“We’re very food-focused right now, the city is very supportive of new businesses, and there’s still a gap in services due to the population loss and economic problems we’ve faced over the past 100 years. Now we’re seeing more people moving into the city, but without the services and conveniences that people expect in 2014/2015.”
1. How did EatloCLE, your subscription meal plan service come to be? What made you think that Cleveland was ready for this kind of hip/responsive food service—concerned with the local food movement as well as taste and health? EatloCLE is still very much a work in progress. As with most entrepreneurial ventures, logistics, marketing, financial planning and all the other elements that go into a new business take a lot of time — more than I’d hoped! But the initial idea was conceived while I was working full time as a line cook. I would spend upwards of 15 hours a day working in professional kitchens, then come home and end up eating take-out or highly processed convenience foods because I was too exhausted to plan, shop, prep, and cook for myself. I thought, if I have years of experience in the kitchen and can’t manage it, how are other people in similarly demanding fields supposed to?
As a nation, we’re seeing the effects of too little time to prepare our own meals using ethically raised whole foods. If I can make it a little more convenient, I think more people will be able to make better purchasing and eating decisions, and that’s good for everyone. Cleveland is in a unique position to test this idea: We’re very food-focused right now, the city is very supportive of new businesses, and there’s still a gap in services due to the population loss and economic problems we’ve faced over the past 100 years. Now we’re seeing more people moving into the city, but without the services and conveniences that people expect in 2014/2015, it will be a challenge to keep them there. The more we support local businesses, the more we can fill that gap to make Cleveland a more attractive, livable city.
2. What are some sample menus? Do you “surprise” your customers or can they be very explicit about the foods they order?
Our current plan is to offer a core menu that will rotate several times a year, plus special items inspired by what’s available from the farmers market and the farms and vendors we work with. Every meal and each ingredient will be listed on our website, so you can just log in every week and make choices for your next delivery.
Taste is personal. We are happy to surprise customers who don’t have a ton of preferences and want to take a hands-off approach, but we think most subscribers will want to choose their own meals, as you would order from a restaurant.
As a side note, we are also sensitive to allergies and intolerances — I’m allergic to tree nuts myself.
3. What is your chef history, your personal journey through food? Are you the Rust Belt Martha Stewart?
Ha! I don’t know if I can claim that. I actually studied English and international studies at CWRU (I graduated in ’08) and went to work for Cleveland Magazine after graduating. When I got married the following year, we moved to California, and I started cooking to help make ends meet. Initially I started off in a bakery, but the pace wasn’t fast enough for me, so the next place I worked I tried dinner service. I’ve always gravitated toward fine dining, because everything is from scratch and you have to be really conscious of sourcing, reducing waste, and using familiar ingredients creatively. I worked at a few places in Connecticut and Massachusetts, and then my husband and I moved back to Cleveland last summer (May 2013). I worked for Doug Katz at Fire, Food & Drink in Shaker Square. He’s such a fantastic guy to work for: incredibly high standards and a business sensibility that means Fire is still busy on a Tuesday night even a decade after he first opened the restaurant.
4. In addition to the meal plan service, you also write articles for local magazines and post blog entries about chef interviews, recipes, product recommendations, restaurants. Do these different approaches to food increase public attention and create traffic between services?
Kitchen culture is hard on families, so I left Fire in February 2014 to return to writing full time. Cleveland Magazine has been really good to me. When I explain to people that I studied creative writing and also have experience as a cook, the immediate reaction tends to be, “You should be a food writer!” I always laughed it off, because it’s so incredibly competitive — I mean, who wouldn’t want to get paid to write about food? Then my editors at the magazine asked me to do a restaurant review, and it turned into a position as their food writer. I still have to pinch myself sometimes, though the job is definitely more than just eating and drinking. I have been very lucky, I think, and I love that I’m able to so perfectly straddle the two industries I’m passionate about.
It’s funny, though. I wonder what will happen when we really get EatloCLE off the ground. I can’t write about myself!
5. Is there something about your time at Case that helped to make your work possible?
Beyond the educational stuff, Case is the reason I fell in love with Cleveland. I met my husband there (he’s not from Cleveland, either, but we feel at home here), I launched my publishing career there, and it’s such an incubator for inquiry and trying new ideas. Some of my professors are still great resources, such as Mary Grimm, who referred a student to me when I needed help with a big writing gig. Case is an incredible community full of inspirational people, from students and staff to alumni and professionals. I’m motivated by the casual brilliance at that school, and being part of a community that so obviously values innovation is one of the reasons I think my company will be a success.