The Boston Globe’s weekly Ocean State Innovators column features a Q&A with Rhode Island innovators who are starting new businesses and nonprofits, conducting groundbreaking research, and reshaping the state’s economy. Send tips and suggestions to reporter Edward Fitzpatrick at email@example.com.
This week’s Ocean State Innovators conversation is with Carlos Ventura Jr., CEO of Feast & Fettle, a gourmet meal delivery service based in East Providence, R.I.
Question: How did Feast & Fettle get started?
Ventura: Maggie Mulvena Pearson began her culinary career as a private chef. While working for several families on the East Side of Providence, word of her service quickly spread. As her client base grew exponentially, she decided she couldn’t keep running from house to house. In 2016, she sold her car and bought a Nissan NV200 – Feast & Fettle’s first delivery van. She got it wrapped with the Feast & Fettle logo, and she convinced her best friend, Nikki Nix, to quit her job as general manager at the Omni Providence Hotel. They began cooking and packaging all of Maggie’s dishes at Hope & Main, the culinary business incubator in Warren, and would deliver meals to each home themselves.
Q: Where does the name Feast & Fettle come from?
Ventura: When Maggie was young, her father ran the Roger Williams Park Zoo and they held an annual event called “Feast with the Beasts.” She knew she wanted to use “feast,” and started searching for the right word to accompany it. She found the word “fettle,” which means “of good health.” It resonated with her as the service aims to be inclusive of any diet or preference, so Feast & Fettle became the name of the company.
Q: How much has the company grown since 2016?
Ventura: Maggie and Nikki hustled for the first couple of years, gaining lots of clientele on the East Side and Barrington. Business started to grow slowly and steadily, they hired a few people, and they got to the point where they needed to moved out of Hope & Main. In 2019, they launched their own location in East Providence.
I had known Maggie’s and Nikki’s husbands for years – they were two of my best childhood friends. In December 2017, I got on the phone with Maggie, who told me they had a fantastic product and needed help on the business side. I had gone to London as an investment banker at Goldman Sachs, then went on to work for Deliveroo, the No. 1 meal delivery service in the UK. It focuses on delivery, not cooking. It’s like Uber Eats.
Since I joined as CEO in 2018, the company has grown 16-fold. We had 30 to 40 members in our subscription service when I joined, and we are currently approaching 1,000 members.
Q: How much has demand for the meal delivery service grown during the pandemic?
Ventura: Since the pandemic began in March, we have more than tripled in size. On the surface, it makes sense when people hear that meal delivery is growing in the pandemic. But fundamentally, the demand for convenience at mealtime was already trending upward. Delivery was the fastest growing sector of the restaurant and hospitality business, so we were going to at least double in size this year. The pandemic was just an accelerant.
We are already where we thought we would be at the end of 2021. Of course, we have folks who sign up because they’re little nervous to go to the grocery store or feel unsafe for a multitude of reasons. But we found the service has been pretty “sticky.” It’s a structural trend where the habits of people are actually changing for good.
Also, there’s something to be said for the way we do things. I’d argue the quality of what we put out is much different compared to other meal delivery services. We have real chefs. We hand-deliver every single order. And we partner with local businesses such as Knead Doughnuts, Seven Stars Bakery, and Wrights Dairy Farm.
Q: What is your target audience?
Ventura: Our geographic range is nearly all of Rhode Island, as far south as Westerly, and we are now serving Boston MetroWest – places such as Wellesley, Weston, Sudbury. We are currently piloting Boston and Cambridge and surrounding areas, and we plan to do a full-fledged launch into Boston next year.
Our customer profile includes a few different categories. The dual-income households and families with children – so we design menus to be very kid friendly. Empty-nesters have been a large, growing market. And during the pandemic, we’ve seen an increasing number of people ordering for their parents, calling from California or overseas trying to find something fresh and local.
Q: What’s next for Feast & Fettle?
Ventura: We are a Rhode Island-based business, but we certainly have much larger aspirations for the brand and the company. We look at this first location in East Providence as the blueprint for our vision. The plan is to move into the Boston market in 2021, and we think we can take this concept to southern Connecticut after that. Paul Salem, the senior managing director emeritus at Providence Equity Partners, has invested his own money in Feast & Fettle. He is gung-ho about Rhode Island businesses. The investment is helping us build out this facility in East Providence, and it will help us invest in the next level experience of Feast & Fettle.