Recently, baked goods company Slender Seven has been garnering attention for its delicious and healthy baked goods by offering its samples at the farmers market and Taste of The Hilltop.
Slender Seven operates with the philosophy of “cook simply, eat healthy and feel happy,” and founder Nikki Azzara passionately adheres to all her claims. Each simple recipe posted on the Slender Seven website is made with seven healthy ingredients or fewer — the chickpea-based cookie dough for which they are so famous is 100 percent natural, egg-free, gluten-free, vegan, low-sugar, free of trans fats and safe to eat raw.
However, the heart of Slender Seven is Azzara, a 2014 graduate of Wake Forrest University who founded the company in 2013 when she was a senior.
“I was taking an entrepreneur class in the business school and I’d had this idea for a while of doing something with the recipes that I enjoyed making,” Azzara said in an interview with The Hoya. I had always been very health-conscious, and kind of all of these things made it come together.”
Azzara originally created the recipe for her chickpea cookie dough when trying to recreate a black bean brownie recipe that she found online.
“I tricked my family into eating them without telling them what it was, and they were really good,” Azzara said. “My mom’s famous recipe is blondies, like cookie bars, and I wanted to make the black bean brownie version of those, so I decided to come up with the same thing using chickpeas. And that just evolved into chickpea cookies.”
According to Azzara, healthy eating has always been a big part of her life.
“I was brought up super healthy. My dad was a stay-at-home dad and he’s always been very health conscious. … We never had fast food as children,” Azzara said. “I’ve still never had fast food in my life.”
Azzara spoke about her rare passion for Slender Seven, the result of her job-hunting process after she graduated.
“[I was] just trying to find something that I was passionate about … but then I realized that I didn’t want to build someone else’s brand. That was the reason I was really trying to make Slender Seven work,” Azzara said.
After launching the Slender Seven website through the entrepreneur class at Wake Forrest, Azzara began considering making it a long-term project.
“I wanted to start monetizing the brand. I wasn’t making money off of it in college, and I wanted to make it a sustainable business,” Azzara said. “I had had the recipe for chickpea cookies on the website, and looking back I should’ve known — it was one of those recipes that everyone was like ‘Oh my God, will you make these for me?’”
Azzara soon transitioned to focus on her current specialty: the edible cookie dough. At a crowdfunding campaign last year, she networked with others to build her brand and ultimately raised $10,000 for Slender Seven. This campaign helped her get into Union Kitchen, a food incubator in D.C., which Azzara now uses to make and package her dough for distribution.
Whole Foods reached out to Azzara last summer and began selling Slender Seven products at its branches because of high customer demand.
“I was able to get into stores just purely based on the fact that people were asking for [my product],” Azzara said. “It established some credibility for me.”
However, Azzara said she has encountered challenges throughout the process, as she started Slender Seven on her own.
“There’s a lot of unknown that I have to figure out on the day to day. … Just small things like shelf life and inventory is a big challenge that I deal with every week, or making sure I get into stores to sample consistently,” Azzara said. “There’s no delegating of responsibility because it’s just me.”
Azzara is now creating her own spot in students’ hearts after her debut at the farmers market. She works beside the beloved Swizzler hot dog company, which she credits for helping her get a spot as a pop-up vendor at the market. Azzara’s presence on campus through the farmers market even helped her secure a spot selling her cookie dough on the shelves of Vital Vittles.
“It’s actually surprisingly delicious,”Caroline DeRosa (COL ’19) said. “I’m not going to lie — I was skeptical at first with the whole chickpea thing, but I love it. I would definitely recommend it to my family and friends.”
As someone who is currently living through the successes and setbacks of being a young business owner, Azzara encourages other student entrepreneurs to be persistent.
“I work in a kitchen with people where everyone is doing what they love, and it’s such a positive, inspiring place. It’s difficult and there’s a lot of manual labor, and it’s very intense, and people are doing things on their own,” Azzara said. “But at the end of the day, everyone loves what they’re doing and it’s really rewarding. … My biggest piece of advice is just take the risk, do it. Worst case you fail, and you learn from it.”
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