Trazza Fine Lebanese Food, formerly known as “Great Cedar”, was established in 2011 by a full time airline pilot. Claude Karam flew for a local airline for 15 years, but as time passed, the demands of the job became a hindrance to his dedication to his family life as well as his own personal dreams. Claude began carefully discerning an alternate career that wouldn’t include frequent travel – alleviating strain on his family life – yet a career he could have a passion for, as he did for flying.
He recalls that late one night, on the way home from the airport following a four-day trip; he stopped at a traffic light near a local grocery store, which also featured a well-known coffee shop inside. This sparked an idea in him; an idea of producing and serving authentic Lebanese food in local retail stores, just as this coffee shop was doing in this grocery store. The wholesome Lebanese foods his family served over the years were nutritious by nature, yet also quite time consuming for the average person to make from scratch in their own kitchen. The store bought brands he sampled didn’t reflect the memory he had of the Lebanese foods he had grown to love. In addition, he was desiring to create a more clean food product without preservatives. Making fresh Lebanese food readily available to the local shopper was a need he became eager to fulfill.
His first efforts began with pursuing Fred Meyer and New Seasons Market. The initial response was favorable; but not necessarily towards food prep taking place in store; but rather, to bring his food already made, prepackaged, and ready to eat, to a store for retailing. And so, Claude tweaked his idea and took the first step. On his days off at home, Claude, his wife Gennifer, and their
Once Claude realized their food would need to be packaged, he thought to manufacture it from their home kitchen. Then a packaging supplier told him about a great commercial kitchen downtown known as “KitchenCru.” This seemed like a more practical solution, and so his small team began producing their original products from KitchenCru: Mihshi (stuffed grape leaves), original hummus, baba ghanouj, tabouleh, and baklava. KitchenCru, in many ways, was Claude’s “culinary school.” There, he learned the basics about food prep, cooking, kitchen terminology, and kitchen equipment while being exposed to great local chefs whose passion was food innovation. At this point, he took a long-term leave of absence from his flying career, and began presenting the food they made at KitchenCru to interested buyers such as Bales Marketplace Cedar Mill and Whole Foods Market.
It was November of 2011 when Bales invited them to showcase their food at an annual Food & Wine Event. The public response was very positive and encouraging. It was this event which opened the door for Bales to become the family’s first retail store in January of 2012. During this time, Claude’s efforts were focused on building a strong team as well as more clientele. He began adding more potential products, including falafel, garlic tahini sauce, and tzatziki sauce, as they served some other local stores: Chucks Produce in Vancouver and Sheridan Fruit Company. By the summer of 2012, they began to serve their first national customer locally: Whole Foods Market. These first stores taught him much about the packaging and labeling of their products – what works and what doesn’t. It was a steep learning curve, but the process was both stimulating and fun.
When Claude did in store demos for his products, customers would often ask him about making flavored hummus. To him (and his deep rooted Lebanese pride) adding anything to his hummus felt like an insult; not to mention the fact that flavored hummus is not exactly something you would find anywhere in Lebanon. It was a thought which just seemed contrary to his vision of keeping his products traditionally authentic. After consistent requests from customers, however, Claude reasoned that if they were asking for flavored hummus, he wanted to fulfill their request. With this, came the introduction of spinach-artichoke, sun-dried tomato-basil, cilantro jalapeno, Kalamata olive, and pomegranate-mint flavored hummus.
Not long after, a veggie mezza combo was added to their product line called “the Lebanese Lunch Box,” which includes a sampling of mihshi, original hummus, falafel, and tabouleh. Also introduced, was a gluten-free version of their tabbouleh – substituting wholesome quinoa for bulgur wheat. In 2013, a year after Claude first approached Zupan’s, the local store began selling their products. Then, after nearly two years from his initial approach, Fred Meyer accepted his offer and began selling their products. In September of 2014, pita and carrot hummus snack cups were added to their product list and received a favorable response as they proudly began serving New Seasons Market. Since then, they have also added Natural Grocers and Vitamin Cottage to their list of retail stores. In 2015, while keeping their commitment to quality ingredients, they decided to change their business name to “Trazza” Fine Lebanese Food, to avoid confusion with other food products in the northwest carrying similar names. Their logo, the ever green and resilient Cedar of Lebanon, remains the same.
Trazza is currently 18 amazing team members strong, and hiring! Their ever-growing line includes falafel, tabbouleh, stuffed grape leaves (mihshi), baba ghanouj, baklava, spanakopita, lentils and rice with caramelized onion (mjadra), garlic sauce (Toum), tzatziki sauce, garlic tahini sauce, pita chips, and 12 flavors of hummus. A complete list of grocery stores that carry Trazza products may be found under the “Find Us” Tab at www.trazzaflf.com, and offers the opportunity for pre-ordering/pick up of grab and go items as well as party-platters directly from their Tualatin facility.
Currently, Trazza Fine Lebanese Food continues to grow, while manufacturing its food from a new 7300 square foot facility in Tualatin. Trazza serves over 100 stores and businesses in Portland, Vancouver, and Salem. They look forward to a bright future of serving wholesome and delicious Lebanese food to retailers and local businesses, as they respond to the needs of their customers. In the meantime, Claude enjoys being with his family more, and he’s found that he can be passionate about something other than flying. Pardon the pun, but for now, this pilot has landed.