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  • Center of Excellence in Food and Agriculture
  • Cornell AgriTech
  • Cornell Food Venture Center
Narell Vasquez’s entrepreneurial journey started in Ecuador, flourished in New York City and now with the help of Cornell AgriTech and the Food Spark program, is poised to take her nationwide.

Vasquez moved to New York from Ecuador in 2017 with the primary goal of learning English. Toward the end of 2019, after two years of language school, she stopped in at the City University of New York (CUNY) Welcome Center, intrigued after a friend had recently enrolled.

She spoke with a woman named Maxine. Vasquez said she’ll never forget her name. With Maxine’s help, Vasquez enrolled at Hostos Community College in South Bronx. At first, she wasn’t sure what she wanted to study, but the idea of starting a food business had long lingered.

She tried both early childhood education and food studies. Food studies won.

Fast forward to November 2020 and Vasquez, like so many others in New York City and around the world, came down with COVID-19. Until then, between schoolwork and her job babysitting, her idea of starting a food business was forced to remain on the back burner.

She knew she wanted to build a business around beans, a staple of her diet growing up in Ecuador. Forced to hole up in her room for 10 days and with a sudden influx of time to spend, she decided to make the best of the quarantine.

Vasquez joked that since she came to the United States on a student visa, she had three options that would allow her to stay in the U.S.: Marry an American citizen, find a job that would sponsor her visa, or start a business.

She picked the third choice. While cooped up in her room, she contacted SCORE NYC, an organization that provides free business mentorship and advisement to entrepreneurs and small businesses, and soon Full of Beans Kitchen was born.

Her plan at first was to build a business delivering freshly cooked beans to people like herself who didn’t have the time to cook beans from scratch but weren’t impressed by the usual canned offerings at the supermarket.

But in the following months, she pivoted to creating a new way for people to eat beans for breakfast.

Forming Full of Beans

In June 2021, Vasquez began developing a powdered bean-based pancake and waffle mix. She tried chickpeas, black beans, white beans – just about any kind of bean she could get her hands on.

She experimented with several different iterations but couldn’t find a formula she liked. Her dog, Patan, even turned up his nose at the early versions of the pancakes.

Vasquez admitted that she grew so frustrated that she nearly quit. That day, she was organizing her pantry when she found a bag of fava beans. They took her back to her childhood, eating fava beans with cheese as an appetizer at meals.

After trying so many different types of beans unsuccessfully, it was the fava beans of her childhood that were finally successful. Patan happily gobbled up the pancakes made with the fava bean mix. That’s how Vasquez knew she found a winner.

It took nearly a year, but in May 2022, she finalized the recipe. The mix is high in protein, gluten-free, vegan and free of the top nine major food allergens. Vasquez said that while those are benefits, her main goal was to increase peoples’ consumption of beans and everything after that is a bonus.

She began selling her pancake and waffle mix in the spring of 2023, around the same time she was selected for the Food Spark program through the New York State Center of Excellence for Food and Agriculture at Cornell AgriTech (CoE) and the Cornell Agriculture and Food Technology Park (Tech Farm) and completed the eCornell Food Product Development certificate program.

Vasquez admitted she cried when she was selected for the program.

“Cornell, for me, has always been supportive,” she said. “It did help me a lot having someone like Cornell there.”

For Vasquez, the course was validation that her product was safe and taught her the science that goes into nutritional facts and ensuring food safety.

This year, Vasquez began selling her mixes at the Texas-based supermarket chain Central Market. Her products are also available on her website, fullofbeanskitchen.com, on Amazon and at several health food stores in New York City. Vasquez said she’s currently in talks with New York City-based supermarket Union Market about carrying Full of Beans mix.

Full of Beans is also in the process of updating its packaging. Eventually, Vasquez wants to expand into different flavors of pancake and waffle mix and develop lines of frozen waffles and microwavable cup meals.

When she does, she knows that Cornell experts will be there ready to help.

“Having Cornell there is amazing,” she said.

Jacob Pucci is the marketing and communications coordinator for the New York State Center of Excellence for Food and Agriculture at Cornell AgriTech. 

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