When most people think of comfort food, they envision heaps of pasta, classic plain pizza or a gooey bowl of mac and cheese. It’s not very often that you hear someone declare chickpeas as their ultimate food of choice, but co-founder and CEO of Banza Brian Rudolph (12B) has been working to change that mindset.

Growing up a picky eater, Rudolph was a pasta fanatic, but he later learned that he was sensitive to gluten. Much to his dismay, none of the gluten-free pasta options he found could satisfy him in the way that his beloved traditional pasta could. To solve his pasta problem, Rudolph decided to take matters into his own hands.

“As I became more and more focused on nutrition and fitness, I started experimenting with making more nutritious versions of my favorite foods,” Rudolph told the Wheel. “I eventually made chickpea pasta in my kitchen and was blown away by the taste and texture. I shared it with roommates and friends and when they liked it, too, it clicked that I wasn’t the only one who wanted a better version of pasta. That idea became Banza.”

Brian Rudolph (12B) hopes to inspire others to choose healthier food options in a way that is still delicious and comforting. (Courtesy of Banza/The Emory Wheel)

Now a leader in gluten-free products, Banza strives to provide healthy yet delicious versions of everyone’s favorite comfort foods, including pasta, pizza, mac and cheese and rice, all out of a plant that is both nutritious and good for the environment: chickpeas. 

Rudolph’s journey to creating Banza started here at Emory University. While Rudolph studied finance and international business at the Goizueta Business School, he cites his job at a local music studio, the music blog he started with friends and the concerts he organized as the experiences that truly motivated him to pursue entrepreneurship.

“When I look back on it now, those concerts are what made me want to start a business,” Rudolph said. “Not because they were so successful financially — they weren’t. But because of how it impacted everyone involved. The attendees, the artists, and the venues all benefitted. That outcome made me feel good, in a way that I hadn’t yet experienced from any of my finance or marketing internships.”

Rudolph’s mission to connect with others and make an impact on their lives is also what sets Banza apart from other similar brands today. Many food companies have started offering more gluten-free options in recent years, but Banza is intentional about catering to the people who are using their products and promotes their well-being through uplifting messaging.

“[O]ur brand is relentlessly positive,” Rudolph said. “A lot of healthy food companies use fear to sell their products; instead, we focus on what’s great about ours and do it with joy.”

Banza transforms chickpeas into a variety of comfort foods, including pasta, pizza, mac and cheese and rice. (Courtesy of Banza/The Emory Wheel)

This joy has even reached a celebrity audience. Actress Kristen Bell proclaimed her love for Banza in an Instagram post, and Banza has consistently received positive feedback from stars and the media.

Despite all of the attention his company has garnered, Rudolph still insists on how formative his years at Emory were in enabling his success later on.

“College is a great time to test, fail and learn,” he said. “Even though my career ended up not having anything to do with it, I learned so many lessons from my endeavors in music [at Emory].”

For current Emory students looking to start their own businesses or for those who already have, Rudolph offered advice that he and his team followed to foster success.

“I would recommend finding someone or a company who has done what you hope to do and learn from them,” Rudolph said. “For Banza, that was Chobani. We learned so much from the Chobani team and modeled much of our early strategy based on their advice.”

With Chobani, a food company specializing in Greek-style yogurt, as their guide, Banza has become a trailblazer in its own right in the world of healthy food products. With its positive outlook, palatable products and passion for chickpeas, Banza envisions the future of their brand as a continuation of their present state.

“We want to continue inspiring people to eat more chickpeas and other beans — and we hope reimagining some of the most beloved comfort foods using chickpeas will make it easier to do so,” Rudolph said.