Tania Hayek Mercer and Christine Fabrizio became fast friends after meeting at the in Friendship Heights. Mercer was leading the cooking class Fabrizio attended, and the two had a few things in common: Both were based in D.C. and had trained as health coaches at the Institute for Integrative Nutrition, and both believed in the power of raw food.
Their mutual hankering for kale chips didn't hurt.
Now known as the Sunfire Girls, the two women have created three varieties of kale chips for sale now at the same place they met. Their original, ancho chile or coconut lime kale chips are now available at the 4420 Willard Ave. location.
“Our health coaching clients kept saying, ‘I need a good snack,'" Fabrizio said. "Tania (Mercer) started making kale chips and giving them to me to try. They were amazing. I said, ‘I want to make these with you.'”
Mercer laughed, not believing she had found a business partner.
“I thought, ‘There’s someone who wants to do this with me?’" she said. "I got super excited.”
But it was a chance encounter that led to a big opportunity for Sunfire Girls.
“I was in Whole Foods one morning buying a case of kale,” Mercer said. “A woman in the produce section asked me what I was going to do with all that kale. I told her I was making chips, and it turned out she was a Whole Foods regional vice president.
"She asked me to return that afternoon with our chips. I ran to our kitchen and back to Whole Foods, and she had a team organized for a tasting. The stars aligned, and Whole Foods asked to put our product in their stores.”
Kale chips are a hot item among raw food enthusiasts, with several brands available commercially and the blogosphere ripe with recipes. Mercer said her goal was to make Sunfire Girls kale chips taste better than what she had seen already in the marketplace.
"I wanted to make a good kale chip that people will want to go back and buy again and again," Mercer said. "When people make kale chips at home, they buy kale, wash it, toss it with olive oil and bake it. Our products are dehydrated; they’re not fried or baked. It’s a natural food. We make a thick dressing to give the chip much more texture than just baking it.”
Whole Foods assisted the duo with package design, store presentation and how to sell their product, she said. Broad Branch Market provided Sunfire Girls with access to their commercial kitchen.
The entrepreneurs said they plan to expand their product line and their business throughout the D.C. and mid-Atlantic region in 2012.
“We’re being careful not to go too fast, but there’s a whole backlog of ideas we have,” Fabrizio said. “We want to help people eat raw food.”