Who the Folk?! Tasya Rosenfeld Kelen

Tasya Rosenfeld Kelen started her life as a career woman working for Minnesota Public Radio as a producer on “All Things Considered.” Two kids, a husband and several job switches later, Kelen is now the proud owner of Isadore Nut Company, which sells specialty, all-organic nuts across the country. Hear from Kelen on why she chose nuts over yoga and how she found success on this week’s Who the Folk?!

Find a retailer near you, or get Isadore Nut Company nuts online.

What’s the story behind Isadore Nut Company?

Four years ago Saturday, I had my first sale of the nuts and it was at this event called the Morningside Women’s Club Holiday Boutique in Edina. I don’t have any kind of a cooking background, but I love to cook. I have two children and a husband, and to me it’s really important that we eat as healthy as we possibly can. So I was in the midst of a yoga teacher training thinking I was going to follow my passion of teaching yoga, but really learning more about the philosophy of yoga, and eating healthy is a tremendous piece of that. Within about two months of being in the program, I had this idea of introducing nuts to the local farmers market. I had a mix that I used maple syrup in, as opposed to candying them with sugar and butter, as a lot of people do. Someone mentioned to me this annual holiday market kept in the basement of their church, and said I’d be welcome to join that, so I did. I took a recipe that I had been playing around with for a few years and given as gifts for friends that we had when people came over for dinner just as a nice light appetizer but also as something that’s filling. Nuts are a nice protein boost; you’re getting those healthy fats. And the way that I was doing the nuts, you’re getting this layer of flavor. My yoga teacher training exposed me to more nourishing, healthy spices. Like turmeric, which is an anti-inflammatory, which I wanted to include in my recipes.

Where did the name Isadore Nut Co. come from?

I actually had a name for the company, which was not Isadore Nut Co., it was Sante Morsels. Sante is French for “health,” so that was meant to be like “Healthy Nuts.” I put them in mason jars and I put a cute little ribbon and sticker on them, and sold out. It was the most incredible experience, and that launched me. For the month of December I did custom orders and got the word out about the product, but in the meantime I was also doing this one-year yoga training and after Dec. 31, I realized if I didn’t put the nuts on hold, I wasn’t going to be successful in my program. I put the nuts on hold, finished my yoga training and went back to the nuts. Every time we traveled, I would take samples. One of the first places we went was Denver, Colo. They really liked them. I also did a little more research. One day, popped up on my email, was something called Sante Nuts. And I was like, “uh oh.” Turns out they’re pretty big and based in California, and run by Israelis — and I didn’t want to mess with the Israelis.  The reason I named it Isadore was after my father’s father. He was very focused on eating clean and healthy; he’d go into the grocery stories asking for organic food. He was ahead of his times. Isadore really kind of instilled in my dad to eat really healthy and eat really clean. I don’t know if he would’ve actually been one to want the nuts as much as my dad does, not because he wouldn’t think they weren’t healthy, but he ate really minimally. He wouldn’t be putting turmeric and cumin seeds in his body. I attribute my love of good food to my mother. I  became a foodie at a young age because my mom was always cooking really deliciously. It’s kind of funny to use the name Isadore in the Midwest around Scandinavian people — sometimes they ask me, “Are you Isadore?” — whereas Jewish people see it as an old European name.

What compelled you to take your nuts from a passion for good cooking to a company?

I felt like there was a need. It seemed like there wasn’t a lot of options. Going to the farmer’s market, I never saw a nuts company. It wasn’t until I saw another article that there’s a local store called Patty’s, she does nuts and granola, but unlike mine, she uses butter and sugar, so she’s getting more of a candy product.

Why do you use organic ingredients?

I think it just kind of goes back to the passion, where doing something that is true to you and sharing that with others. I love that line the idea that a student went to his rabbi and said, “Rabbi, can you teach me everything I need to know from the Talmud while I stand here on one leg?” and the rabbi said, “Treat others as you would like to be treated. The rest is commentary; go and learn it.” I want good things in my body, I want good things in your body. And I’m sharing that with you.

Where can people find a bag of Isadore Nut Co. nuts?

We have a space in the central court of Ridgedale Mall between now and Dec. 31 and it’s the first time the four of us have gotten together. I’ve never done anything like that before. We’re four Jews next to Santa — we love that. I also sell wholesale.

What’s next for Isadore Nut Co.?

I would like it to become a more national name. It’s at a price point where I have always seen this as something that does well in specialty food stores and the co-ops over being on the shelves of Target. One of the things I like in terms of quality control is seeing how the product is made, working with the people who are helping me make it, as much as I enjoy going out and selling the product. Seeing it out there is pretty special. If I could get into specialty hotels: fantastic. I would jump at that in a heartbeat.

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