Monique Bernstein and Eli Zauner had only been dating for three months when they decided to go into business together. It’s the kind of decision that could have been a total disaster, the kind your parents would strongly recommend you reconsider. Three months? That’s around the time you start to consider leaving a toothbrush at your partner’s house…maybe. And they were considering depending on each other for their livelihoods? What if they broke up? What if they lost everything? And how sexy would it be arguing over spreadsheets?
It was a huge risk, but Monique and Eli are risk takers. Working corporate jobs in Cincinnati, they knew they wanted more. Though they liked their jobs, neither one could see themselves working for someone else the rest of their lives. So early on, they began making lists of business ideas.
“I had been traveling extensively,” Bernstein told Uproxx. “And I studied abroad in China. That really changed me as a person.”
Originally from the Midwest, Bernstein had tried little non-American food before living in China. But the program forced her out of her comfort zone, and allowed her to try cuisine she’d never even imagined before. Her horizons opened, she became more adventurous, and she developed a more sophisticated palate. By the time Bernstein left China, she felt like she was a totally different person. It was an experience she wanted to share, even with those who couldn’t afford to travel all around the world.
The pair came up with the idea for a subscription service that would bring customers a taste of other countries without leaving home. They called it Universal Yums — highlighting snacks from a different country each month, delivering the international flavors right to a customer’s door.