Healthy but Tasty
Fresh organic fruit; organic sugar; purpose; intention; and a lot of hard work – that is the recipe for Nadia Khan’s success story. She is the founder and creator of Wawa-Wee, a brand of premium organic fruit syrups, which is part of Teajara Foods, a Social Purpose Corporation. A homeschooling mom of four children, Nadia had her hands full even before launching this business venture. Two years in the making, the idea became a reality by way of divine intervention as several important parts of her life converged.
Making the bland enjoyable
“I was looking for a way to make milk more palatable for my toddler, Hasan, whom I had just weaned from nursing. I loved strawberry milk as a child, but I didn’t want to give him [products that contained] high fructose corn syrup, artificial colors, flavors and preservatives that were available at the grocery store.”
More wawa-wee please
Finding the grocery store aisles unable to meet the ‘healthy but tasty’ criteria, it was off to the kitchen to experiment with her own unique syrup creations. Starting with some online research, the iterative process began with organic strawberries cooked and strained, then boiled with organic sugar resulting in a sweet, fruity syrup that her kids loved on everything from pancakes to ice cream and of course mixed in with milk. Baby Hasan was so enamored with the delicious pink milky drink that the repeated requests for his favorite flavor, strawberry, came out as an adorable sounding “more ‘wawa-wee’ please”.
A higher purpose
Building upon her first success, Nadia turned her kitchen into a food science lab and continued experimenting with her recipes, finally adding blueberry and peach syrup to her repertoire. What began as a household favorite also became a common request from extended family and friends. While churning out syrup orders for friends and family, she kept on with the daily grind but didn’t forget her ultimate goal and passion: pursuing philanthropic work to leave a legacy of sadaqah jariya (continuous reward).
Not knowing the significant relationship that would form between them, Nadia began volunteering as a copy editor for a non-profit called GiveLight Foundation. GiveLight was founded by Dian Alyan, who personally lost 40 relatives when the tsunami hit Aceh in 2005. Today, GiveLight supports over 800 orphans in ten different countries and is largely volunteer-driven with funds going directly to orphans most in need.
“Dian, who is an energetic, inspiring leader, always encourages her volunteers to use their gifts and talents in creative ways to support GiveLight”. Driven by Dian’s vision, Nadia began to seriously consider turning her homemade syrups into a business venture, which would in part help the GiveLight cause to care for orphans.
Planting the seedling of entrepreneurship with a purpose, the idea took root as the company’s business model and blossomed into what is now Wawa-Wee. With every purchase made, one-third of the profits are donated to the GiveLight Foundation. Some have questioned the generous portion being given away. Why not the standard 2 or 3 percent as with most Social Purpose corporations? The answer to that was inspired and guided by the Quranic story of the People of the Garden mentioned in Surah Qalam.
Fighting greed and miserliness
“Their father was a pious person who gave a considerable portion of his garden’s harvest to the poor. When his children inherited the garden after his death, they were miserly and decided the fruit would be harvested before the poor received their portion. Allah the Most High destroyed their garden as a punishment and upon realizing the grave error of their ways they repented and were forgiven. I am embarking on this journey with the intention of benefiting needy orphans. [As the garden of my new venture grows], insha’Allah I pray I never get deluded away from that intention by greed or miserliness.”
Clean and Green
Creating a product that was shelf-ready was not as simple as sharing the recipe with a manufacturer to be produced, bottled, boxed and shipped to stores. There was a steep learning curve involved with many steps and critical choices to make. Being acutely aware that what someone eats affects their spirituality, including prayer and concentration in acts of worship and overall state of mind, Nadia was very choosy about the quality of ingredients and their sources. “Particularly, children’s bodies are so small that what they eat directly affects their development, spiritually and physically, and I wanted to offer to others what I would feed my own children.”
The guiding principle when making difficult decisions involved in converting the home recipe into a manufacturer’s formula was based in this ayah: “O you People! Eat of what is on earth, permissible (halal) and pure (tayyib), and do not follow the footsteps of Satan; Indeed for he is to you an open enemy (Quran 2:168)”. In keeping with these ideals, Nadia wanted to create an organic, premium quality product which requires certain trade-offs – an obvious one being price for quality.
Tricky price points
Hershey’s, Nestles and other companies can sell their syrups at much lower price points because their primary ingredient is high fructose corn syrup, which is considerably cheaper and much more unhealthy than organic cane sugar. The source of natural colors and flavors, as opposed to artificial colors and flavors has to be derived from ‘nature’, which can be anything from a beaver’s gland to crushed beetles. While Nadia wanted the ingredients to be halal, organic and natural and without preservatives, she didn’t want to compromise on the tayyib (pure) aspect by using questionable food products.
“I refused to negotiate on the ‘cleanness’ of my ingredients. I wanted my syrup to be something Muslims, Kosher-keeping Jews, vegetarians and even vegans would be comfortable consuming.” While expending painstaking effort not to compromise the halal (permissible) or tayyib (pure) ideals – a licensed co-packer was hired; California Health Department permits obtained and most importantly received USDA Organic Certification. Finally, Wawa-Wee was on its way to your refrigerators.
It Takes a Village
From idea to shipment – Wawa-Wee is a family affair. Support from friends has been invaluable and to their delight each family member has a special role. Nadia’s husband, who is an attorney, deals with all the legal aspects of running a company and each child has a special role to help them to feel involved. Mustafa (age 12) is the Chief Operating Officer (COO). He makes sure all the shipping supplies are in stock and tracks a map with all the states that have placed orders. Daughters, Zayneb (age 10) and Fatima (age 8) are Chief Tasting Officers (CTO) – when developing recipes they had the final say in approving the end results. Hasan (age 3) applies ‘FRAGILE’ stickers to packages that need to be shipped and has the famed role of being responsible for the name of the company, Wawa-Wee, which of course, comes from his adorable ‘mispronunciation’ of the word strawberry. An unexpected benefit of having the children participate has been how much it has helped with their homeschooling education. They have learned about corporations, food laws, marketing, distribution and food science, which they would have otherwise never been exposed to.
‘Umar RA said, “I heard the Messenger of Allah, may Allah bless him and grant him peace, say, ‘If you were to rely on Allah as He should be relied on, He would provide for you as He provides for the birds. They go out early in the morning hungry and return in the evening full.’”’ –Tirmidhi
Nadia has a clear sense of how this experience has benefited her spiritually. Running a business as opposed to getting paid a salary by someone else is an opportunity to clearly see that all rizq (sustenance) is from Allah Most High. There is no predictable paycheck; instead, there are ups and downs in income and it’s sent to you when you need it the most. ‘Running this business is teaching me to have more tawakkul (reliance on Allah). My son recently overheard me fretting about everything from the possibility of bottles breaking during shipment; to customers liking their syrups; to customers liking their syrups enough to become repeat customers. Finally, he stopped me, “Mama, why are you worrying about something you have no control over? You have to trust Allah. You’ve done what you could. Now leave the rest to Him.”’
Word to the Wise
I asked Nadia to share some advice for sisters and mothers who feel bogged down by the day-to-day but still want to do something meaningful. She started off with an idea that really resonated: live your life in chapters or continuing with the nature analogy, in seasons. Whatever season you are in — be it student, daughter, wife, mother, entrepreneur — be the best you can be with the intention of pleasing Allah Most High and His Messenger (peace be upon him). “Pray for opportunities to do good in whatever [season] you find yourself in and don’t look too far ahead or behind. Make the best of the moment you’re in right now. This is of course a reminder to myself as much as anyone else. It’s all too easy to get caught up in the mundane and lose sight of the significance behind our circumstances.”
Getting Wawa-Wee to Your Table
All of this together makes for a unique, Muslim, female-owned socially conscious business – one that we should all be excited to support. While interest has been shown from countries across the globe, Wawa-Wee Organic Syrups can be purchased online at www.Wawa-Wee.com and ships only within the United States. They can also be purchased in person at Balady Foods in Brooklyn, NY and at the RIS Convention in Toronto, Canada through the vendor Salam Shop.
By Reema Qadry
Reema Qadry, is a full-time mother, homeschooler and community activist. She lives in Seattle with her husband and two children age 5 and 1.5. She is also the co-founder of Seattle Islamic Speaker Bureau and founding member of the GiveLight Foundation.