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20 Questions With Jon and Matt Wachsman, BBA ’00 & BBA ’14

The Wachsman brothers stand side by side holding their product beside the 20Q logo

Jon Wachsman, BBA ’00, and his younger brother Matt Wachsman, BBA ’14, are cooking up vegan-friendly sourdough croutons that have revolutionized what they jokingly call the formerly “stale” crouton space. Their secret ingredient? Passion — and of course, a love for bread.

The Wachsman brothers started their company, Kooshy Croutons, during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic. The two Ross graduates noticed a lack of options on the shelf at the grocery store when shopping for croutons, and as bread lovers, they wanted to change that and bring a bit of much-needed joy to consumers at the same time.

Together, they founded Kooshy and began baking bread to create their own croutons together in a Chicago commercial kitchen. Their product is the first-ever sourdough crouton to hit the market and the first and only non-GMO project-verified crouton. It has been wildly successful and can now be found at grocery stores across the country, including H-E-B, Whole Foods, Meijer, Safeway, and many more.

To learn more about Jon and Matt’s backgrounds, careers, and of course, their popular croutons, we asked them to answer our 20 questions.

Can you tell us a little about your work at Kooshy Croutons? What do the two of you do day-to-day?
Jon: I was a CFO at venture capital-backed media start-ups prior to Kooshy, so I handle all the administrative aspects like finance, accounting, and legal. My brother was a brand manager at Kraft-Heinz, so he handles marketing and production operations. Both of us share the sales side of the equation. As far as titles go, I’m CEO/CFO, and he’s COO/CMO, which is really more about seniority since I’m 13 years older. He’s still my little brother. That said, there’s no task too big or too small for either of us. Launching a consumer packaged good will remind you daily that it's a business of physical products. Each of us could lay claim to the world record for croutons shoved in a car trunk.

What’s your favorite part of your job?
Matt and Jon: The fact that we built something that is actually providing joy across the country. Croutons are fun, and the fact that we can do something as simple as making someone’s lunch tastier feels good. The world’s been intense the last few years, so contributing some positivity feels important. From a retail perspective, we love that we’ve revitalized a category for buyers that believed in us and wanted innovation in the space.

What inspired the two of you to start a crouton company?
Jon: It really all started with us wanting to work together. During the pandemic, I moved to Chicago from New York City, where my brother had been working since graduating from U-M. I’d worked at start-ups, but I always wanted to try my own. Given my brother’s background in CPG, we knew that would be the industry to focus on. Choosing croutons was both a function of us being bread fanatics and wanting to enter a less competitive space. We could see a clear path to totally differentiating Kooshy Croutons from everyone else. Plus, the silliness of croutons kind of fits our personalities. The rest, you can say, is history.

Where did the name “Kooshy” come from?
Matt: From the very beginning, we wanted our brand to emanate both high quality and fun.  “Couche” is a French word for the baking cloth used in the bread-proofing process. Wikipedia listed couche as being pronounced K-O-O-S-H, so we added a “y” on it to make it more fun. In the end, we loved the sound of the word and the fact that it drew upon the artisan bread process. Also, who doesn’t like a little alliteration - Kooshy Croutons!

On the Kooshy LinkedIn page, you say, “Bread is in our DNA.” What’s the story there?
Matt and Jon: Our family is obsessed with bread. It was literally a core subject of dinner conversations. Our Mom quickly gave up warning us at restaurants that we’d spoil our appetite by eating too much of it. We didn’t care about dessert; to us, the best part of dinner was before the meal came. On the bottom of our crouton bag, it says, “Bread is joy,” and we mean it. Our passion for bread just gives another layer of authenticity to Kooshy.

Jon and Matt Wachsman holding their crouton product

What’s it like working with family?
Jon: It depends on who you ask. All kidding aside, it's a once-in-a-lifetime experience. I couldn't imagine doing this with anyone else. Building a start-up is very stressful, and the fact that we can argue and just move past it without apologizing makes things so much easier. At the end of the day, we know we have each other’s back no matter what. That’s the beauty of family.

What is the biggest challenge you’ve overcome?
Matt: For the first year of Kooshy, we made the croutons by hand in a commercial kitchen during the heart of the pandemic. Labor was tough to come by and ingredient prices were skyrocketing. We could have given up before even getting started, as we even struggled to produce our sourdough bread. But we kept after it, and even after solving that problem, there were about 200 other times we could have just thrown in the towel. Persistence is probably more important to entrepreneurship than the idea itself. No matter what happens, giving your total effort will never be something you look back on and regret.

If you could go back in time, what advice would you give the person you were 10 years ago?
Jon: I’d keep going another 10 years before that and talk to myself at Michigan Ross. Don’t be afraid of taking a risk. It's easy to be paralyzed by fear of the unknown and only think of negative outcomes. People can pivot in their careers, and as long as you develop a work ethic and continue learning, then you can always be an asset wherever you go.

What was your best business decision?
Matt: Not doing a banana ice cream company. At one point, when we were brainstorming, that was a potential area of focus. We don’t love sweets like some people do, but making healthier ice cream would not be us at all. I’m glad we kept digging and landed on croutons, which we’ve always loved ever since our mom called them “salad training wheels.”

What was your favorite experience at Michigan Ross?
Matt and Jon: Going to Dominick's in the afternoon after a team presentation. Great memories, sangria, and pizza. It’s still the only place that gives you two dollar bills as change.

What’s one thing you learned in business school that you’ll never forget?
Jon: Accounting. It didn’t come easy, but I swear that base of knowledge has helped me from my very first job until now.

What do you think the “secret” is to creating a fun, engaging brand?
Matt and Jon: Being authentic and not taking yourself too seriously. I think people can smell when things are contrived.

What do you miss about Michigan Ross/Ann Arbor?
Jon: Everything. Those four years were as much fun as I could possibly imagine. The camaraderie of that time of life is unmatched. I remember sitting in the Ross library cramming for a final and spending an hour in the middle of the night playing my buddy in “basketball” with a crumpled piece of paper and a garbage can. Amazing.

How has your degree helped you in your career?
Matt: Beyond the base of knowledge it provided me, my Ross degree has come with an incredible alumni network across the country. I live in Chicago now, and I swear everyone has a U-M hat or shirt on. That network has always proved to be incredibly giving with their time and is a resource I’m constantly leveraging.

Do you have any advice for current or incoming Ross students?
Jon: Learn how to cultivate what your passion is. Finding your passion is a process, so honing those skills and making that a central focus is as important as what grade you got on a test. It’s definitely something that I wish I spent more time on, especially since Ross and Ann Arbor are such great places to nibble on different interests.  

Favorite TV show to binge?
Matt and Jon: Seinfeld.

Favorite comfort food?
Matt and Jon: Bread and butter. Easy.

First album/CD you ever bought?
Jon: It was a tape. The Bangles, Different Light.

First website you access in the morning?
Jon: Sports section of The New York Post. I grew up checking the box scores, and I still do it. For Matt, it’s definitely KeHE Connect — which is a distribution service — checking our shipments.

If you could have dinner with any three people, alive or dead, who would they be?
Matt and Jon: Bob Dylan, Anthony Bourdain, and Lidia Bastianach.