Emily Golub of Atlanta-based Garnish & Gather was a pioneer in the world of meal kits. Golub had been a member of a community supported agriculture program for many years. “I enjoyed the challenge of it but quite frankly it was a lot for me to handle sometimes. And I had trouble getting friends on board. They couldn’t handle getting a mystery box of produce every week. And it can be tough when you get cabbage four weeks in a row in January.”
Golub wanted to keep her connection with the farmers, but make eating what they were growing more approachable. In 2013, she decided to create meal kits using recipes for seasonally available and local ingredients. She began by offering her customers three dinner options for the week. She and her one employee would drive to farms and farmers markets buying what they needed for the kits, assembling the ingredients and then delivering the kits to their customers and to a few pick up locations.
If you’re not familiar with meal kits, they’ve become big business in the time since Golub started. Generally speaking, the kits support the desire to cook at home by packaging measured ingredients with a recipe card and detailed directions. No more standing in line at the grocery store. Or having to pick and choose at the farmers market. Or having to decide what to do with what’s left when you buy a butternut squash but only need one cup of cubes.
“We focus on bringing the farmers market to you,” says Golub. “Our customer wants to know who’s growing their kale, where their beets are from, why this pork chop is better, but they don’t always have the time to go from farmer to farmer gathering those ingredients. That’s one thing that has made us different, we are totally focused on local farmers and seasonally based. And we’ve built out a connection with local chefs.”
In the four years of Garnish & Gather, they’ve grown to offer five main dish meal kits each week, a dessert kit or two, and a grocery option with prepared foods, eggs, bread, cheese and local produce and more. Customers can order a meal kit, or several, for dinner next week, but also the ingredients they need for breakfast, or for lunch, or for another meal they will cook from scratch.
Once a month Garnish & Gather customers can cook like a local chef with “Be the Chef” specials. Maybe they’re seen the chef on TV or they’ve eaten in their restaurants. They can make Kevin Gillespie’s Korean Pork Bulgogi Lettuce Wrap at home, or try the Steak & Chimichurri meal kit from chef Chris Grossman of Atlas at the St. Regis.
Golub started her business with no background in the food industry. “I was an aspiring home cook, looking up recipes on Pinterest on the weekends. It took a lot of networking, going to farmers markets and asking, ‘Can I buy from you?’ and meeting chefs and getting the permits. In June 2013 we launched. A chef helped develop the recipes and I tested them in my kitchen. I had to work out how to portion and package all the ingredients.”
She would call farmers to see who could sell them 10 pounds of kale or 15 pounds of tomatoes. She’d go to the DeKalb Farmers Market to buy grains and spices. She worked with a packaging company to find the right packaging for each item, protective but not excessive. “Then I’d sit down with Google and map out delivery. My employee and I would set out in our cars Monday afternoon and deliver all the meals.”
Developing the website was critical in moving Garnish & Gather to the next level. This is the business showroom, showcasing the meals available and the additional grocery options, explain how people can to pick up their products or arrange delivery and answering questions about how membership works, what to do about food allergies or how long the ingredients will last before cooking.
“The website was a big learning curve. It’s really complicated and at first you don’t really know what you need. Once the website was ready, we started adding groceries slowly, and then prepared foods. Those prepared foods are now a big seller which we think is because they really help out for busy weeknights and lunches.”
Now Garnish & Gather has three fulltime salaried employees and about 15 “gatherers” who help pack the meals. “Now most of our farmers deliver to us, but you will still see our team running around on Saturday mornings gathering some of the remaining things we need.”
The Garnish & Gather office has a walk-in cooler and shelves of shelf-stable goods and packaging. Long stainless steel tables line the middle of the room and the gatherers start dividing up ingredients on Thursdays. Items like pasta and spices can be bundled first, then as it gets closer to Sunday and Monday delivery, the fresh items are packaged and added. The company is leaving its long-time home on Zonolite Road for a space at Chamblee-Tucker and I-85.
Each Garnish & Gather meal kit arrives with everything needed for the meal except salt, pepper and oil or butter. They can’t send out beer or wine, so if your recipe needs one of those you’ll have to supply it yourself.
Best sellers are enchiladas and fish tacos. There are always at least two gluten-free meals available and a range of proteins. And decisions about recipes are based on what farmers have available at that time. The company has 1,000 subscribers who order every week or every other week.
“Our customers enjoy being in the kitchen but just don’t have time to put everything together. We have lots of young married couples, young families and lots of empty nesters and those who are busy professionals. They tend to order one or two meals a week. It’s a great fill-in when you know you’re going to be eating at home a few nights. We have no minimum requirement so you never have more meals coming that you can use.”
The meals are delivered in reusable shopping bags so there are no boxes or ice packs to deal with. “It really works for our customers who don’t want a lot of waste.”
Curious about meal kits and having never used one, I invited a guest with limited cooking experience to prepare the meal kit for the Brisket Hash from E. J. Hodgkinson of King + Duke. The brisket came from Avondale Estate’s Pine Street Market. The butternut and kale from Global Growers. The kit had everything we needed (except a cup of wine) including a table topic card we used when we finished raving about the meal. My guest had some familiarity with national meal kit companies and was surprised by the high quality of the meal and the small amount of packaging to recycle or discard. And for a meal designed to serve two, we had plenty for three adults and leftovers for lunch.
Asked for advice for those thinking about starting a food-related business, Golub says talk to people and network as much as you can. “The Atlanta food community is super supportive. We’ve had great farmer partners and chef partners. Our mission is to bring more attention to Atlanta’s food community and how special it is. For anybody looking to get into the food scene, if you bring something unique, there’ll be a place for you, welcome and support.”
“Be the Chef” has been extremely popular and in 2018 will include meals from their customers’ favorite chefs and new meals from Canoe, One Eared Stag, Ford Fry, Upbeet and more. For the holidays, Garnish & Gather has a special offer. Holiday gift cards are available and with each purchase of $75 or more, they will include a set of stemless wine glasses. garnishandgather.com