Innovation, Creativity, Dedication. Detroit business owners have embodied these characteristics for decades. Just like Henry Ford changed the world by bringing affordable transportation to the masses, Brian Rudolph, creator and co-founder of Banza, wants to reinvent pasta and bring healthier pasta to the masses. It might be too early to call Rudolph the Ford of the pasta industry, but Banza’s chickpea pasta is turning heads and creating a positive impact on Michigan and the world.
A Culinary Adventure Begins
Rudolph didn’t start off as a Michigander or a food creator, rather he grew up in New York and got his business degree at Emory University in Georgia. He landed in Michigan through the Venture for America organization, whose goal is to “build companies and revitalize cities through entrepreneurship.” Detroit is an ideal place for revitalization, and the Banza staff chose an old house located on historic Virginia Park Street as their headquarters.
Banza wasn’t Rudolph’s original business venture. His chickpea pasta was kind of a happy accident. Rudolph was playing around in his kitchen, trying to create a better-tasting, healthier gluten-free pasta. This is no easy task (trust me, I’ve tried!), and it took him more than a year to create a recipe that matched what he thought pasta should taste like.
Originally, Rudolph was only making the pasta for himself. However, his friends repeatedly commented on how much they liked it, and Rudolph followed their encouragement to turn it into a business. After a successful crowd-sourcing push, Banza was officially born in 2014.
What makes Banza Pasta unique
Only four ingredients go into Banza pasta: chickpeas, tapioca, pea protein and Xanthum gum. No preservatives. No chemicals. Also no nuts, eggs, soy gluten or genetically modified ingredients.
What sets this pasta apart is what it DOES have. Banza pasta contains twice the protein and four times the fiber of traditional pastas with only a fraction of the carbohydrates. It is available in four styles – shells, elbows, penne and rotini. Rudolph’s innovation is making healthy pasta available to the masses, especially those with food allergies and diabetes.
Small Beans to Big Business
Banza’s business quickly soared after launching. An appearance on CNBC’s Restaurant Startup alerted Michigan-based grocery chain Meijer to their product, and Meijer immediately placed their pasta on shelves in almost 200 stores. They also garnered help through the Michigan State University Product Center. The center helped them locate their first manufacturing plant, located in Northern Michigan. Rudolph stated in an interview that their support has helped the company “keep as much [business] as they possibly can within the state of Michigan.” Banza was even named Entrepreneur of the Year by the MSU Product Center.
Other people are singing Banza’s praises as well. Their accomplishments include the Accelerate Michigan prize and a listing in Time Magazine’s Top 25 Innovations of 2015. Forbes named Rudolph in their 2016 list of 30 people under 30 in the food and drink industry, and his television appearances include Good Morning America and The Today Show.
Banza Grows While Honoring Its Roots
Rudolph and the Banza team have many plans for the future. Recently they released four varieties of macaroni and cheese and are set to launch spaghetti in the fall of 2016. To keep up with demand, they have opened a second manufacturing facility in California. Regardless, Rudolph is still calling Detroit his hometown, and he hired two new staff members to work at their Detroit headquarters.
You can also find Banza staff alongside students in the Detroit Food Academy every Saturday at Detroit’s famous Eastern Market. This non-profit, through mentoring, encourages young people of Detroit to grow their creativity and business future.
Detroit has been home to many famous names – Ford, Chrysler and Joe Louis. It’s seen it’s share of ups and downs, but there are always those ready to help it stand back on its feet. Brian Rudolph and his team at Banza want to make great, healthy pasta. Even more so, they want to make a difference in the Awesome Mitten.
Have you tried Banza pasta? What other great innovators in Michigan are you inspired by?