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Trimona Foods, Inc./Trimona Bulgarian yogurt

American Made Since 2009
2014 Food Finalist

Atanas Valev

Port Jefferson, New York
An organic, gluten-free yogurt made with whole milk from grass-fed cows. Using the ancient recipe that invented yogurt, its taste is unrivaled.
Finalist New York
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Tell us about your business.

23 years ago, Atanas Valev arrived in America, among the many other immigrants pursuing the legendary “American Dream.” All he brought was a suitcase stuffed with some clothes, memorabilia, and two jars of Bulgarian yogurt. These jars carried the starter culture that helped Atanas create the yogurt now sold on shelves of Whole Foods markets and individual health stores. He knew that there was not yet a yogurt on the American market that matched the special taste and healthiness of Bulgarian yogurt. Custom-selected strains of the bacterial culture are what produce the distinctive tangy taste, creamy texture, and aroma of a homemade Bulgarian yogurt. Over the next 18 years, Atanas worked various day jobs to support his family and spent countless nights in his kitchen perfecting the yogurt enjoyed by so many today. Using our original Bulgarian bacterial strain, we can proudly say that no other yogurt on the market provides such a unique blend of taste, history, and health in one spoon.

Tell us about your workspace, shop, or studio.

My first workspace was my cramped kitchen, cluttered with pots, pans, and a few of my daughter’s Barbie dolls. Official office hours began at around 10 p.m. and ended at around 2 or 3 a.m. The head yogurt-taster was my patient and supportive wife. Our first consumers were our neighbors and friends, to whom we distributed the yogurt in glass mason jars. Then, about 6 years ago, after years of experimenting, organizing, brainstorming, arguing, negotiating, and all the other verbs that come with the big decision of making your entrepreneurial dream into a reality, the new workspace became a co-packing creamery in upstate New York, a growing facility nestled in the beautiful mountains of the Catskills. Teaching them how to make the yogurt and replicate the authentic ancient Bulgarian taste was not easy. It took a couple more years to master and achieve the consistency that the product has today, which is difficult with any homemade product.

What inspires you?

What inspires me to make the yogurt that I make are my returning customers. I have heard some incredible stories about people overcoming critical conditions due to the health benefits of our yogurt. I firmly stand behind the idea of food as medicine. This world has given us a bountiful amount of healthy resources-especially in food-that have lost themselves in the fast-paced world of moneymaking business. I want to be able to bring something real back to today’s busy society. If we have the capability to consume something the way our ancestors did-something that isn’t genetically modified nor stripped of essential nutrients-we should take full advantage of this. By sharing a piece of my culture with everyone (in both meanings of the word: the bacterial yogurt culture and my Bulgarian heritage), I want to give people the original, pure taste of yogurt, and all the health benefits that come with it.

What makes your business stand out?

Our Bulgarian yogurt is unlike any other yogurt on the market. Why? It’s quite simple. Yogurt was invented in Bulgaria. The live culture essential to the yogurt-making process is actually named after the country itself. Bulgarian microbiologist Dr. Stamen Grigorov discovered and coined it “Lactobacillus Bulgaricus.” Trimona Bulgarian yogurt provides an unmatched combination of health benefits. Sure, our yogurt is not the only organic and gluten-free yogurt. What sets it apart are the steps we take to ensure that everyone can healthily enjoy it. For example, both of my children are lactose intolerant; they have safely been consuming our yogurt for years. It’s low in lactose and contains the safe A2-beta casein, which comes from the Jersey and Guernsey cows we use. Also, our yogurt is neither strained nor fat-free. We keep the whey and the good fats because they are rich in essential minerals and vitamins missed out on when choosing a low-fat or non-fat yogurt.

What advice would you give an aspiring creative entrepreneur?

Cliché as it may be-don’t give up on your dream. There’s a reason this saying has become a cliché and that’s because it works. Believe in your product every step of the way. Remember your mission and the very thing that drives you to do what you do. Realize that a lot more rests in your hands, which is both terrifying and empowering. Channel that fear into fuel and creative energy. Know that you are not alone. Connect with others who have already been down this exciting entrepreneurial path or even those who are just starting. You can learn from everyone and from some pretty unexpected places. Measure success in the satisfaction of your returning customers rather than how fat your wallet can become. Some of the most beautiful aspects of entrepreneurship are the authenticity and creativity that surpass the superficiality of the mainstream. And most importantly, never forget to have fun. Loving what you do is what molds the novel, quality product that can’t be created anywhere else.

What does American Made mean to you?

Coming to this country all those years ago, it’s hard to even think of myself as an immigrant. Not only did this country embrace me with open arms, it gave me a place to dream, to create, and to bring a piece of my culture to sew on to the American quilt of diversity. To me, living out this “American Dream” is exactly what “American Made” means. I have experienced the very core of the melting pot that is the innovative American spirit. An American Made product transcends the simplistic definition of anything produced in America. To be American Made is to embody the very ideals of the creativity, innovation, and freedom with which this country was founded.

The more social shares on Facebook and Twitter, the better the maker’s chances of earning one of our 200 wild-card finalist spots for grand-prize consideration.