5TC Exclusive Interview with Founder & CEO of 'The Rebbe's Choice' Famous Herring
5TC: We are here with Naftali Engel, founder and owner of The Rebbe’s Choice herring company. Thank you Naftali for being with us this morning.
5TC: So let me ask you how did you first get involved with herring?
NE: First of all, so happy to be here with you Ariel! I guess the first time I got “involved” with herring would be helping set up my shul kiddeishim. I think I was about 7 or 8 when I started setting up much of my shul’s kiddush by myself. At that time herring options were slim and I didn’t really like anything but as I got older I started enjoying all different kinds of herring which brings me to my first time making my own! When I was in Yeshiva in Israel, OJ which you were at a couple years before me right? I started making my own herring because I could not find anything I liked; Herring in Israel was either super slimy, full of bones or just bland. So after spending a shabbos in Tzfat where I had an amazing homemade herring I asked the creator for his recipe which was a little different… “First, you have to dance with the fish… then say Tikkun Haklali with the fish, after that sit down and say some Shemios Hatzadikim to the herring. If you can, go to the Mikvah before you prepare the fish…” which was a little much. I got a basic recipe from my brother who also lives in Tzfat which I eventually played with until it became our Jalapeno Matjes Herring. I started serving it up in OJ and eventually started selling it out of my dorm room.
5TC: How did you decide on the awesome name of The Rebbe’s Choice?
NE: I’m very inspired by Chassidus and so is my family, so when I was talking about making this into a business my sister in law actually came up with the name The Rebbe’s Choice.
5TC: How would you describe the Jewish food scene these days for people who are not in that industry?
NE: The Kosher food world is exploding with so many new and unique products that were just not on the radar of kosher consumers even a few years ago. It’s really exciting to be a part of an industry that is continuing to grow and change with the influence of younger jewish entrepreneurs getting a hold of the reins.
5TC: What would you say really propelled you from small time “guy who makes herring” into a full scale, impressive company?
NE: Obviously much thanks to Hashem for the success of the business, it is so clear to see every day how much God is involved in my business. A really big springboard for our growth was beginning to distribute our products through Quality Frozen Foods whom delivers our products to our out of NYC area locations like Chicago, Baltimore, Florida and even further.
5TC: What products does the company currently produce?
NE: Currently we have The Rebbe’s Choice line of Herring, a few varieties of smoked salmon and our delicious crunchy Kichel! We also have another line of more classic herring under the name brand “Litfish”.
5TC: Can you give us an example of one of the Rebbe’s and the reason why that flavor herring is inspired after him?
NE: One of our best sellers, Honey Mustard Sriracha Herring is inspired by Rav Menachem Mendel of Kotzk who, besides his great breadth of Torah knowledge, is known to be a very sharp and fiery personality, always striving for and uncovering the truth and reality in every situation. That fiery kick is brought through with some sriracha heat and sharpness from the mustard. But there’s some underlying sweetness to wrap it all up! You can read about each flavors inspiration on the back of the container or on our website. (Therebbeschoice.com)
5TC: Tell me a little bit about your new Kichel that is flying off the shelves I’m hearing.
NE: Our new Kichel are unlike the classic crumbly and sweet kichel that has always been around, our take on the Kichel is packed with savory flavor and a satisfying crunch. Plus they’re pretty healthy; made with quinoa flour and chia seeds.
5TC: What is truly your favorite flavor?
NE: Thats like asking which is your favorite kid! I love all of them!
5TC: Any exciting new items we can expect from the Rebbe’s Choice?
NE: We’re always working on new things! Coming soon is a new herring and a new lox flavor as well as some totally new items on the horizon!
5TC: One woman mentioned to me that her husband doesn’t go sleep every night until he has a nice spoonful of your Sweet Onion herring. Is this normal amongst your customers and would you condone such activity?
NE: I haven’t personally heard that, but if the Shalom Bayis is undisturbed then I’m happy to hear a spoonful of sweet onion became a bedtime tradition.
5TC: So each of your herring flavors are inspired by a specific Rebbe- how does it work, you create a flavor first then think about which Rebbe it would fit best or first you think about the Rebbe then a flavor just pops into your head? It’s the old chicken and the egg question Naftali.
NE: Haha, usually the Rebbe choice comes first and the flavor development follows. For me, I do my best to infuse everything about this world with spirituality and when I learn from or read stories about a specific tzaddik it inspires me creatively. I also do a lot of photography and that was a way I used to express that spiritual creativity physically, but now I express that inspiration culinarily in the flavors of The Rebbe’s Choice Herring.
5TC: Many are calling you the “Willy Wonka of the herring world”- how do you respond to that?
NE: Our factory is not as wacky as willy wonka’s but with our products there is definitely something for everyone!
5TC: Sounds good. Let me ask you, have you found any specific marketing tool to be very helpful in growing your business?
NE: Posting and being active on social media can go a long way, and since it is free to post it is a great way to get in front of many potential customers where they’re spending a lot of their time.
5TC: So you are 22 years old, what advice would you give to other young Jewish entrepreneurs who wish to grow or start a business?
NE: As much as I thought I knew when I started this at 19 I know much more now, and I’m sure by the time I’m 25 I will have learnt much more about business than I know now. My best advice is to be open to advice from anyone and everyone, you never know where help will come from. And to always be thirsty for knowledge, don’t be afraid to admit you don’t know something – there will always be more to learn!
5TC: Well that about wraps it up, thank you very much Naftali for being with us today and we wish you continued growth!
NE: Thank you! And thank you so much for having me!