Spotlight on small business: spring rolls and more. bring comfort and culture to the frozen food section

Posted on Friday March 17th, 2023

Javon Nicholas, founder of Egg Rolls Etc.

It was a gamble that brought Javon Nicholas, Founder and President of Egg Rolls Etc.™, to Taiwan, and the kindness of her new community that inspired her to create a comfort food company that fuses and celebrates cultures.

It was 2010 and Nicholas, then 29, had just lost her mother, with whom she was very close. Her friends knew she had to get out of her comfort zone to help him heal. They “challenged” her to apply for a two-year language program in Taiwan. Nicholas took up the challenge, applied and was accepted.

“I didn’t speak Mandarin, so when the program asked me where I wanted to go, I just closed my eyes and pointed to the map,” said the Chicago native, who has attended several trainings on small children. Polsky Center companies. programs.

She had chosen the city of Kaohsiung, in the south of the country. She lived in an inn and became close to the woman who ran the lodgings. The inn owner often cooked for Nicholas and introduced the newcomer to the wider community. She even helped Nicholas get his Chinese name, Chow On, which means “skillful” and “peace.”

“Being there really helped restore my faith in God and humanity,” Nicholas said. “I wanted to share all those fuzzy feelings and heartwarming memories back home in Chicago in the form of food. This is how my line of Egg Rolls Etc. was born.

Flavors of the house, inspired by Asia

Egg Rolls Etc. currently offers seven flavors of spring rolls and rangoons, which can be air fried, fried or baked. Nicholas named the first flavor she developed, a kale and smoked turkey roll, “Gert” in honor of her grandmother. It is its most popular product.

Other egg roll flavors include Chicken Buffalo, Taco Ole, Plant-Based Jerk Cabbage, Plant-Based Philly Cheesesteak, and Aunt Kathy’s Peach Cobbler, named after Aunt’s aunt. Nicholas. They also produce a salmon, spinach and cheese rangoon.

The company sells its products in more than a dozen grocery stores in Chicago and through an online platform called Shef, where food is cooked, chilled and delivered to your doorstep. Some local catering companies and restaurants also offer the product line.

Nicholas with Chow On

Nicholas adopted an animated character drawn by her husband as his logo. She named the character “Chow On™” after her own Chinese first name. The character adorns all of the company’s packaging and branding, including a range of merchandise. Nicholas has even turned the logo into a puppet she uses during demonstrations grocery shopping and connecting with the community.

“She’s cute and well-liked, and really helps propel our brand forward,” said Nicholas, named Food Processing magazine’s Influential Woman in Food 2022.

A food industry veteran

Nicholas’ career in the food industry began at a young age. She was a full-time nutritionist at 19, director of food services at an adapted living center at 21, and manager of a company restaurant at 23. She also ran a catering business next door, which served as the exclusive caterer for the Archdiocese of Chicago and the downtown medical district.

This experience came into play when she developed the concept for her frozen food line. Nicholas introduced her imperial spring rolls through her catering business, which she resurrected upon her return to Chicago in 2012. They proved hugely popular, culminating in being voted “Best of the Taste” at Taste of Chicago 2019 .

Nicholas enrolled in entrepreneurship and small business programs as she built her business. The courses she took at the Polsky Center were instrumental in helping her realize the potential of her products, she said.

“[The] Polsky [Center] really helped me see how profitable the numbers were. Students were able to stamp my product as the first of its kind in the nationally frozen CPG arena. They confirmed it was a financially sound business,” she said. “Companies like General Mills and Heinz have dedicated departments for this. As a small business, [the] Polsky [Center] became that department for me. It was priceless.

It’s what’s inside that counts

Part of the mission of Egg Rolls Etc. is to give back. The company has partnered with a number of community organizations that promote self-love, cultural sensitivity and/or entrepreneurship. Nicholas also created a program called “It’s What’s Inside That Matters” that teaches these values ​​to Chicago-area youth.

Nicholas, recently elected to the advisory board of the Illinois Restaurant Association, also published a cookbook, Legacy Kitchen 1219: A Legacy of Recipes from My Family to Yours, which is available at Amazon, Walmart, and Barnes & Noble. And she’s a food coach for Sunshine Enterprises, an organization that helps small businesses in Chicago.

Looking to the future, Nicholas plans to continue to grow Egg Rolls Etc., both in terms of number of retail outlets and products, with a focus on producing quality comfort food. superior.

“I feel like I have an emotional exchange with my customers through food,” she said. “It makes me proud that so many people enjoy my product, and I think I made my ancestors proud too.”

Follow Egg Rolls Etc. on Instagram at @egg_rolls_etc_, Facebook at @egg-rolls-etc and Twitter at @etc_egg.

Article by Devon McPhee, freelance writer and editor and owner of DM Editorial Services, LLC. Devon has over 20 years of experience in business, science and technology, health and medicine, and higher education.

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