Pleasant aromas wafted through the room from the different flavours of granola laid out on the table in quaint little bowls. I was already salivating by the time Aishath Latheef (Aesha) sat down next to me for the interview, her bubbly personality and infectious smile adding to the air of lightness and familiarity in the room.
As she readied herself for my questions, tucking loose hair strands behind her ear, I immediately had the feeling that this would be one of those interviews that would feel less like a Q & A and more of a casual chat between friends -- the best kind!
So without further delay, I dove right into the heart of Aesha's endeavour -- her homemade granola, prepared from scratch with the utmost care, roasted to perfection to be shared with the world.
Aesha's excitement did not waver throughout the entire interview: a strong testament to the passion she puts into her product. With every bite I took of the tasters laid before me, I could tell that each finalised flavour was the end result of deep thought, experimentation through trial and error, and most of all, love.
During her college days of studying hospitality and tourism, Aesha discovered an affinity for the kitchen. Upon finishing her degree, she worked for eleven years in the industry, until she decided to change the direction of her life and resigned. After one failed venture at running a business with partners, her signature granola became her comeback into Maldives’ competitive and booming food market.
"When I was pregnant with my first daughter, I developed this craving for granola", she explained, launching into the story of how she first got inspired. Five years after Aesha roasted her first batch of granola in an experiment to satisfy cravings that the packaged ones on the supermarket shelves failed to alleviate, her idea blossomed into a thriving business.
"I bought rolled oats from a supplier in Male' and experimented", she said, grinning from ear to ear. Since then, she would have a jar of granola in her home, and whoever visited was welcome to have a taste, until one day, amidst the praise and support of her friends and family, the thought that maybe, just maybe, she could convert this little hobby into an income-generating venture, was born.
Over time, Aesha perfected a total of five granola flavours, out of which choosing one favourite feels simply impossible.
This is Aesha's signature original blend and it still continues to be the most popular amongst her regular customers. Featuring a simple honey base accentuated by the taste and texture of crunchy almonds, this creation is perfect for those with a classy and simple palate.
A favourite amongst kids and well-loved by those who frequently like to munch on a healthy snack, this granola blend is intended mainly for breakfast purposes. Since peanut-butter granola has the lowest calorie count out of all her blends, Aesha describes it as the healthiest blend she has concocted so far.
Described by Aesha as her most challenging flavour venture, this blend is a mixture of dark chocolate, hazelnut and coconut chips combined with a honey and chocolate base, complete with just a hint of sugar for that extra sweetness. "Everybody loves chocolate", Aesha laughs as she speaks of its popularity amongst her clients, especially males.
Inspired by Kulfi, a frozen dairy dessert often described as traditional Indian ice cream, Aesha captured a similar flavour in this granola blend. Lovely, subtle flavour of pistachio nuts married together with the delicate nuances of cardamom and rose extract, sprinkled with white chocolate to hit that sweet spot creates an exciting combination that one simply just cannot get enough of.
This blend of granola tastes as comforting as it sounds. Aesha perfected this particular blend to satisfy her craving for apple pie, minus the pastry and the extra calories, mustering up the base flavours using dried apple chips with nutmeg and cinnamon extract. Out of the blends, this one is Aesha's favourite.
Although the alchemy of each is unique, all of Aesha's blends are made from natural oats, using honey as a signature base. Every single ingredient is carefully sourced from high-end suppliers, hand-picked to result in just the right flavour. From procuring the ingredients to delivery, every part of the process is handled meticulously by Aesha herself, for maximum consistency.
Clients are also offered the choice of adjusting or tweaking the blend to fit their personal preferences, such as taking out a certain ingredient one finds averse or has an allergy to, reducing the sugar levels, adding more chocolate and so on.
Currently, Aesha sells her product in retail packs of 300 grams (which-and we’ve tested it- can easily last a week) and 600 grams (if one is aiming for a month, perhaps less if shared) in biodegradable food-grade packs -- an environmentally conscious upgrade from her former plastic ziplock bags. The entrepreneur also recently introduced taster packs for customers interested in getting a sample before investing themselves in Aesha’s multitude of granola flavours.
All the granola blends are available for purchase through Aesha's Instagram page @milkandyolk. The home cook guarantees that orders placed via Instagram will be delivered within 24hrs, whether you’re located in capital Male' or reclaimed suburb Hulhumale'. In addition to being Aesha's main marketing hub, the interactive social media app also doubles as a platform for her to showcase her beautiful food photography skills and collect feedback from her customers.
Noting that she was currently working on finalizing the labelling on her products, Aesha spoke of the latest developments of her expanding business. Following the "surprising success" of hosting a pop-up at local coffee shop Meraki Coffee Roasters, Aesha is now gearing up to have another at the Goatfish Cafe' and Bistro.
Granola also collaborated with Glo Cleanse's milk range (Nut Mylk) to deliver 'breakfast for everyone' right to the customers’ doorstep. Glo Cleanse is a local brand providing bottles of juice cleanses, Nut Mylks and daily juice packs to promote vibrance and vitality.
If all that wasn't amazing enough, Aesha is preparing to launch two brand new granola flavours by the end of February, one of which is already confirmed, while the other in the testing phase! The Edition can exclusively attest to the confirmed one being *absolutely fabulous*.
For the time being, the biggest challenge the youthful entrepreneur faces is expanding her retail market. "I'm looking for stockists willing to put up my granola packs on their shop shelves, cafe's and gyms".
Aesha's business venture has progressed to great heights since that fateful day she decided to roast a batch of granola in her home to quench those nagging pregnancy cravings. Now, she spends her entire day roasting fresh batches of granola for her increasing customer base, while taking care of her two adorable children, Aara and Noah (professional granola tasters and marketers), supported by her husband, who takes charge in branding and designing, and spending time with her supportive circle of family and friends.
I was honoured to sit down with Aesha, a passionate home cook, mother, wife and friend, to hear her describe her journey, process and future aspirations. The Edition and myself, wish her the best of luck in all her upcoming endeavours.