Love & Hummus: Artisan Donna Sky’s main ingredients
by Heidi Trilling
What do you think of when you think of Valentine’s Day? Most people would say “love.” Donna Sky says: “love” and “hummus.”
And that’s no surprise.
Sky is sole proprietor and “hummus maven” of the Love & Hummus Co. of San Francisco, an artisanal food business offering four kinds of delectable hummus spreads: classic, roasted lemon and thyme, caramelized garlic, and spicy harissa.
Sky’s husband Brian contributes support to the business, and 6-year-old daughter Bria is one of the company’s spokespeople. The flavorful garbanzo bean — or chickpea as it is also commonly called — is Sky’s bread and butter. So to speak.
“It is buttery,” Sky says with a smile. “It’s because our garbanzos are grown here in California and are organic. We’re passionate about sourcing as many ingredients as possible locally. The flavor of our hummus really reflects this fresh, regional cuisine. You can taste the difference!”
“I’ve tried a lot of different kinds of hummus in my day,” says Whole Foods Market customer Elizabeth Inpyn, “and that lemon thyme one is phenomenal!”
New Leaf Market customer Rob Jessup says: “This is the best hummus I ever tasted! All the flavors rock.”
Corporate customers, too, can’t get enough of Love & Hummus.
“We’ve done events at Google, Levi-Strauss and B Lab,” Sky says, “as well as private parties. This year we’ll be launching an expanded catering business. We also sell gift baskets with organic pistachios online. We’re growing and it’s so exciting to share our food with people!”
This is what the artisan food movement is all about: being passionate about quality, using local, fresh ingredients, and creating small batches of exquisite, hand-crafted food to share with others.
For Sky, it’s also about practicing “sacred commerce,” a philosophy of sustainability and thoughtful stewardship she learned from mentors Matthew and Terces Engelhart, owners of legendary raw food restaurant Café Gratitude.
“I want to feel good about my business,” Sky says, “and make sure it’s having a positive impact all around. It’s not just about ingredient quality and taste. It’s also about the earth it was harvested from, the quality of life of the farmers growing it and the consumers who are eating it. And that includes my family! There is a full circle of interconnectedness here that’s very important to me.”
Brian Sky adds: “It’s a blessing to be able to maintain integrity and do good. We believe in organics and I put a lot more faith in the ‘certified organic’ stamp now that I know what goes into it. There’s a lot of accountability in it, and we owe that to our community.”
And building that community is another important element of Love & Hummus.
Since its launch in 2010, Love & Hummus has amassed a tribe of loyal hummus-loving followers. Check out the praise lavished on Yelp and foodie blogs online. Customers say they polish off jars in one sitting and even use their fingers to swipe out every last bit!
Culinary notables Alice Waters and Ruth Reichl tasted Love & Hummus at the 2012 Good Food Awards where Sky had a booth. Word on the street is that certain celebrities in Los Angeles are also big L&H fans.
“It’s amazing to hear that,” Sky says. “People are bringing the hummus I make into their homes. Because of that, they’re getting food they really enjoy, and I get to continue doing what I’m passionate about. And my daughter gets to see her mom fulfilled and joyful and making a living doing what she loves. Wow! What a privilege!”
It is Sky’s sense of responsibility and gratitude, along with her passion for her product, that drew the attention of Michelle Caabay-Brokstein, marketing and communications team leader for Whole Foods Market in San Francisco’s Potrero Hill neighborhood.
“Donna’s one of the most enthusiastic, engaging local vendors that we have,” Caabay-Brokstein says. “Both Donna and Brian are great people: genuine, devoted to customer service. Getting to know them, helping them tell their story, and helping create a community of customers for their product is a pleasure. … My husband and I are very passionate about their hummus, too. We go through jars pretty quickly!”
Incidentally, each jar of Love & Hummus is in recyclable glass, and there’s even an interactive page on the company website where you can get or post ideas on how to re-use the jars to help de-clutter your household.
The website also has videos of Sky doing recipe prep and a Love & Hummus music video by soulful folksingers Matty and Avasa. How many jars of hummus have inspired love songs crooned to them?
“Even the website is full of love!” Sky says, laughing.
So how did Sky’s love affair with hummus begin?
“My earliest memories are of going to my grandparents’ house in Brooklyn. That side of the family is Middle Eastern, so I was introduced to all of these Middle Eastern foods and flavors when I was really young. My grandfather would take me to Atlantic Avenue with the specialty shops and restaurants. … I loved having this Middle Eastern lore as part of my heritage, like The Arabian Nights … then we moved to Jersey, and that’s when I started to see more of my mother cooking.”
It was Sky’s mother, Marriane Sposato, who modeled for Sky an appreciation for whole food ingredients, an uncompromising standard of quality, and handmade dishes prepared with love. “Like the chef’s way of coming up, I washed a lot of dishes at first,” Sky says. “Then she allowed me to caramelize the onions. So essentially, that was my cooking school! My mom has had a huge positive influence on my relationship with food.”
Sky adds: “When I think about it now — the family, the cooking, the cultural traditions — it really is a legacy of love! That’s what goes into the jars of hummus and the company name.”
What else goes in?
“It takes a village to build a company, and I couldn’t do any of this without the love and support of Brian, my family, La Cocina — which really incubated this business — Whole Foods local vendor program, the amazingly talented people I work with, our customers … it’s a long list. Lots of love.”
Sky adds: “Another aspect of all this love is loving yourself. And one way to do that is to love what you do for a living. And to believe that that’s possible. This is the story of someone who did that, offering advice on how you can do that, too. Set your intention, start putting feelers out there. There are resources. Even if you never had a business class. Some one will teach you. Just keep your passion and do what you love. You can make it happen.”
Brian Sky agrees. “Donna’s passion is amazing — whether she’s watching the cooking channel or creating recipes — and she is full of love. She says it’s her main ingredient and it’s true,” he says. “And she’s my true love.”
“I want to say something, too!” says Bria, holding a hummus jar in her hands. “I’m proud of my mom!”