Oakland-Based. Plant-Based. Women-Owned. Black-Owned. COVID Launched.
“Everything we offer is made with nuts,” explained the mother-daughter owners and chefs, Mieko and Kamari. An Oakland-based, black, and woman-owned business, Hella Nuts is feeding not just the East Bay, but the nation’s demand for fresh, organic, plant-based vegan food products.
In this Q&A, Hella Nuts shares how the pandemic helped them discover their full potential.
Made primarily of nuts sourced from neighboring Stockton and Lodi, Hella Nuts has been operating since 2018 at festivals and pop-ups, but COVID prevented them from opening their new, physical eatery’s doors. Able to improvise and innovate thanks in great part to the work they had done with the Alameda SBDC, developing their vision made it “so when COVID hit, we had already explored different lines of revenue and were ready to activate.”
What do your customers like about you?
We focus on one thing – putting out good, healthy food that is soy-free and 100 percent organic and plant-based. Our food reminds people of home cooking, like the foods they used to enjoy before they weren’t plant-based: tacos, lasagna, and even sandwiches filled with mushrooms that taste like fried chicken. Other vegan restaurants may offer these dishes, but people like that ours has flavor and that we do it without chemicals and fillers. People like knowing that their food is fresh and what’s in it.
What’s been the biggest change your business experienced because of COVID?
Since we couldn’t physically open our doors – the city of Oakland was focused on COVID and not giving out any new permits – we decided to sell our Walnut Meat® (patent pending) online and wholesale. We had anticipated having a shelf product that we could deliver to local stores, but we didn’t anticipate there would be such great demand nationally. Eighty-five percent of our customers are from out of state! We have revamped our original plans and are investing in shipping materials, insulated boxes, and ice packs to help our products stay safe during travel.
What role did the SBDC play in assisting your business?
I don’t know where we would be right now without SBDC’s Louise Dawson from the Restaurant Program or Thomas Camerato, our financial advisor. We had zero experience with numbers and at times we were frustrated about having to learn so many things, but now we know how to price and we understand our budget. If we hadn’t built an extra $20-30K in there we’d probably be under right now. It was tedious, but Louise took our business plan from three to 52 pages.
“She made us dig deep and it helped us improve our vision so when COVID hit, we had already explored different lines of revenue and were ready to activate.”
Louise introduced us to crucial connections, people who went out of their way to help us with every level of our business. If you are patient and listen, you will be able to thrive with the SBDC’s help. I can’t believe all this was free!
How are you creating and leveraging opportunities in spite of the many restrictions imposed by COVID?
We are innovating and improvising. We have a podcast called Hella Nuts where we address different issues like sugars and wines and what soy does to our bodies. It’s a great learning tool for people who are curious about what plant-based life can be for them. We produce videos so that people can see how to cook with our products, including Walnut Meat®. As a black-owned business, we have been featured in three different articles and this has also allowed us to grow. The protesting and COVID have everyone wanting to support black-owned businesses and get food shipped to their doors – these things are working in our favor.
Do you have any advice or suggestions for business owners trying to forge a path forward?
A lot of people are anxious and want things to go back to how they used to be, but instead they need to gauge their customers and see what they want and how they want to get their products — maybe samples, making videos, good photos, everything is going digital. Take advantage of social media marketing. We just published an ad for $15 on Instagram where we included the link and we got 50 orders. We had to pause the promotion so we could catch up! The good thing about the way promotions work is if someone searches “vegan food near me” and later they go on their social media, they’ll see your ad.
What do you see as the future of your business/industry?
COVID helped us find out that our product is bigger than we anticipated it to be and helped show us how to reach people. There is a lot of demand.
Go nuts. Hella Nuts.
If you’re in the East Bay Area and looking for familiar, flavorful food that happens to be vegan and 100% plant-based, stop by or call Hella Nuts Eatery located at 3645 Martin Luther King Jr Way, Oakland, CA 94609 (510) 463-1690. You can also connect/order from them on their website as well as their Instagram and Twitter.