arrowenvelopefacebookinstagramlinked-intwitteryelpyoutube

Boston Born: Here’s The Scoop On FoMu

Business owners referring to their enterprises as their children is nothing new, but for Deena Jalal, founder of Boston’s earth-inspired, dairy-free ice cream brand FoMu, the metaphor is more accurate than most.

“When I was in the hospital with my first son, my mom had to stay with me because my husband was opening our first store,” Jalal says.

The brand’s second location in Jamaica Plain opened a year later, right at the time of the birth of her second son.

Obviously it was a tough balance, she says, “But there’s so much reward. I don’t dread going to work every day, and if I’m working late at night I don’t regret it, because I can see the growth and the progress, just like with my own children.”

“There’s such a strong network of businesswomen and female entrepreneurs, particularly in the South End,” Jalal says of her newest café’s home. “Even before we opened, there was this resounding welcome, and people asking how they can help, which is amazing.”

Jalal had dreamt her entire adult life about starting a food business, and the idea of owning an ice cream store seemed dreamier still. In 2011, when she and her husband, Hin Tang, began to think about starting a family, Jalal considered her pipe dream a little more seriously, and the more thought she gave it, the more sense it made.

She and Tang quit their jobs — she in advertising, he in finance — and bought an ice cream commissary in Watertown. Within a year the couple opened their first brick and mortar location in Allston’s Union Square, after happening upon the space for lease.

When the company started, it was selling directly to restaurants and other specialty stores. Jalal and Tang happened upon the empty storefront in Allston that would become their first brick and mortar location, and decided to try FoMu as a consumer-facing brand.

Two kids and another cafe later, they launched an online store, and began a partnership with Whole Foods and other specialty stores in New England. In 2016 FoMu hosted three pop-ups, and found another new home in the South End. This year they’re on track to open their most central location yet, this time on bustling Newbury Street.

The artwork in each FoMu is different, by an artist local to that neighborhood. The South End store, Jalal says, “used to be a gallery. We wanted to pay tribute to that and that art is a very important part of the South End as a community.”

Neither Jalal nor her husband had much, if any, culinary experience before starting FoMu, but she knew real food. She grew up as a first generation American to Lebanese and Jordanian parents, on a diet of farm fresh, whole foods. After learning for herself at college that not all food is created equal, and the impending addition of her own children to the mix, her food values only became more important.

So when she and Tang began the ice cream business, it quickly became a larger project than they’d initially expected. Unlike FoMu’s from-scratch methods, she explains that the done thing several years ago was to either build the product yourself from a pre-made base, or buy ice cream from a big company and just jazz it up a little.

A coalition of the FoMu team is responsible for flavor development. Someone from each of the company’s parts — ice cream testing, bakery, etc. Flavors used to be whimsical, but they now plan certain ones they know they want well in advance.
A batch of FoMu ice cream uses only 25 percent air, Jalal says, whereas store bought ice cream can have upwards of 50 percent air. Combined with the natural flavors, the result is a product as creamy and smooth as gelato, with an intense, rich flavor.

Quickly they realized they didn’t want their product to be filled with artificial flavors or sugars people can’t even pronounce. Noticing an increase in people becoming more conscious of what was in their food, Jalal and Tang suspected there may be a market for a new kind of ice cream — one made as theirs is, with premium natural ingredients, sustainability, and mindfulness. Made right, to put it simply.

“Boston’s an educated city — it’s one of the most educated cities in the country — and when you give people information about food, it can help shape the decisions that they make,” Jalal says.

It’s not just the ice cream that’s made from scratch. FoMu makes almost all of its own toppings and baked goods, too.

Jalal doesn’t attribute the brand’s success to its minimalist cafes or trendy marble table tops, instead seeing FoMu’s commitment to food education and openness as the thing that customers have most appreciated. Behind all the fad diets and emphasis on local consumption are an increasing number of people who are trying to be intentional about their decisions and informed about the food they’re consuming.

“It’s information,” she says in regard to FoMu’s transparency. “It’s not a trend.”

In the spirit of transparency, sampling is not just tolerated, but encouraged. Staff will offer tastes until your heart’s content, Jalal says, as they want to make sure you get exactly the right flavor.

Despite the gentle push toward mindfulness the brand is promoting, a visit to FoMu is far from a dry nutrition lecture, or anything close to resembling eating your vegetables.

“I can’t help for it to be laid back and approachable. It’s ice cream at the end of the day. Even a two year old wants ice cream,” Jalal says, with first hand experience as a young mom to back it up. “But for those people who care even a little bit, or have any thoughtfulness about what they put into their body, that’s what we’re here for.”

Customers can also buy teas and coffees at FoMu’s cafes, from other local businesses MEM Tea and George Howell Coffee. “You want to see your community succeed and these thoughtful purveyors do well,” Jalal says. “It’s a great collaboration.”
An accident with a precariously stacked cone turned into an unexpected social media-worthy moment.

•••

Yelp connects people to great local businesses, and in our Boston Born series, we’re sharing the stories behind some of the highest-rated, locally-owned biz in and around the city. Features researched, written and photographed by Lloyd Mallison. To read what Yelpers have to say about the featured biz, download the Yelp app.