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.”
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.”
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.”
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.