If you’ve kept up with our blog, you know we’re chili lovers in my household and have multiple recipes we keep on hand to make regularly year-round. So not surprisingly, we are thrilled to introduce our newest partner: family owned business Manolo’s Best Chili! Starting as a very small family operation making chili for local events, their chili was so popular that they continued to grow. Now their chili is now available in 60 Whole Foods locations on the east coast, including Richmond. We’re excited to share their story and what they’re doing now to help healthcare workers on the front lines during COVID-19.
Mitchell Wolinsky grew up in the suburbs of DC, and attended the University of Maryland where he started making different chili recipes to share with friends in his dorm. He started using chili mixes and recipes before eventually making chili from scratch. Those days he still ate plenty of meat, so he tried all different kinds of meats in his chili, as well as various beans, spices and other ingredients. He started making chili for local events and even competed in some chili cook offs. At that point in his life, chili was just a hobby he enjoyed, and he didn’t imagine it would be anything more.
Time for Change
Several years later, after successfully exiting two business ventures, his health had continued to decline. He had high blood pressure, poor cholesterol, and multiple digestive issues. Mitchell finally had a near miss heart attack and decide to permanently change his diet in 2011.
He wanted to find food that was healthy yet flavorful and also affordable. Not surprisingly, he started focusing on his original passion: chili. However, after he and his wife Yvette taste tested chili through out the country, they realized how difficult it was to find any chili that truly met those simple requirements.
With that realization he began his journey to create a chili that was healthy, flavorful and affordable for the average family.
Not surprisingly, quality food starts with quality ingredients. Given Mitchell’s health problems, he was very conscious of choosing the best quality food and ingredients.
He wanted to create a chili without any meat, but that didn’t sacrifice any taste or flavor in doing so. Additionally, he didn’t just want vegetarian chili, but vegan chili, that was soy free, used high quality non-GMO ingredients, was low sodium and was also free of the top 8 allergens: milk, eggs, fish, crustacean shellfish, tree nuts, peanuts, milk, and soy. On top of that, it had to be affordable, which is a challenge when it comes to quality ingredients.
However, he finally found the perfect combination of flavor that also met all those requirements and Chef Manolo’s Best Chili became reality.
Growing into a Business
Starting in his own kitchen and sampling amongst friends and family. He started learning more about the food business and how he could potentially scale his business. He created 13 different variations of his chili over 2 years time before perfecting the recipe to one he would be able to sell on a larger scale but that would still embody all the qualities of his original recipe.
In 2016, he got an opportunity to sample and sell his chili at the Hatchery, an opportunity unique to the Whole Foods in Cherry Hill.. This program, which was the only of its kind for the food chain, allowed smaller, local businesses an opportunity to promote their products. Manolo paid $5 a day to set up his table at Whole Foods and share samples of his chili with the public. Before long, he was sample 200-300 chili’s a day!
His hard work paid off: Manolo’s was one of the first local vendors to get a deal directly with Whole Foods, meaning he could now sell his chili in their hot bar and in the prepared foods section. Shoppers can now purchase 8, 16, or 32 ounce containers of either of his 2 amazing recipes: Manolo’s Original Cinnamon Chili or Roasted Sweet Potato.
His chili is now offered at 60 Whole Foods stores, across 7 states, on the East Coast, including Richmond! We ordered some delivered through Prime recently and it was amazing. The flavor was delicious, and the chili was hearty and filling. Even my daughter went for a second bowl!
And then a Pandemic…
Not surprisingly, many things have changed since COVID-19 hit our area in March 2020. Manolo’s could no longer sample their chilis or offer them at the hot bar. They lost nearly 50% of their revenue and had to rethink how to proceed. Amazon Prime grocery delivery was the logical next step, and you can now order their chilis on here from the prepared foods section as part of your Whole Foods grocery order.
But they didn’t stop there! They have most recently added online ordering trough their website here or through The Vegan Local, depending on your location. So although the challenges of 2020 have forced many changes to happen quickly for Manolo’s Best to stay afloat, they’ve found a new path which will open more opportunities long term and also allow Chef Manolo to start adding new recipes!
Through all these changes though, they didn’t stop helping others! Manolo’s is also an active supporter of the Yellow Ribbon fund, which helps veterans and their families. Their cause is near and dear to his heart as his father was a veteran. He also hires veterans and has various initiatives that deliver food to veteran families and their caregivers.
Additionally, even though profits are down, they’re still out there helping in even more ways! They have been making large batches of their chili to bring hot, healthy, hearty meals to health care workers on the front lines. Their continued support of both these initiatives is another reason we at Richmond VA Moms are so happy to partner with Manolo’s and share their story.
If you’re interested in learning more, visit their website or follow them on Instagram.
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