As far as work perks go, Laura Jhaveri and Donna Suomi, owners of Ridgefield’s Killa Bites, have a pretty sweet deal.
“We get to eat chocolate all day!” Jhaveri says, laughing.
But the two women – who peddle an assortment of luscious cake bombs (tiny cakes stuffed with delectable fillings, then enrobed in chocolate), chocolate-dipped biscotti and flavored popcorn – don’t mind sharing. In fact, the Killa Bites business prides itself on gathering “taste testing” input from their friends and family.
Both women have three children each. Jhaveri’s girls are older, all high school and college aged, while Suomi has three children ages 6 to 14. Asked if the kids have taken an interest in their mothers’ business, Suomi smiles and nods: “Yes. They like to be taste testers.”
The desserts business, which launched a little more than a year ago, in October of 2013, has already earned a following in Clark County. The two women have catered corporate events and weddings, and cafes in Ridgefield, Battle Ground and Vancouver can barely keep the company’s popular biscotti and cake bombs in stock. Word is growing that a Killa Bites’ dessert is a high-quality, unique treat. Most recently, the women’s cake bombs and biscotti appeared next to a few high-priced wines during a “Valentine’s Weekend Wine and Chocolate Tour” hosted by the wineries of Clark County.
“We held back until we were sure that we had a quality product,” Jhaveri says. “We are, just now, at the point where we can expand into places like Portland.”
Just because they held back in the beginning and didn’t rush into a huge expansion doesn’t mean that Jhaveri and Suomi don’t have grand plans.
A year from now, the two women hope to have their own storefront in Ridgefield – currently they lease commercial kitchen space at the Ridgefield Community Center on a part-time basis – and be a go-to dessert caterer for corporate events and weddings throughout the region.
“And I have a few ‘grand plans’ of my own,” Jhaveri says. “My passion is supporting families with ALS.”
Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), commonly called “Lou Gehrig’s Disease,” is a disease that affects nerve cells in the brain and spinal cord, and eventually leads to muscle wasting and death. There is no cure for ALS, and only about 10 percent of patients survive longer than 10 years. In 2014, the disease gained international recognition from the viral “ice bucket challenge,” that raised money for ALS research and treatment.
Jhaveri is well acquainted with the disease. Shortly after she and her husband, Akhil Jhaveri, moved from Texas to Ridgefield for Akhil’s engineering job in Vancouver, Akhil was diagnosed with ALS. He continued to work for another year, but went on disability in December of 2012. At that point, Laura Jhaveri, herself an engineer, realized she needed to find a way to support her family and still be there for Akhil and their three daughters.
After several brainstorming sessions with friends, family and members of her church, Jhaveri landed on the Killa Bites concept. When a friend referred her to Suomi, a longtime Ridgefield resident who had a small biscotti company, the partnership seemed perfect.
“I’ve always loved baking, but I don’t love the business aspect,” Suomi says. “Laura had the business and marketing skills, so we make a very good team. We complement each other.”
The rational engineer in Jhaveri knows that starting a small business often takes several years until an entrepreneur sees significant profits, but she still dreams that, someday, Killa Bites will be able to support her and Suomi, as well as several employees, and still provide for a fund to help ALS families get respite care.
“We’re lucky because we have full-time help for my husband, but so many families don’t have that and caretakers can get very burned out,” Jhaveri says. “My grand plans include being able to help those families, to help those caretakers.”
Both Jhaveri and Suomi credit their faith and church communities with getting them through the hard times and say they always try to donate and help nonprofits in the Ridgefield area. Killa Bites already gives to a variety of local charities, including the Church on the Rock, Doernbecher Children’s Hospital, Ridgefield Lions Charities and the Southwest Washington ALS Association.
But the real appeal of this little business is their treats. The women have come up with an assortment of flavors for their cake bombs, biscotti and popcorn, including some of the biggest customer favorites: the Lemon Kiss cake bomb, “a creamy lemon filling surrounded by lemon cake and dipped in white chocolate,” the Red Velvet, “all the goodness of a red velvet cake dipped in dark chocolate;” the Cinnamon Chip, Chocolate Lover’s and Lemon Lavender biscotti flavors; and the Caramel Apple, Salted Caramel, Masala Madness (a hint of Indian flavors to celebrate Akhil’s birthplace) and Par-Thai (“a spicy party in your mouth mingling peanuts and red pepper like a good Pad Thai”) popcorn flavors.
“Our customers give us feedback and we appreciate that,” Jhaveri says. “We try to come up with interesting flavors that our customers will like.”
The company even offers a few gluten-free and vegan options, including The Rev 2 Peanut Butter cake bomb, which is gluten-free and vegan.
All of the Killa Bites products are portable and make for an easy, no-fuss dessert option at corporate events, big parties and/or weddings. To see the full list of desserts and available retail locations, or to contact Killa Bites, visit www.killabites.com.