This summer, a Delta Airlines flight attendant handed out snacks.
Glancing at the “Abby’s Cookies” package, alert “06880” reader Susan Shulman spotted a photo of Abby Najarian. What was the 2018 Staples High School graduate/field hockey and lacrosse star doing there, in the middle of the sky?
And why were they named for her?!
The story leads to Abby’s dad, Pete Najarian. Well known for his many volunteer efforts here — he even spent a spell as Staples lacrosse coach — he’s also a co-founder of the Safe + Fair Food Company.
He’s no longer involved in day-to-day operations. The headquarters has moved from Westport to Chicago.
But the back story of how a former UBS trader started a company selling plant-based, allergen- and gluten-free, vegan and kosher snacks like popcorn, chips, granola, mixes — and of course cookies — on airlines, and in the country’s leading supermarkets and stores, is a great one.
It started in 2012, soon after Najarian left his long Wall Street career. He wanted to do something entrepreneurial, but had no idea what.
He rented an office in Brooks Corner, and began planning next steps. Abby was an active 13-year-old. But her peanut allergy made it hard to find nut-free alternatives that were not exorbitantly expensive, or stocked in specialty aisles that made them “exclusive, not inclusive,” Najarian says.
Then he had dinner with a great friend from Lafayette College, Dave Leyrer. He too had a child with nut allergies.
Safe + Fair Foods — “safe for all kids, and fairly priced” — was launched.
There was a huge appetite (ho ho) for their products. Quickly, the pair landed deals with JetBlue, Costco and Walmart.
Within three years, Najarian realized that managing a consumer brand was “not my skill set.” He and Leyrer hired Will Holsworth — an experienced leader — to run the company.
Safe + Fair now has a large investor base, including 2 major strategic food brands. Its snacks are in Costco, Walmart, Sam’s Club, Target, Kroger and Fresh Market, and on Delta and American Airlines flights.
Najarian has stepped back from a leadership role. His new venture is cryptocurrency, as chief revenue officer of BitGo.
But occasionally, a flight attendant serves Abby’s Cookies to a Westporter. They read the package, recognize Abby, and contact Pete.
He tells the back story — just as he did to “06880.” It’s one more example of how this is “where Westport meets the world.”
Even 30,000 feet in the air.