Indian-American author and TV host Padma Lakshmi is joining DAH! as an investor, board advisor and brand partner. DAH!, which means yogurt in Hindi, is an Indian-inspired natural foods company.
Founded in 2015 by JD Sethi and partner Ajeet Burns — who were both raised in India — the company has 50 employees and is approaching a $15 million run-rate. DAH!’s product line includes the traditional Indian lassi yogurt in both dairy and dairy-free formats nationwide at Whole Foods, Costco, and Sprouts.
While celebrity food partnerships are common, it is rare for Lakshmi to attach her celebrity to a food brand. Lakshmi joins celebrity chefs and actors Jennifer Garner, David Chang, and Kendall Jenner who are venturing onto grocery shelves as investors, advisors, or company executives. In addition to DAH!, Lakshmi is an ambassador for Impossible Foods. Lakshmi has hosted Bravo’s Top Chef since 2006, and she recently produced her own show, Taste the Nation, on Hulu.
As a part of the collaboration, this week DAH! introduced a Tomatoes with Mixed Berries Lassi crafted in partnership with Lakshmi and inspired by her New York Times bestselling children’s book “Tomatoes For Neela.”
Lakshmi shares, “if you like mixed berries with yogurt, the sun dried tomatoes used [in this recipe] give it a depth of flavor that is just something extra. It almost gives an umami flavor to the yogurt.”
Lakshmi joined Forbes for a Q&A to share her motivations for investing and advising DAH! (pronounced Duh-hee), her vision for the company, and for pushing the boundaries of the American diet. The interview is edited condensed for length and clarity.
Forbes: What motivated you to say yes to becoming an investor, a board advisor and a brand partner to DAH!?
Padma Lakshmi: I liked the idea of creating flavors together, I started cooking with it [DAH!]. I made different things that were both savory and sweet. As you may have seen in some old Instagram videos, I was doing this in quarantine, just trying out the product. And so that's where it really happened, organically. The founders sent me product and we started to talk. Over very many, many months of getting to know Pam, who is the CEO, as well as the two founders, I thought it was a nice partnership.
I am sent so many food products, as you can imagine, with both shows, and my writing, etc. And this one really stood out to me. I really was very impressed by the richness of the yogurt, by how decadent it feels. The mouthfeel when you drink it, how satiated you feel, especially when you consider the low calorie count and the low sugar content. I was also very surprised that the kids loved it as much as they did, because it doesn’t have that much sugar, especially compared to [mainstream] yogurt smoothie drinks for kids.
How will you be involved with the company?
Well, I mean, I'm not going to tell them how to run their business. I think they'll probably know how to do that well, but I do obviously want to see financials. I'm an investor.
My input can be best utilized in areas of product development, and also in marketing and shaping the direction of the company....in finding ways to position this really small indie yogurt brand in the American consciousness. I don't want to have sharp elbows. I'd like to learn the business and the nuts and bolts of what's going on.
What types of flavors do you imagine being developed?
We [Americans] consume yogurt that is either savory or sweet, but it can be both at the same time. We've seen savory and sweet combinations done with granola bars. I think yogurt is a great space to experiment with new flavor combinations. I would like to push the American palate more out of its comfort zone to flavors like chili and lime yogurt, or chili and ginger yogurt, cucumber and dill yogurt, you know, all of these things that we may have tasted along the way when we eat different types of ethnic foods like tzatziki with Greek food or raita with with Indian food. Wouldn't it be great if we had a drinkable yogurt product like lassi which has thousands and thousands of years of Indian heritage and history behind, and it in some of these more interesting and innovative flavors, so that we get away from just using yogurt as a sweet addition to our diet.
Why are you so passionate about the product?
Yogurt is a great addition to a healthy diet. It is also a major way that vegetarians get protein and dairy into their diet. So the health benefits and the benefits for the gut microbiome are significant. I really believe everybody should have a cup of yogurt every day. We try to do that at home. I love it.
As an Indian-inspired product, how do you see DAH! positioned in the American supermarket?
We're limited by the fact that this is a refrigerated product. So it would sit with the yogurt products and thereby not be sectioned off to the ethnic aisle.
Tell me more about that.
As a person going to the grocery store, I know exactly where to go when I'm looking for noodles or hot sauces. But I would love to see them incorporated more into just the mainstream [aisles]. You know, if it's a condiment like Sriracha, or hot sauce, let it live with the ketchup and mustard. If it's noodles, let it live with the spaghetti. This is how Americans families eat today. I've been banging the same drum for 20 years. When I wrote “Easy, Exotic”... I was trying to make more approachable foods that American considered “exotic,” and they really weren't. Even 20 years ago, in 1989, when I published “Easy, Exotic”, no American was eating only one kind of food all the time...even in the heartland people were eating taco night, spaghetti, they would go out for barbecue, they would eat meatloaf and mashed potatoes. And so I think that the more we come to terms with the fact that “American food,” “American culture” is a microcosm of the world's foods and cultures, because that's who's built America - waves and waves of immigrants and indigenous peoples and African Americans. So our food and our food retail spaces should also reflect that diversity. And that diversity should be integrated in my opinion [in the supermarket].
What’s one recommended way to enjoy DAH!?
I recently put the plain lassi in a blender with one roasted beet and some garlic, and a teaspoon of tahini and whipped it up into a sauce that looks gorgeous, just because of the magenta color. It is delicious with an ad-hoc shawarma that I make at home.