Drawn to the U.S. by the Lehigh University Technical Entrepreneurship program, Iranian native Ali Almasi explored a number of opportunities to develop a business before he struck gold – at least the color gold – with Almas Foods International LLC.
Almasi saw that the Greater Lehigh Valley and the country could use just a bit more saffron, a golden colored spice that is harvested from the saffron crocus, which grows in the more mountainous, cooler parts of his home country.
“The northeast part of Iran has the ideal elevation and soil to grow the saffron crocus,” Almasi said. That, he said, makes Iran the largest producer of saffron in the world.
And while places such as Spain and Afghanistan also produce the spice, the saffron from Iran, in his opinion, is the best.
Earlier this year, Almasi began to explore opportunities to import the spice. He said there isn’t a lot of competition because saffron can be expensive and complicated to harvest.
It’s mostly harvested by hand. His website explains it typically takes 40 hours of hand labor to pick 150,000 saffron flowers and it takes 77,000 saffron flowers to produce just one pound of the saffron spice.
That makes it a higher-end spice. And while it can be used in rice, tea and different desserts, the cost keeps it from the more mainstream consumer market.
And so Almasi created the Zaffrus brand this year to make the precious spice more easily available in the local and U.S. markets.
He recently located in the SoBeCoWorks co-working incubator in South Bethlehem, which gave him the space to import, sort and bottle the delicate threads of saffron, and look for new ways to market it.
One of his goals is to lower the price. He is selling more premium varieties of the spice which range from $17 to $25 for 1.5 grams.
He is working to bring in different, less expensive varieties to expand his business nationwide.
But he’s also looking to partner with other Valley businesses to incorporate his spice into their products.
He recently began working with the ice cream shop, Nuts About Ice Cream in Bethlehem, to make a saffron ice cream and is working with another small business to develop saffron popcorn.
“I’m thinking both macro and micro in growing the business,” Almasi said.
The spice is for sale on his website www.zaffrus.com and at www.amazon.com.
The game is the thing at new Lehighton café
The owners of the Jokers Are Wild Game Café in Lehighton were looking to open something a little different in town.
Seeing plenty of pizza shops, Tonia and Robert Schaeffer and Nora Oswald decided on another tasty treat – grilled cheese and panini sandwiches.
But that’s not where the difference stops. The eatery is called a game café because it has a library of more than 75 games – video, board and card games – with new ones added all of the time. It also has a children’s and adult’s escape room, with a third room under development
While the food gives people a reason to stop in, the games are why they stay, Tonia Schaeffer said.
Oswald is a game designer, while Tonia Schaeffer describes her husband as “an avid Magic the Gathering fan.”
They combined their talents and interest to create a destination that gaming fans, like them, would want to patronize.
Patrons can rent the game at $2.50 an hour per person for the first hour and $1 an hour after that. The café also has tournaments for games, and some gaming groups hold events there.
There also is a video game room with two big-screen televisions, a PS4 and Xbox One, and a players lounge where customers can participate in Magic the Gathering collectible card game play, Star Wars XWing and Star Wars Armada miniature game play.
They’ve been open for a few weeks.
“We already have over 1,000 likes on Facebook and a lot of positive reviews,” Tonia Schaeffer said. “We never asked anyone to do that; they just did.”
One reviewer described it as a place with “reasonably priced cuisine for a family night out.”
That’s good news to Schaeffer, who said keeping the place affordable for families was a big goal. Most sandwiches are $4 to $6 with a side of chips.
Others called the place, clean, friendly and “tasty.”
Jokers Are Wild Game Café is at 125 N. First St., Lehighton.
New businesses open in Carbon County
Meraki Hair Studio had a grand opening scheduled for July 15 at 175 Interchange Road, Lehighton.
Meraki is a unisex hair salon offering services to the entire family.
It is a “salon that incorporates all the love, soul and creativity to be your own kind of beautiful,” said owner Brennan Varley.
Services will include cutting, coloring, waxing, designs, extensions and makeup applications. Plans are to include nails and eyelash extensions.
Breeze Massage Therapy and Bodywork recently held an opening of its new studio at 616 North St., Suite 101, Jim Thorpe. The business is owned by Breanna Eckley, a licensed massage therapist.
Breeze Massage Therapy and Bodywork said in a release that it incorporates many varieties of massage in a communicative and integrated way to reach healing goals.
Editor’s note: We want to hear about your new business or product. Contact Stacy Wescoe at 610-807-9619 ext. 4104 or send an email to email@example.com. To be considered, a new venture should be less than 60 days old or starting within 60 days.