With recent research indicating that feeding employees makes happier employees, more companies are now making a concerted effort in proving quality food for their employees. This opens doors for companies like Green Heart Foods to come in and help make that happen.
Started in 2009, Green Heart Foods aims to produce clean and organic foods through their Kitchen Counter Cafe and catering service. Their owner is Lisa Chatham, a chef who got her degree from The Culinary Institute of America in New York – arguably the word’s best culinary school. She has been mentored by health and wellness gurus including Deepak Chopra, Walter Willett, and Andrew Weil.
We recently had the pleasure of catching up with Lisa on how she initially came up her business idea, how she structures meal plans for her startup clients, and the most important lessons she’s learned as an entrepreneur.
Tell us a little bit about yourself and how you came up with the idea of Green Heart Foods
I grew up loving food – my summers were spent reading elaborate French cookbooks daydreaming about eating something besides what was served in my Texan household. I always knew food was my path so I set off to upstate New York at 18 to go to The Culinary Institute of America, where I got my Bachelors degree in restaurant management. After a few years of working in restaurants, developing retail food products for Maya Kaimal Fine Indian Foods, and developing recipes for Williams-Sonoma, I found myself unsatisfied. I love food that makes me feel good and I just couldn’t find anyone else who was creating healthful menus without the dogma of steadfast, hard-edged philosophy behind it. So I created Green Heart Foods in an effort to serve individuals and corporate clients who want good, tasty food that’s innovative and simple – the kind of food you can eat everyday.
The food industry is known as a tough place to see success at, what separates you from everyone else that is out there?
What sets us apart is our combination of healthful cooking techniques with crowd-pleasing menus. Our quality makes us unique too. Both my Executive Chef, Ellory Abels and I are CIA graduates who are focused on nutrition. That combination ensures that our menus are thoughtful, healthful, and of the best possible quality. We see plenty of other catered food when we go into offices and we feel confident that ours is in a different league in terms of quality.
You do a lot of catering for companies and startups, what do you guys look at when constructing a good meal plan for them?
It’s not easy. Some of our clients are 400 person offices and obviously have varied diets and preferences. When we initiate a relationship with a new company, we do our investigative work. We talk extensively with the office manager and encourage them to reach out to the staff to determine what each individual needs. Trends do arise in groups of any size and we make note of those, create menus based on seasonality and what we’re currently inspired by, and then we make options available for those with special needs. Right now, we’re seeing many people with gluten sensitivities and folks who are on the Paleo diet. Besides special needs, we feel variety is the key to keeping the largest portion of the office happy. While we’re huge fans of raw kale salads and quinoa, we totally get that an occasional Cuban braised pork is needed to keep everyone satisfied.
Companies like Google and Facebook regularly feed their employees, have you seen the type of foods they serve? Do you have any thoughts on how it is?
As far as I know from my only friend who works at Google, the food and ingredients are top-notch. I haven’t seen their offerings but I have no doubt they’re great.
What is one common food popular amongst those in the startup & corporate industry that they need to STOP eating?
I don’t feel like I should say what anyone should or shouldn’t be eating, but I know if I were sitting at a desk writing code all day, sodas and processed foods would be off my list.
With the rise in anti-GMO organizations and coverage of it in the media, do you think more and more people are looking to go organic?
Absolutely. We use all organic produce and as much organic dry goods as we can get our hands on. It can be surprisingly difficult because food purveyors are so geared toward serving foodservice clients based on price point alone. For me, price is important, sure. What’s more important is the integrity of our food and factory farming doesn’t fit into that picture. Green Heart Foods donates a portion of profits to the Navadana Foundation, an organization that supports efforts against GMOs. Our goal is to be totally non-GMO but it’s taking some serious effort to get them out of my kitchens.
One of the biggest complaints people have in eating organic is that it’s too expensive. Do you believe one can eat well and healthy at an affordable rate while saving time?
It’s true that organic foods are more expensive but I value quality over have a few extra dollars in my pocket at the end of the day so it’s worth it for me. I find the same is true for our customers.
What is the most important lessons you’ve learned in your experience as a food entrepreneur?
The lessons are endless. Owning a business, having employees, working with customers, marketing, and staying current in the marketplace are all exhausting efforts. The biggest lesson for me in this moment is how to balance all of that while taking care of myself. My mind is constantly on work and each and every day, I feel like I’m not quite getting it all done or there’s some snag where things should have gone better. It’s one grand lesson in acceptance and letting go while still being passionate and devoted to my projects. One unexpected lesson for me is my drive as an entrepreneur. As it turns out, I’m just as driven by giving people good jobs where they feel valued and supported as I am by putting out good food into the world. When I think about taking on new clients, I’m happy to grow my business but I’m most happy to place a great person in need of work in a new job.
Where do you want to take Green Heart Foods in the next couple years and beyond?
With two locations in San Francisco, one commercial kitchen and one kitchen/cafe, I often feel like this is plenty and if I can just keep these up and running, I don’t want to grow further. ….BUT…. I have more ideas and I love the idea of staying interested and engaged with new projects. I currently spend my weekends in Venice Beach and feel called to consider a Los Angeles location too. Perhaps one day that will happen but for now, I’m focused on growing my client base to maximize my kitchens’ capabilities.
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Website: Green Heart Foods
Facebook: Green Heart Foods