Small Business Spotlight: Egg Rolls Etc. Brings convenience and culture to the freezer section


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Javon Nicholas, Founder of Egg Rolls Etc.

It was a challenge that Javon Nicholas, Founder and President of Egg Rolls Taiwan, and the kindness of her new community that inspired her to start a company focused on comfort foods that fuse and celebrate cultures.

It was 2010 and a then 29-year-old Nicholas had just lost her mother, with whom she was very close. Her friends knew she had to step out of her comfort zone to help her heal. They “dared” her to apply for a two-year language program in Taiwan. Nicholas dared, applied and was accepted.

“I didn’t speak Mandarin, so I just closed my eyes and pointed at the map when the program asked me where I wanted to go,” said the Chicago native, who has attended several of the Polsky Center’s small business training programs.

She chose the city of Kaohsiung in the south of the country. She lived in a hostel and became close to the woman who ran the accommodations. The hostel owner often cooked for Nicholas and introduced the newcomer to the wider community. She even helped Nicholas get her Chinese given name, Chow On, which means skillful and peace.

“Being there has really helped restore my faith in God and humanity,” Nicholas said. “I wanted to share all those fuzzy feelings and soothing memories back home in Chicago in the form of food. This is how my line of Egg Rolls Etc was born.”

Flavors of home inspired by Asia

Egg Rolls Etc. currently offers seven flavors of spring rolls and rangoons that can be air fried, fried or baked. Nicholas named the first flavor she developed, a spring roll with collards and smoked turkey, “Gert,” in honor of her grandmother. It’s their most popular product.

Other egg roll flavors include Buffalo Chicken, Taco Ole, Plant-Based Jerk Cabbage, Plant-Based Philly Cheesesteak, and Aunt Kathy’s Peach Cobbler, named after Nicholas’ aunt. They also produce salmon, spinach and cheese rangoon.

The company sells its products at more than a dozen grocery stores across Chicago and through an online platform called Shef, where the groceries are cooked, chilled, and delivered to your door. Some local catering companies and restaurants also stock the line.

Nicholas with Chow On

Nicholas has adopted an animated character designed by her husband as her logo. She named the character “Chow On™” after her own Chinese first name. The figure graces all of the company’s packaging and branding, including a line of merchandise. Nicholas even turned the logo into a puppet, which she uses in grocery store demonstrations and connects with the community.

“She’s sweet and appreciated and really helps drive our brand,” said Nicholas, who was recognized by 2022 Influential Woman in Food food processing Magazine.

A veteran of the food industry

Nicholas’ career in the food industry began at a young age. She was a full-time nutritionist by age 19, food service director for a special needs residential center by age 21, and manager of a corporate restaurant by age 23. On the side, she ran a catering business that served as the exclusive caterer for the Archdiocese of Chicago and the downtown medical district.

This background came into play when she developed the concept for her frozen food line. Nicholas introduced her egg rolls through her catering business, which she revived after returning to Chicago in 2012. They proved very popular and were voted “Best of the Taste” at the 2019 Taste of Chicago.

Nicholas enrolled in entrepreneurship and small business programs as she built her business. The courses she took at the Polsky Center helped her realize the potential of her products, she said.

“[The] Polsky [Center] really helped me see how profitable the numbers were. The students were able to time-stamp my product as the first of its kind nationally in the frozen consumer goods space. They have confirmed that it is a financially sound business,” she said. “Companies like General Mills and Heinz have dedicated departments for that. As a small business [the] Polsky [Center] became this department for me. It was invaluable.”

The inside counts

Part of Egg Rolls Etc.’s mission is to give back. The company has partnered with a number of community organizations that promote self-love, cultural sensitivity and/or entrepreneurship. Nicholas also created a program called It’s What’s Inside That Matters, which teaches these values ​​to youth in the Chicago area.

Nicholas, who was recently elected to the Illinois Restaurant Association advisory board, has also published a cookbook, Legacy Kitchen 1219: A legacy of recipes from my family to yours, which is available at Amazon, Walmart, and Barnes & Noble. And she serves as a food coach for Sunshine Enterprises, an organization that helps small businesses in Chicago.

Looking ahead, Nicholas plans to continue to grow Egg Rolls Etc. in terms of both retail store count and product, with a focus on producing premium, quality ready meals.

“I feel like eating gives me an emotional connection with my customers,” she said. “It makes me proud that so many people enjoy my product and I think I made my ancestors proud too.”

Follow Egg Rolls Etc. on Instagram at @egg_rolls_etc_, Facebook at @egg-rolls-etc and Twitter at @etc_egg.

Article by Devon McPhee, freelance writer and editor and owner of DM Editorial Services, LLC. Devon has over 20 years of experience in business, science and technology, health and medicine and higher education.

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