Whole Foods Fosters a Chili Maven

Mitch Wolinsky selling his Manolo's Best vegan chilis in the Hatchery space at the Whole Foods store in Cherry Hills. Photo: Courtesy Manolo's Best
Mitch Wolinsky selling his Manolo's Best vegan chilis in the Hatchery space at the Whole Foods store in Cherry Hills.
Photo: Courtesy of Manolo's Best.

When the Whole Foods Market in Cherry Hill opened in 2014, management devoted a prime area to the Hatchery, to allow fledgling local businesses to promote their goods. The only such concept in the 456-store chain, the Hatchery has featured hot sauces, almond milk, baked goods, pickles, pudding, soaps, lip balm and more.

“It’s really fantastic to support local, but this is taking it the next step,” says store manager Meghan Keary, who recruits and schedules the vendors and makes sure the area is maintained with refrigeration, running water and electricity.

Mitch Wolinsky, who makes Manolo’s Best, a line of vegan chilis, pays a $5 fee to Whole Foods each day he sets up at the Hatchery to sell his products, which he does several times a month. He began last March, and the response to Manolo’s Original, Diablo and Roasted Sweet Potato chilis, made with 13 spices, has been so strong that after his incubator appearances on October 21 and 28, he will be officially hatched directly to the self-serve soup wells in the prepared food section,  There shoppers can purchase 8, 16 or 32-ounce containers of his chilis for $3.99-to-$8.99.

One of Manolo's vegan chilis.

                                                                One of Manolo’s vegan chilis.

“They get a following,” says Keary of the most popular contributors. “When they are not here, people start asking for them and that’s when we know they are ready to go.”

Some entrepreneurs eventually hatch themselves into other retail outlets. Manolo’s is one of the first to graduate straight from the Hatchery to the regular Whole Foods store.

“Their goal is to coach your little enterprise, your little seed, into a fully grown business,” says Wolinsky. “Whole Foods has treated me so well. They have supported me and allowed me to be as creative as I want with merchandising, with promotions. It’s amazing the base of experience that they are willing to share so that I can become better.”

Prior to entering the program, Wolinksy, 58, worked in logistics, courier services and educational testing. He spent two years perfecting his recipes for the vegan, non-GMO, gluten-free chilis that are also free of the top eight allergens. When he brought his chili to a charity event, people wanted to know if they could buy it. That was when he first realized he might be ready to start a business.

“Our mission is to provide the healthiest vegan dish at the most economical price,” says Wolinsky, who now produces his chilis in a commercial kosher kitchen in Hillsborough.

Wolinsky hopes he will be able to keep growing and introduce Manolo’s Best to the entire tri-state area.