Traditional, fresh, generous Lebanese appetizers and condiments, now coming from Tualatin
Claude Karam has some very strong opinions about hummus.
You can't blame him. A Lebanese immigrant, he grew up in and around his family's Portland restaurant. He's proud of the family recipe for hummus he learned as a boy, and it's still at the heart of the hummus he serves up as owner of Trazza Fine Lebanese Food, a Mediterranean food company that recently moved into a warehouse space in Tualatin.
"Trazza," Karam explained, is a portmanteau of three words.
First is "traditional," which stands for the way Karam makes hummus.
"What makes it the traditional and the authentic hummus is it has garbanzo beans and tahini. Those are the two essential ingredients for hummus: the garbanzo beans — raw, fresh garbanzo beans — and then tahini, which is sesame seed paste," Karam said. "So there's a lot of brands out there that use the word 'hummus,' yet they don't have one or the other or both, believe it or not."
Second is an Arabic word, "tazza." In English, its closest translation would be "fresh," Karam said.
"It's fresh because it's made with raw, fresh ingredients, with no artificial preservatives and no artificial ingredients in it," said Karam, who sources his garbanzo beans from Washington. "There's no artificial preservatives, but also, it's not pasteurized. You're eating the actual, like homemade, restaurant-made hummus. And another element why it's fresh and it's unique — not a lot of brands do that — is we deliver it in less than 24 hours to the store."
The third word is another Arabic word, albeit one that might be more familiar to English-speaking foodies: "mezze," a term for generously portioned Mediterranean- and Middle Eastern-style appetizers and snacks. That one is self-explanatory.
"Once we understand the meaning of 'Trazza,' that defines the project, and that separates it from the rest — of all the brands," said Karam. "Some brands might have part of our element of our product in there, but they won't have the whole kind of attributes that makes the project."
Along with hummus in a variety of flavors, Trazza produces baba ghanoush (eggplant dip), sauces like tzitziki and tahini, and snacks like falafels and dolmas (or "mihshi," as they are called in Lebanon), as well as snack boxes.
Karam started the business in 2011 after retiring from a career as an airline pilot. It has undergone multiple expansions and name changes since then — it was first called Karam and then later Great Cedar, operating first out of a shared commercial kitchen in Portland and then out of a production facility in Beaverton — finally, as Trazza, relocating to a 7,500-square-foot space at the Franklin Business Park II off Tualatin-Sherwood Road.
Karam, who lives in Beaverton, said he wanted to open the new facility close to home. Although his real estate agent suggested looking in the Tualatin area early on, he said, he was dismissive — until negotiations for a new building in Beaverton and then Hillsboro fell through.
"I did not know … that Tualatin, Wilsonville, that area is growing when it comes to industrial buildings being provided for businesses," he said.
Karam is now getting better acquainted with Tualatin. It's not as remote as he had thought, and he likes its close-by access to transportation routes like Interstate 5 and Highway 99W.
"Once I really looked at the demographics and also how far we are from the freeway and how centrally located we are to east, west, north and south, I thought it was actually much better than Beaverton … and Hillsboro," he said. "And it worked out."
Although Trazza began production at its new location last fall, it just held a grand opening earlier this month.
The company employs 18 people, who Karam is fond of saying are part of his "extended family" — even the ones who just started a few weeks ago. Karam prominently displays lists of guidelines and company ethics in Trazza's workspace, and he is proud of the workforce he has built at the company.
"I think you have the infrastructure … you have the product. But I think the people is really what makes it," Karam said.
Trazza's food products are made in small batches, with work beginning at 6 a.m. most days. Because it doesn't contain preservatives, Karam said, its shelf life is limited; he recommends consuming hummus within two weeks. (That's not likely to be a problem for many customers.)
"Food's been revolutionized," Karam said. "We're kind of revolutionizing the food industry, if you really think about it, with what we do at Trazza."
Trazza is located at 19870 S.W. 112th Ave. in Tualatin. It distributes to many local grocery stores — and the number, Karam is pleased to say, is growing.
By Mark Miller
Assistant Editor, The Times