Texas grocery giant HEB is known for its commercials about offering homegrown products. One way it finds them is the chain’s annual Quest for Texas Best contest. Austin-area vendor Kitchun, co-owned by Keesha Waites and Gloriana Koll, recently took home First Place and $20,000 in prize money in this year’s contest. The two health-conscious chefs met in 2007 while attending Texas Culinary Academy, Le Cordon Bleu.
Kitchun makes allergy-conscious snacks that are gluten-free, soy-free, dairy-free, and grain-free. The company’s No-Grain-Ola (grain-free granola) product submission earned them top honors, and HEB will begin carrying it in 2017. The winners hope their Batch, Please! Cookie Mix will one day also greet HEB shelves.
“Both Gloriana and I knew that if we came and gave it all we had, showed them who we were and what we have to offer, the results would be as they should,” says Waites about hearing the announcement that Kitchun won the contest. “It was exhilarating and rewarding to know all the hard work Gloriana and I had put in over the years had brought us to this very moment.”
Moving to Austin with her family 10 years ago, Waites brought along two passions: fitness and baking. She was initially undecided between pursuing personal training full-time or attending one of the best culinary schools in the state; she chose both.
More than 500 hopeful submissions from across Texas competed as HEB judges narrowed the field to 25 finalists. “The final presentations were phenomenal, showcasing a unique blend of creativity, resolve and purpose,” said James Harris, HEB’s director of Diversity & Inclusion and Supplier Diversity. “As we celebrate the third year of competition we have enjoyed the inventiveness that our fellow Texans continue to showcase.”
For the first time, HEB awarded two contestants First Place, with Kitchun splitting the honor with Houston-based Bagel Dots. Bagel Dots are bite-sized bagel balls filled with cream cheese and other ingredients that can be eaten quickly and without the mess of a full-size bagel. The Grand Prize Award, along with $25,000 cash, went to Texas Pie Company, which is located south of Austin in Kyle.
“We have a huge vision for our company,” says Waites about Kitchun’s big win. “This is just another chapter in our journey. And we are so grateful for the opportunity that HEB has set in motion before us.”
You can’ currently order Kitchun’s complete product line online.