CHICAGO — Startups have reimagined nearly every grocery staple, yet the crouton category remains somewhat stale, according to the founders of Kooshy, a new brand launched by brothers Jonathan and Matt Wachsman.

The pair developed a line of croutons that is formulated with organic sourdough, olive oil and spices. Kooshy claims its crunchy cubes are the first Non-GMO Project verified croutons on the market, and three of its offerings are vegan, noting many brands use cheese or butter.  

The name is a nod to couche, the cloth used to shape and proof loaves of bread. Varieties include Almost Naked, which has salt and pepper; Mambo Italiano, seasoned with garlic, basil and parmesan; French Toast, featuring maple and Saigon cinnamon; and Poco Picante, with lime and aji amarillo chile.

“From a quality standpoint we worked with a certified master baker to make our product,” said Matt Wachsman, who earlier held brand manager roles at the Kraft Heinz Co. “We wanted our crouton to have the best texture. It’s not too crunchy, not too light.”

The brothers began building the brand at The Hatchery Chicago, a local food and beverage business incubator, then selling at area farmers markets. The products, with a “real bread makes real croutons” tagline, debuted last year and are sold online and in regional specialty grocers.

The brothers aim to expand croutons beyond the salad bowl, encouraging consumers to sprinkle the product on soup, pasta, yogurt or ice cream, to crush and coat chicken or fish, or to eat directly from the bag.

“It’s highly snackable,” said Jonathan Wachsman, previously a finance executive at media startups. “I don’t know what makes a pita chip different than a sourdough chip.”

Longer term, the brand may expand into additional bread categories.

“Carbs have had a bad rap, but in general we see a trend and resurgence in bread products as long as it’s made the right way,” Matt Wachsman said, pointing to the rise in home baking during the initial lockdown phase of the pandemic.

“The company is Kooshy, and that’s all about premium quality bread,” Jonathan Wachsman added. “That’s how we think about it.”