did you first start selling your products?
(Ian): It's so Ithaca how it started because...
I brought samples down to Peggy from Macromamas for her to try, and then the buyer from Manndible happened to be getting a platter, and Peggy was like, "You should try this, " and he was like, "Oh my God, can I sell this?" and I was like, "Sure... can you give us like, a couple weeks?" and we just put the packaging together and took it up there. So it's kind funny.
We had no experience at all in anything product related. Ian has some experience in like, kitchens. He worked for like two kind of raw food restaurants.
(Ian): Yeah I had some experience working with that.
And what was your background before this?
I was just like "Let's do this!" (laughs) No, so I studied Theater Management at Ithaca College. So you would think that's not related at all but the reason that I was drawn to that program is because I really loved producing theater at the time, so it was just about making things happen. So I just had like a drive to get this thing happening. And also I am like a total health junkie, and always was in college and stuff, so I was very interested in raw foods so even in college I was into teaching myself sort of that way of preparing stuff so Ian was just teaching me how to make this product and we were like, "Woah, we should put it in a bag!" It was like that. We never planned on it being like a real... I mean it was just like a fun project for us. And then we kind of quickly realized that it could be something much bigger.
How many products do you have now?
Well, we have about 14 different products.
So for those people who aren't familiar are there very specific things that are never in your foods, like gluten, GMOs...
Right, so all of our products are gluten-free, vegan, certified organic, certified non-GMO, certified Kosher, certified...so many things.
You managed to make the packaging beautiful even though it still has all that stuff listed on it.
That's the balance in our industry more and more because we go to a lot of tradeshows and it's like, trying to say all that stuff but also making it look attractive instead of just like all certifications like everywhere on your bag.
(Ian): It's actually funny we get pitched certifications, like "Get paleo-certified", or there's a new one that's called 'clean' certified.
Like The Whole 30 kind of thing?
Yeah! The Whole 30, that's a whole thing, "Whole 30 approved".
(Ian): It gets kind of overwhelming, it's too much for people, you know?
It's a lot. I think of my mom who is naturally healthy, but she does not read labels the way that I do. So I am always thinking about her perspective. So right now she'll just see the "organic" seal, and she'll think, "Oh, this is healthy!" Which is really not the case, but I try to...there is so much education that goes along with... there's such a transition. So like, the products that we make I see as like, "transitional". So if someone who just eats a regular diet were to try our products then maybe they'll be inspired to think about what other ways they can eat that are this simple but also taste really good.
So would you say that that's your mission, to inspire people to eat healthy?
Yes. We want to appeal to everyone, and more and more as we grow we are really trying to get out of this niche thing. Like, we don't really identify with this raw food branding anymore. When we started the company that's just what we were really into, but we realize that for most people it's a little exclusive. And also we've also changed. Our diets have changed. We don't eat raw foods the way that we used to. So yes, we want to be the inspiration for people to clean up their diets, or just be a little more aware.
And maybe clean up their lifestyle!
Yes! But we're not preaching anything. We're just trying to inspire people.
That's lovely! OK, final question. If you could describe Ithaca in one word, what would it be?
Oh... "community", probably.
Yep, we keep hearing that one!
Thank you, Samantha and Ian for taking us inside the Emmy's Organics operation, and for inspiring a healthier way to stave off that sweet-tooth in us all. Check out a week in the life of Samantha while she takes over @VisitIthaca on Instagram!