Souren Etyemezians: “I want to roast a good almond.”
If you are a nut lover, there is nothing better than a plump and perfect roasted nut, sometimes salted, sometimes not, but always fresh, fresh, fresh—whether popped in your mouth, added to a salad, laid out for company or given as a present. Which is why Souren and Susan Etyemezians chose the name “Fastachi” for their hand-crafted nuts and dark chocolate barks: Translated from a Native American language, that’s just what it means—“little gift” or “little giver.”
Their brochure reads: “Ah, the Fastachi nut. Born and bred in all the best places, hand-picked for sublime perfection, and under our careful guise, hand-roasted, in small batches, in steel drums. No fancy seasonings, only pure sea salt to bring out the true essence of our thoroughbreds... Pampered, over-protected and spoiled? Perhaps.”
But the fact is, if you love nuts, once you try them from Fastachi, you will probably never pick up packaged nuts at a convenience mart again, or make your holiday nut purchases from big-box retailers. You might actually admit being a nut snob.
Souren thought he was on the road to becoming an engineer, and bounced through five colleges—ending up with an MBA in business, enamored with branding and packaging. “Then a friend of mine in California asked me if I’d like to learn how to roast nuts,” says Souren, who took his friend up on the offer and has been pursuing this path ever since. His first shop was Mixed Nuts on Belmont Street, in Belmont, opened in 1990.
Four years later, he met and married Susan, who had gone to Parsons The New School for Design and worked in the fashion industry. They make a great couple, with an even measure of both style and savvy. Susan is very organized and efficient; Souren has an eye for detail and is a very visual person. The couple never steps on the other’s words.
“We complement one another, that’s why it works so well. And we learned how to work together,” explains Susan, who says it was a very natural transition. There is definite pride in their partnership.
In 1999 the couple expanded, changed the name from Mixed Nuts (which was too generic) and opened Fastachi in the Seaport District. They successfully created a brand; however, they were a few years ahead of the times by turning to this yet-to-be-developed area of Boston. So this store closed and in 2003 they moved to their current site on Mt. Auburn Street in Watertown.
Watertown was good for the Armenian couple; however, they didn’t want to be in the ethnic business. They wanted to have a nut store, and that’s what they created. Fastachi is a very appealing shop. Front and center are their hand-roasted nuts—perfect sizes, never a broken piece, and offered either plain or some with sea salt. They buy their products well, and all but the pepitas and cashews from India are grown in the United States: hazelnuts from Oregon; pistachios, almonds and walnuts from California; pecans from the South; peanuts from the Southeast.
“It’s all done lovingly,” explains Souren, who says their nuts are handled with great care.
To the left of the shop are the confections—notably the chocolate nut bark with Fastichi’s proprietary blend of dark chocolate. Since the nuts are the stars, the uneven sheets are thin enough to highlight their taste, but the chocolate offers a formidable balance.
Since they don’t do seasoned nuts, “new products” are few and far between—it’s more about creating and maintaining the Fastachi quality. But their latest offering is nut butters. New this year, the nut butters are always out for sampling, and then are basically made to order, they’re that fresh. Pistachio butter, salted pecan butter and their amazing mixed nut butter, which is a melange of seven nuts that they grind together: cashews, almonds, hazelnuts, peanuts, pecans, walnuts and pistachios. This puts a brand new twist on peanut butter, and your favorite jarred spreadable may fall by the wayside. If you wonder what you might do with a special delectable like mixed nut butter, think outside of the PB&J sandwich.
Souren is a font of ideas for the nut butter: “Use it in a pasta instead of pesto; put it on a bagel with tomato, cucumber and sea salt; or on toast with honey and sliced bananas. It can be used as a binder for veggie burgers, in a smoothie, or simple: almond butter, cheese and crackers; or pecan butter with Honeycrisp apples.” Susan calls this “a caramel apple without the caramel.”
“And then there’s always the finger,” suggests Souren—any fanatic of nut butters knows this method.
They are known for their dried cranberry and nuts mixture, but this year they are offering a new mixture: a chocolate nut mix with almonds, pistachios, sesame peanuts, hazelnuts, cranberries and dark raisins—all tucked together with 70% bittersweet chocolate chips. When you eat this mixture, it will become evident that this nut business is an art, a real craft. Perfect ratios of ingredients, perfect mix.
Always keeping the business and the market in mind, Souren and Susan met last year with a business coach. The outcome was that they would cut back on their wholesaling, just wholesaling regionally, as far as New York. The second prong of the plan was to expand their product locally.
To accomplish this, Souren and Susan began participating in local farmers markets. They started out last winter at the Wayland Winter Farmers Market for two days, and have been in 10 markets, five days a week, during this market season. They are starting to plan their winter market schedule for this year, which is harder because they are all on Saturdays. Says Susan “It’s been a wonderful experience,” while Souren admits “It’s not an easy thing. It takes a lot out of you.” But he’s quick to second Susan’s comment about it being a wonderful experience to be in.
“At the farmers markets, it’s all about selling good product to good people and everyone’s enjoying it. People are either finding out about us, or people are looking for us. It’s an amazing way of putting your product directly in the consumer’s mouth,” says Souren. He may be all about the nuts, but he’s clearly a people person as well.
“I enjoy selling gifts. It completes the contact between two people.” After you’ve tried Fastachi, there is no other nut.
Rachel Travers is a freelance food and lifestyle writer who has been contributing to the Boston Globe for 15 years—and to Edible Boston for its proud five! She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.