“I’m all about simplicity,” says Ayub Julany, the founder of Albaik Tahini. “If a recipe has more than three to five ingredients, I don’t want it.” With no frills, the ingredients can shine—and Julany wants the tahini that he produces in Arlington Heights to be a star. That’s why the hummus he sells at farmers’ markets contains only three ingredients.
“Tahini is the recipe,” he says. “I keep telling people, we make the only hummus in Chicago that’s been made completely from scratch. Take my word for that. Nobody else makes their own tahini, and then uses their own tahini that they stone-mill to make hummus. From zero, from nothing, from scratch.”
“Nothing” is a bit of an exaggeration: obviously the process of making tahini, that luscious staple of Middle Eastern cuisine, starts with sesame seeds. In Julany’s case, they are imported from Sudan. “We only work with this specific strain for multiple reasons,” he says. “The color; the texture; it has a high oil content; and the taste doesn’t have a bitter taste or aftertaste; and has a nutty flavor to it.”
If the seeds are not already hulled, Julany and his team—three people in addition to him work for Albaik Tahini—hull them before roasting them. They are then ground in granite mills imported from Turkey—the volcanic rock resists high temperatures. And that’s it.
Julany loves tahini so much that he could drink it straight at that finished point. “You know how some people love everything about peanut butter and they put peanut butter on everything?” he says. “That’s me with tahini. Especially when it’s fresh and the oil is not separated and it’s easy to pour.”
The emphasis on freshness is part of why Julany started his company: so that Chicago and Illinois could have fresh tahini. It’s why he opened his manufacturing facility in Arlington Heights, with its proximity to various highways that allow easy access to downtown Chicago, Milwaukee, and Northwest Indiana. (Albaik Tahini, along with their hummus and other dips, is sold at farmers’ markets and also in several grocery and specialty stores in the Chicago area and Milwaukee.) He says he’s the only company making tahini in Illinois, and one of only a few making stone-milled tahini in the United States.
Despite all the thought put into his company, manufacturing tahini was not in Julany’s original plan for himself. He was born in Chicago but grew up in Jerusalem, where his family owns a longstanding tahini brand. He returned to Chicago after high school and attended Moraine Valley Community College in the southwest suburbs before transferring to University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign for a degree in molecular biology.
He took a job at a food safety lab in the southwest suburbs but quickly grew bored of the repetitive work. So he quit his job and visited Jerusalem. While there, he toured the family tahini facility and realized that he could fill a gap in the United States by starting his own brand. He incorporated Albaik Tahini in 2019 and got his license at the end of that year. “December 19, 2019 is a date that I will never forget,” he says.
He started offering samples to restaurants, which still constitute the vast majority of his business. He’s working towards making the business break even—“I’m still doing Uber and Lyft on the side,” he says—but already feels like he needs a bigger warehouse for his volume.
And, unlike in his previous job, he’s never bored. “If I wasn’t challenged, if I wasn’t passionate about making tahini, I wouldn’t go without profit for four years,” he says. The business may be difficult and complex, but the end product is simple: tahini that can shine in a delicious, simple hummus—as well as so many other dishes.