Nory Locum first came to my attention at an international market in Van Nuys, California, where stacks of locum (Turkish Delight) in plastic clamshell containers beckoned with a riot of powdered sugar coating what lay beneath: thick coils of candy bulging with pistachios. Upon closer examination, I knew this was something special – a nutritious high protein snack that my family would love.
I asked the store manager where it was from and was shocked to not only discover Nory Locum was local to the valley but there was a small town called Winnetka right there in the Reseda / Canoga Park area. After one bite, I had to pay them a visit.
Exhibit A: From my visit in January 2009
Tucked in a classic strip mall, I learned the kindly couple behind this tiny operation had churned out hundreds of pounds of candy daily for decades, the old world way, sourcing nuts and other ingredients from California and as local as possible — no fanfare about “artisan this.” Yet I immediately recognized their colorful gift boxes as ones I’d seen at international markets through the years.
Upon my next visit a year later, I learned from a new owner Armand Sahakian that Nory Locum is pretty much the giant in the U.S.’ tiny Turkish Delight industry.
I will focus on what fascinated me most: Lessons learned by a man who found his calling in nutty sweets.
Most Interesting for Aspiring Food Entrepreneurs
- Food business can be learned. Armand hopped through many careers before happening upon a small local culinary program, where he discovered his joy of cooking and food. He’s never run a food product business; if you buy one, plan to train with the previous owners.
- You can produce big in a small space. Having seen his products at various small markets around the country (if you ever go to middle eastern stores you may recognize the name), I was surprised to see that just a couple of kettles churn out his production.
- Be resourceful and follow the signs. Once Armand decided he wanted to start a business, he turned to the “for sale” ads. While in “real life” it doesn’t seem like this is possible, the LA Weekly describes how “Sahakian says that he just saw the ad for a business for sale, not realizing the connections to his own heritage: he later found out that the previous owner’s “nephew’s sister is married to my cousin.”
- Take time to self-promote. Armand tweeted to me, wrote to me on this blog, and followed up on an email I’d written the previous owners. His tenacity kept Nory Locum on my radar. Between the time I visited Armand, the LA Times Food blog wrote a great article and the LA Weekly also wrote a hilarious account of the operation much to my American Delight.)
- Take time to innovate. Despite a full schedule for daily production and shipping, when I visited Armand was already experimenting with alternatives to corn syrup, ways to eliminate any non-natural ingredients, and gifty packaging. Many of his flavors are new since my visit.
It is simply luck that Nory Locum really “owns” this niche which recently was made even popular by the Narnia tales. However it is also a testament to focusing on a need and desire, and doing it well.
What other niche food product businesses are waiting to happen?