She is a sociology undergrad at Nanyang Technological University, but two months ago, Qistina Warren, 23, started an Instagram hummus business with her partner Safeel Noor, 25, a psychology undergrad.
Their business is called Seriously Hummus and currently they offer two types of hummus — the classic hummus, and a sweeter caramelised onion version. The couple, who has been dating for a year, came up with their own recipes through lots of trial and error.
Before Seriously Hummus came along, Safeel was mostly pre-occupied with being a coach at a boxing gym while Qistina had a short stint in PR and advertising. Qistina also does emcee-ing occasionally.
Despite being full-time students now, they still wanted to pursue another side hustle: a hummus business. But why circle it around the popular dip made from chickpeas?
Words cannot express hummus I love you
It all began during an argument that the young couple had recently. Safeel had made Qistina upset, and he decided to be creative to win her heart back.
Instead of sending her flowers, Safeel decided to give her hummus which he had planned to make himself. But as with all grand gestures, he encountered a roadblock early on.
“I went to Cold Storage to get chickpeas,” Safeel recalls. “But there weren’t any there, so I couldn’t make hummus from scratch like I intended.”
“I could just get store-bought hummus for her, but it didn’t feel sincere. Qistina is the queen of hummus; she loves hummus…so there’s no cutting corners here.”Safeel, on his grand plans to make hummus for Qistina
Eventually, Safeel managed to get hold of chickpeas and he began creating his own versions of hummus. Not satisfied with already “spoiling market” by making hummus for his partner, Safeel, who used to work at Royz Et Vous, upped the ante by adding various flavours to the hummus.
“I feel that there’s something missing to hummus; it could be more flavourful,” he says.
“Being a light condiment, the hummus is a good base for different flavours. That is when I expand upon the basic hummus by adding ingredients such as caramelised onions, curry, pesto, and roasted garlic.”Safeel on experimenting unique flavours of hummus
That experiment proved to be a stroke of genius. Not only did Qistina forgive him, that episode also sparked the enterprising lightbulb in both of them.
Grind for success
After researching the market and discovering that there are not many local businesses, particularly home-based ones, that focus solely on the humble hummus, both Safeel and Qistina knew they had to strike while the iron is hot.
Other contributing factors also led to them finally starting the business.
For one, the circuit breaker put in place earlier this year had a part to play in fostering their interest in establishing the business.
As with most people during that period, they had a lot of free time on their hands and making hummus is just one of the many creative outlets they embarked on.
“For my birthday, I invested in a food processor,” Qistina shares. “I tried making my own hummus and realised I could make it from scratch!”
Hummus was not the only thing they attempted, though. Qistina shares, “We tried making huge bombolinis but they didn’t end up looking like they’re supposed to. We even got a logo and a brand name for it, but the product is just not satisfactory.”
Safeel adds, “It was a big learning curve for us. Ultimately, if we’re going to sell something, we need to believe in it (the product).”
When it comes down to it, the couple realised they did not have the same love and drive for anything else other than hummus.
“Hummus came naturally for us. Bombolini seems forced so that’s when we knew hummus was the right way to go,” they explains.
Elevating the humble hummus
From early on, the duo understands that hummus is relatively less popular in Singapore than other countries in the Middle East, North America, and Europe.
Also, in its most basic form, hummus just needs few simple ingredients: chickpeas, tahini, lemon juice, and salt.
So why dip their hands into something as simple as the time-honoured hummus?
As with most seemingly simple things, Safeel and Qistina understand that they are also the hardest to make. And hummus is one of them.
“Our care for the hummus starts right from the beginning,” Qistina explains. “We only use dry chickpeas, not canned. The chickpeas need to be soaked the night before, and then boiled for three hours.”
When making hummus, one of the key factors seems to be removal of the chickpea skins. This is a crucial step in Seriously Hummus’ process as the end product will have a creamier texture.
Safeel adds, “We also found that by structuring when we add the different ingredients into the mix, and how delicate we deal with the chickpeas…it actually makes a difference to the end product.”
Qistina, who manages the PR and social media aspect of the business, is also very particular about branding.
Taking cues from her agency background, she spared no effort in crafting visuals and the brand story to develop a “clean, humble, wholesome brand that appeals to young millennials.”
When asked if it was a deliberate decision to cater to people in their demographic, they explained that while the brand does resonate with the younger crowd, they have increasingly seen orders from working adults with higher spending power.
At $8 for the original hummus and $9 for the caramelised onions hummus, Seriously Hummus seems to be on the higher end in terms of price.
Yet, after hearing about the meticulous hands-on approach that the owners put into their small business, the price is absolutely justified.
Age groups aside, the brand is also favoured by people who simply miss hummus. These are typically expats and people who love travelling.
Integrating hummus into the Singapore diet and beyond
Another mission that Seriously Hummus has is to introduce hummus to the average Singaporean who may not consider hummus beyond just a simple dip.
Safeel says, “Being a light and simple base, hummus can also be a versatile ingredient in cooking. We’ve tried using the caramelised onion as a spread in roast beef sandwiches, and even in pasta wth roasted garlic and cheese.”
In time to come, they intend to showcase the hummus’ many uses in cooking recipes on their social media to create awareness of hummus’ versatility.
“We’re not your conventional Singaporean food, but rather we see ourselves as a pioneer in making hummus a staple or at least more familiar with the average Singaporean,” says Qistina. “This is a territory that hasn’t been ventured into, but we know there’s a market for it.”
For now, both Safeel and Qistina intend to take Seriously Hummus upwards.
Between the two of them, Safeel has more grandeur visions for the business, culminating in a retail shop from which they can sell their products on a larger scale.
He also admits that managing the business might be challenging in future since he plans to do a Master’s degree post-graduation.
On the other hand, Qistina focuses on a more short term approach. She enjoys being a home-based business and would want to hold on to that title for a while longer.
“I like the homeliness of it and the community,” she says. “I also intend to collaborate with other HBBs for seasonal promos. It’s important to get a solid base first, and then maybe after graduation, we will be able to take more orders.”
She also admits it is challenging right now as they only have one small machine (that food processor she got for her birthday) which enables them to take limited orders for the time being.
On top of that, both Safeel and Qistina have other huge commitments that they have to prioritise. Whilst school takes a big chunk out of their time daily, the couple remains steadfast and assures us they are just as serious about Seriously Hummus as they have ever been before.
To place an order, fill up the order form on @seriouslyhummus.