Vendor may beef up production

Published on May 22, 2012 - 8:57 am

by Patricia Anstett, Detroit Free Press

Magda Abuhassabu, Owner of Greenleaf TurkeyMagda Abuhassabu began thinking what she wanted to do with the rest of her life when her hours were reduced teaching English as a second language.

Cooking always had been her passion, so she turned to catering.

But as she saw people wolf down her tasty, lean turkey burgers, sprinkled with veggies and natural spices, "it just hit me one day," said Abuhassabu of Southfield. "That's the business."

Greenleaf Turkey, the company she started in November 2011, makes three styles of lean, tasty turkey burgers and a gluten-free vegetarian patty sold in frozen, vacuum-sealed packages.

Most of her customers know her as the friendly woman in Shed 3 at Detroit's Eastern Market, where she sells her burgers each Saturday in a spot next to a guy peddling smoked salmon.

Soon, she will return on Tuesdays to the Detroit market.

"Eastern Market put me on the map," said Abuhassabu, who welcomes customers to sample her products from a hotplate she hauls to the market. At the Saturday market in Detroit alone, she sells about 200 packages of burgers, two patties to a pack, for $5.50 each.

Greenleaf Turkey faces some of the same decisions as other start-up companies lucky enough to find quick success, such as: What's next? Can I grow without being overwhelmed?

"It's a sweet problem, but it's a problem," Abuhassabu confessed recently, from a pristine kitchen that she rents at a closed Novi restaurant, where she also runs a small walk-in retail business.

"I get approached almost every Saturday by restaurant and grocery store owners who want to carry the products."

It means that Abuhassabu once again will look for investors to help her grow her business by hiring another worker or two and purchasing more equipment to expand production.

She and two part-timers do it all now. "It looks like a bigger company than it is," Abuhassabu said. Abuhassabu has had to learn all kinds of new skills, including figuring out how to use slightly thawed, but not overly defrosted, turkey meat in an industrial burger maker.

Abuhassabu gives kudos to the Oakland County Business Center, part of a network with the Michigan Small Business & Technology Development Center.

Greg Doyle, business consultant with the Oakland center, suggested she write a business plan and to research her products with repeated taste tests for friends and others.

"It all has to do with having some passion for something and taking time to do the research to figure out whether the concept will work," Doyle said. "A lot of people skip that whole research piece."

More help came from the Michigan Economic Development Corp., a public-private partnership that helps Michigan businesses. Consultants with the agency "assessed our needs and gave us a push," with advice and models of other existing businesses, Abuhassabu said.

Her next project is mastering computer software to add nutrition labels to her products. Her turkey burgers, made with Amish turkey from a Troy farm, are about 260 calories.

"I'm at a near break-even point today," she said. "Just like everybody" in a start-up business, "it's been a roller coaster. It grew faster than I thought it would."

More Details: Greenleaf Turkey

What it does: Makes four turkey and vegetarian burgers.

Based: Novi, with sales at Detroit's Eastern Market.

How to reach it: Greenleaf Turkey is inside the Atrium of Novi at: 43155 Main St., Suite 214, 248-790-0557.


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