2017 New York City Rising Star Artisans Lisa Mendelson, Monica Molenaar, and Rachel Simons of Seed & Mill

2017 New York City Rising Star Artisans Lisa Mendelson, Monica Molenaar, and Rachel Simons of Seed & Mill
January 2017

Seed & Mill
Chelsea Market, 409 West 15th Street
New York, NY 10011


Lisa Mendelson was born in South Africa and raised in Israel, where she practiced law before founding Yogo, the country’s first frozen yogurt chain. Mendelson sold the chain when she moved to New York City in 2014. Her future business partner, attorney Rachel Simons, lived and worked around the globe before founding The Bread & Butter Project in her native Australia, a business Simons continues to support remotely from her adopted home of New York. Completing the entrepreneurial triumvirate, Monica Molenaar received an MBA from Stanford and became a marketing executive in New York, where she bonded with Mendelson and Simons over their obsession with food. The three found they shared a love of tahini, but none were able to find quality “sesame butter.” The ambitious trio felt a call to action. 

In January 2016, Seed + Mill was born, its tahini made from organic sesame seeds sourced from Humera, Ethiopia, a town known for its sesame. At their store in Chelsea Market, the seeds are ground into pure tahini. The innovative ladies also sell luscious, lick-able tahini soft serve ice cream and produce sweet-savory and celebratory halva cakes—pieces of which sometimes stud their ice cream. 

Seed + Mill is the answer to generic, cement-like sesame paste, and it’s the means to elevating sesame to its rightful place in kitchens across the country—which is precisely Mendelson, Simons, and Molenaar’s mission. 

Interview with New York City Rising Star Artisan Rachel Simons of Seed + Mill

Sean Kenniff: How did you get your start?
Rachel Simons:
We shared a passion for food, clean eating, and health. I used to be a lawyer in Australia. I was an employment lawyer, with a background in firing people. I worked for The New York Times of Australia, and we had to restructure the media company so I was firing journalists and it was soul-destroying. Monica was working in marketing, and Lisa had a frozen yogurt store in Israel and moved here in 2014.

SK: What sets your tahini apart?
Tahini in the Middle East is like ketchup. When Lisa moved here, she went to buy tahini and couldn't find it. People tend to keep it forever, and the oil separates. We wanted to make fresh tahini: the sesame seeds go into the mill without preservatives, we mill them, and then talk to people about how to use it. We import our sesame from Humera, a town in Ethiopia known for its sesame seeds. They’re organic, and we pay a lot for them, but they're sweet with great oil contact.

SK: What is the process in making the halva?
Making halva is very hard. We start with tahini and mix in hot glucose syrup. Once we get it super hot, we add garnishes and hand-stir it with large paddles, and when the hot sugar hits the tahini, it forms into ribbons. We crystallize the sugar and cool it to stop the oil from separating; it doesn't actually need refrigeration.

SK: What’s your biggest challenge?: 
Being in all places at once. The tahini we make here, in house, and on-site at whole foods. We mill it out in the open so people can watch. Right now we have our halva made in Israel through a partner, who makes our flavors for us, but we’re raising money to eventually produce it locally. It’s really about putting together a presentation.

SK: In your operations, what are you most proud of?
I'm proud of the three of us being so resilient and resourceful, without a lot of money. We do all of our own marketing and everything. We’ve each embraced different jobs, from POS and inventory to accounting, HR, printing labels, and packaging.

SK: What’s your five year plan? 
In five years, we'd like to be producing and selling our tahini to chefs all over Manhattan.