Highlights from Week of 2/20
- Kicked off our pilot meal service with a tasting event on Saturday at the McGaw YMCA in Evanston – more details below and a BIG thank you to everyone who helped make it happen!
- Business Plan Competitions: Submitted our Echoing Green Semifinalist Round application on Tuesday. Learned that we made it to the semifinals of the Kellogg Innovation Network Global Prize competition – we’ll be pitching on Wednesday 3/7!
A Tale of our First Tasting Event
On Thursday, We Shopped
Once we finalized our tasting menu and ingredient list with the help of Pamela and Eddie at the YMCA and our culinary advisors, Nancy Backas and Nell Funk, it was finally time to go shopping (and validate our estimated food costs!) With the advice of Nancy and Nell, we headed to Costco for some of our bulk needs and then to Fresh Farms in Niles – our new favorite market for affordable, quality fresh produce.
At our first stop, we found carts taller than us, bags of brown rice bigger than us, and made a few minor ingredient substitutes based on availability (i.e.: Israeli couscous v. regular couscous). At Fresh Farms we were thrilled to find pretty incredible prices on all of our produce needs (including extraordinarily large carrots) and spices galore. Our final ingredient cost: approximately $185 for tastings of 4 different entrees and 3 sides for 50 people. We were excited to validate our cost assumptions and prove that healthy meals can in fact be affordable, even with ingredients at retail prices.
On Friday, We Cooked
And then it was time to see if we could take those ingredients and turn them into delicious meals. Around 1pm, we got to work in Bay 2 at shared commercial kitchen, Now We’re Cookin’ in Evanston – our home away from home for the next few weeks. Chef Nancy helped us develop a plan for our 5 hour time slot, we set up our “mise en place” for our first three dishes, and got chopping! By 6pm we’d created 4 delicious main dishes: Fiesta Turkey Chili, North African Chicken & Chickpea Stew, Jerk Chicken, and Green Chili Chicken Enchiladas; and 3 tasty sides: Collard Greens, Caribbean Red Beans & Rice, and Green Couscous. While we felt confident that our dishes tasted great, the real test would come the following day when we’d get them in front of our target customers at the YMCA. Before heading home to rest, we printed off our comment cards and registration forms in preparation for the big day.
On Saturday, We Served
With our meals ready to go, we were excited to get in front of our target customers and see what they thought. With the help of an amazing group of volunteers (a HUGE thank you to Kyle Wente, Chetna Pathak, Briar Goldberg, and our photographer Adolfo Delannoy) and Eddie and Pamela – our awesome partners at the McGaw YMCA, we quickly set up and began serving tasting portions of our seven dishes to the 44 men who showed up to check out Fresh Takes Kitchen. Saloni and I took a few minutes to introduce ourselves and Fresh Takes Kitchen, and to provide an overview of the pilot service. We were thrilled to receive a warm welcome and some really insightful feedback from the group.
What we learned:
- Dishes: Overall, we were excited to receive a lot of positive feedback on all of our dishes. Variations in preference for spice led us to discuss taking the heat down a notch in a few of our dishes (particularly in our jerk chicken), providing spice ratings, and including side packets of spice mixes and hot sauces for those who want to kick it up a bit.
- Service: Many of our participants expressed enthusiasm about the service and felt that it would address a gap in affordable, healthy options and were excited about the flavors and freshness of our meals in contrast to existing options. Some already participate in other meal delivery services but most rely on frozen meals, quick service options such as Subway and Burger King, or do some meal preparation on their own – and they felt that this service was a great alternative at a reasonable price.
- Outcomes: By 4:30pm, most of our food was gone with quite a few participants having returned for seconds – our collards and enchiladas were first to go. We had a stack of completed comment cards, a ton of great verbal feedback, and most important…22 completed registration forms – HALF of all participants in the tasting event expressed interest in participating in the 2 week pilot meal service before leaving (and they have until Thursday to drop off forms so we hope to have a few more trickle in over the rest of the week as well).
We couldn’t have been happier with how the tasting event went and how much we learned from our target customers, ten of whom we’ll be serving with our pilot meal service over the next two weeks. After six months of research, conversations, brainstorming, business plan development, and pilot planning – it felt INCREDIBLE to finally get in front of our target customers and validate many of our initial assumptions around the value of this service.
Coming Next Week: We’ll be in Louisville, KY this Friday pitching Fresh Takes Kitchen in the Walmart Better Living Business Challenge Midwest Regional Round – wish us luck! On the pilot front – once all of our registration forms are in (deadline is Thu), we’ll randomly select 10 customers to participate in our two-week meal service pilot. We’ll be back in the kitchen next Saturday and will deliver three freshly prepared, microwaveable dinners to each of our ten pilot participants at the YMCA on Sunday. Stay tuned!