This sauce debuted at Bay Area farmers markets. Now it’s in Williams Sonoma.

Owners Katia Berberi and Steve Drapeau hold some of their toum at the Anne's Toum stand at the Grand Lake Farmers Market in Oakland, Calif., on Aug. 20.
Douglas Zimmerman/SFGATE
Photo of Madeline Wells

If there was one sauce powerful enough to compel someone to drop everything and dedicate their life to it, it’d have to be toum. 

That’s exactly what happened to Katia Berberi and her husband Steve Drapeau. The Walnut Creek couple were both working in tech, until a life-changing event inspired them to quit their jobs and start a business together selling Lebanese garlic sauce. 

If you’ve ever gotten a cup of the thick, fluffy Lebanese garlic dip as a side to your shawarma, you’ll understand why people obsess over it. It may ruin your breath for hours afterward, but the potent concoction is so delicious that all other condiments pale in comparison. 

For Berberi, toum has been a staple in her kitchen since childhood. After her father Maroun moved to the U.S. to escape the civil war ravaging his hometown of Beirut, Lebanon, he met her mother Anne while playing tennis in college. Once they got married, Anne learned to cook all of Maroun’s favorite Lebanese dishes from Berberi’s teta (grandmother) — including toum. 

“My mom would make a really good baked chicken, and we would just dip it directly in the toum,” Berberi recalled. “For me, I would always take pita before dinner was ready, and I would be in there eating it.”

She remembers gravitating toward the kitchen when her teta would visit, watching her painstakingly mash the toum by hand with a mortar and pestle. It wasn’t long before her mother taught her how to make it, too. 

In Lebanon, toum is often seen as a condiment for roasted or grilled chicken.

In Lebanon, toum is often seen as a condiment for roasted or grilled chicken.

Courtesy of Anne's Toum

Then, Berberi met Drapeau. 

“I was moonlighting as a rodeo clown, and I broke my ankle,” Drapeau said. “I had met Katia at a wedding, and she brought me homemade Lebanese food when I was bedridden. And she had the toum, and I tasted it, and I was like, ‘Oh my God. This is like, the best thing I ever ate.’”

Eight years later, the two were married.

“He married me for the toum,” Berberi joked.

Berberi and Drapeau planned to create a side business with the beloved family recipe at some point, while still keeping their day jobs. But things took a turn when Berberi’s mother unexpectedly died in 2019. 

“We were talking about starting the business, and my mom was like, ‘Yeah, I’m going to do the farmers markets,’” Berberi said. “‘I’m going to do the kitchen, all that stuff.’ And then the next week, she’s gone.” 

‘We were all in’

Toum is a Lebanese garlic sauce. Anne's Toum is based on Katia Berberi's family recipe.

Toum is a Lebanese garlic sauce. Anne's Toum is based on Katia Berberi's family recipe.

Douglas Zimmerman/SFGATE

In the wake of this sudden tragedy, the couple started reevaluating their lives.

“Steve looked at me probably a week later and said, ‘We’re going to do this,’” Berberi said. “And I was like, ‘OK, yeah, I’m going to do it.’ And we’re going to call it Anne’s Toum. So that was really what pushed us to do it. And then we were all in.”

They both quit their tech jobs, turning all their energy toward the toum company forged in Berberi’s mother’s memory. 

Anne’s Toum is an emulsion of garlic and oil, with lemon juice, sea salt and citric acid. It’s more of an “everyday garlic sauce,” according to Drapeau, than some more overpowering versions. That said, while it’s not so garlicky that it’ll make your eyes water, it’s still potent enough to require a toothbrush if you’re trying to impress a date right after eating it. 

It also comes in different flavors — original, lemon sumac and za’atar. Adding different spices to the toum was a nontraditional touch inspired by Berberi’s mother.

Owners Katia Berberi displays some of their toum sauce at Anne's Toum stand at the Grand Lake farmer's market in Oakland, Calif. on Aug. 20, 2022. Their toum, a lebanese garlic sauce, is based on Katia's mother's family recipe.
Owners Katia Berberi displays some of their toum sauce at Anne's Toum stand at the Grand Lake farmer's market in Oakland, Calif. on Aug. 20, 2022. Their toum, a lebanese garlic sauce, is based on Katia's mother's family recipe. Douglas Zimmerman/SFGATE
Anne's Toum bicycle stand at the Grand Lake farmer's market in Oakland, Calif. on Aug. 20, 2022. Their toum, a lebanese garlic sauce, is based on Katia's mother's family recipe.
Anne's Toum bicycle stand at the Grand Lake farmer's market in Oakland, Calif. on Aug. 20, 2022. Their toum, a lebanese garlic sauce, is based on Katia's mother's family recipe. Douglas Zimmerman/SFGATE
One of the sign boards displays what tour garlic sauce is good to eat at Anne's Toum stand at the Grand Lake farmer's market in Oakland, Calif. on Aug. 20, 2022. Their toum, a lebanese garlic sauce, is based on Katia's mother's family recipe.
One of the sign boards displays what tour garlic sauce is good to eat at Anne's Toum stand at the Grand Lake farmer's market in Oakland, Calif. on Aug. 20, 2022. Their toum, a lebanese garlic sauce, is based on Katia's mother's family recipe. Douglas Zimmerman/SFGATE
Anne's Toum is good on vegetables, chicken, and much more.

Anne's Toum is good on vegetables, chicken, and much more.

Courtesy of Anne's Toum
Katia Berberi and Steve Drapeau sell Anne's Toum at the Grand Lake Farmers Market in Oakland, Calif., on Aug. 20. (Douglas Zimmerman/SFGATE)

“My mom started modernizing it,” Berberi said. “So she would add oregano to it and make garlic bread, and that was like this big thing. … In Lebanon, you don’t find stuff in the toum. So when we were starting the business, talking about the business and creating flavors, for me, it was just natural to add different flavors to the toum because that’s what I had grown up with my mom doing to some extent.”

She also explained that while in Lebanon, toum is mostly eaten with grilled or roasted chicken or as a spread on a sandwich, her mother was much more liberal with her applications. In her honor, Berberi and Drapeau put it on pretty much everything. 

“One of the great things about the toum is that you can do a five-course meal with it and make it super fancy, or you can throw it on your plate with some roasted veggies and call it a day,” Berberi said. 

The two recommend spreading it on your avocado toast, making a salad dressing out of it, adding a dollop to enhance soups and brushing it on salmon before roasting in the oven. Or keep it simple and dip pita chips into it (this writer can attest to the pleasures of barreling through a jar this way).

A household name

Owners Katia Berberi and Steve Drapeau hold some of their toum at the Anne's Toum stand at the Grand Lake Farmers Market in Oakland, Calif., on Aug. 20.

Owners Katia Berberi and Steve Drapeau hold some of their toum at the Anne's Toum stand at the Grand Lake Farmers Market in Oakland, Calif., on Aug. 20.

Douglas Zimmerman/SFGATE

In November 2020, the couple started selling Anne’s Toum at the Moraga Farmers’ Market. It was the height of COVID-19, so they couldn’t offer tastes of the toum — instead, customers purchased jars based solely on their word. 

“I just remember the first time someone came back and was like, ‘Oh, I just have to tell you, I love it,’” Berberi said. “It was very fulfilling.”

From there, Anne’s Toum took off. They started selling at the Larkspur Farmers’ Market, the Grand Lake Farmers Market in Oakland and the Clement Street Farmers Market in San Francisco (typically for $12 a jar). Diablo Foods in Lafayette and a Whole Foods in San Francisco both began carrying their product as well. 

Then, one day, they got an email from Williams Sonoma. The cookware giant wanted to sell Anne’s Toum on its site. It now ships online to 48 states.

At that very first Moraga Farmers’ Market, Berberi and Drapeau brought 130 jars of toum along with them. Now, they’re producing more than 10,000 jars a year and selling out at every farmers market

Owners Katia Berberi and Steve Drapeau describe their toum to a customer at the Anne's Toum stand at the Grand Lake Farmers Market in Oakland, Calif., on Aug. 20.

Owners Katia Berberi and Steve Drapeau describe their toum to a customer at the Anne's Toum stand at the Grand Lake Farmers Market in Oakland, Calif., on Aug. 20.

Douglas Zimmerman/SFGATE

Despite the exponential growth, the Anne’s Toum team is still just the two of them, producing small batches out of a commercial kitchen in Lafayette and doing all the deliveries and marketing themselves. Soon, though, that might change. 

“We want to be in as many places as we can in the Bay Area, and then expand out from there,” Drapeau said. “Our dream is to have her toum in everybody’s household. … We look at it as a lot like the trajectory of hummus.”

Hummus only caught on in the U.S. about 20 years ago and is now estimated to be consumed regularly in 1 in 4 American households. If Drapeau and Berberi have it their way, toum is the next frontier for popularizing Middle Eastern condiments in the U.S. 

It was also important to the couple to call toum by its actual name, rather than an Americanized misnomer (some may be familiar with a certain Trader Joe’s “garlic spread” that’s undoubtedly a toum rip-off). 

Owners Katia Berberi and Steve Drapeau describe their toum to a customer at the Anne's Toum stand at the Grand Lake Farmers Market in Oakland, Calif., on Aug. 20.

Owners Katia Berberi and Steve Drapeau describe their toum to a customer at the Anne's Toum stand at the Grand Lake Farmers Market in Oakland, Calif., on Aug. 20.

Douglas Zimmerman/SFGATE

“We call it toum because this is the authentic Lebanese garlic sauce,” Berberi explained. “Like, you’re not getting a watered-down Americanized version.”

Apart from the opportunity to share Lebanese cuisine with as many people as possible, the best part of launching Anne’s Toum for Berberi has been the way it keeps her connected to her mom. Her mother is referenced not only in the name but also in the packaging design — it’s a 1920s Lebanese tile pattern created from her mother’s watercolor painting. 

“I feel very fortunate because I get to wear my mom’s name and talk about her,” Berberi said. “It makes the healing process, I wouldn’t say easier, but it gives me space to kind of be able to spend time thinking about my mom. It makes me happy.”

Anne’s Toum is available for purchase on the Williams Sonoma website; at Whole Foods, 1185 Market St., San Francisco; at Rainbow Grocery, 1745 Folsom St., San Francisco; and at various other retailers and farmers markets.

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