Why I Started a Food Business
I didn't start out in life to have a food business. Having gone through school, I struggled to make sense of what the future would be and my place in it. Thought I'd follow in the footsteps of my father who was a dentist, except I wanted to be a family doctor and heal people in the community. Our family's primary care doctor was a gem--a bit of a curmudgeon, but no nonsense and a skilled diagnostician. Hey, he made house calls traveling from his home in Brooklyn to Queens when my Mom would call and say "one of the twins is sick" even in the middle of the night. Thanks, Dr. Soden for taking such good care of us.
Well those science courses kicked my butt in high school and college and I pivoted toward social work which seemed to be a better fit. More about those science courses later. Interned in the emergency room of a local medical center during college and honestly loved the work, albeit heart-wrenching. Side stepped pursuing a Masters in Social Work to share a temporary job with my sister at a bank. After that temp assignment was over, I joined the bank full-time and worked there almost ten years. It was exciting for this new college grad to venture into New York City every day and work on Park Avenue. I was promoted through the ranks holding progressively responsible positions in administration, lending and marketing and enjoyed a solid start to a career filled with interesting assignments, travels around the country and interactions with a variety of fascinating people.
Growing up, I learned to cook by watching, testing, inhaling and listening, usually at the side of my mother. We had many fine cooks in the family as well as neighbors and friends and I marveled as to how they could get all this good food on the table at one time. It wasn't until I had my own family that I began to collect cookbooks, voraciously read the newspaper food columns in the New York Times and Long Island Press while commuting by subway or bus to work, and eating in restaurants in New York City which really opened my mind and palette up to the joys of food. During dinner recently I recalled the first time I had Mexican food was at a little spot on the East side of Manhattan called Zapatas--it was one of my favorite places when I worked at the bank. Diners were always greeted warmly and I was introduced to foods of a place that seemed so far away, yet brought such delicious food to this country.
After work picnics in Central Park catered by The Silver Palate were a must when attending Shakespeare in the Park. The Silver Palate cookbook became my go to and I cooked my way through it, visiting their tiny West Side shop whenever possible to sneak a peek at a dish or try to uncover just what made their cookies, chicken salad and other dishes so yummy. Lunch hours, I could be found looking for obscure ingredients in Chinatown, Little Italy or Greenpoint or checking out small hole in the wall places for really good food (many times English wasn't spoken, and I pointed to what the waiters were serving). There was never a lack of people who would share their food stories with me. Weekends, my sister and I would cook in our apartments after our weekly Saturday morning trips to the Greek diner on Queens Boulevard. We nibbled on plates filled with souvlaki, moussaka, pastitsio, spanakopita, feta cheese with Greek olive oil and fragrant oregano which the waitresses insisted we try. The foodie bug had bitten me. Hard.
I've been walking (sometimes crawling or running) towards a career in food for years. Having prepared thousands of breakfasts, lunches, dinner and snacks have brought me to this proverbial fork in my lifes road. I want to publicly acknowledge that there is science behind food and some of those dreaded science courses of my youth really did help prepare me for my food career. Truth be told, the science AND math classes helped prepare me immeasurably for the rigorous securities exams I passed to become a licensed Private Client Banker and Insurance Agent.
Making food for my family has always been a top priority, even more so now, as the world is spinning on its head scrambling to make sense of this current time.
My own food experiences, especially during my formative years, helped teach and inspire me--even if I didn't realize it at the time. My parents large garden fed our family and the community which was a huge influence in my understanding that meeting and connecting with people is easier at the table--especially one that has food on it. The backdoor of my childhood home opened into the kitchen which was the soul of that house. Sit down and have a taste, a sip or a plate or take something for the road. Wow--how well I was taught by people who shared whatever they had. Beefsteak tomatoes which weighed over a pound each, Concord grapes which was made into jelly and jam, and fresh bluefish, mackerel and porgies that my Dad caught each summer in Long Island were meant to be shared. For me, selecting, preparing and cooking food that is shared by many is the ultimate form of nourishment. Food is what helped bind and connect us. My parents left a powerful legacy and responsibility with me.
The global pandemic hasn't stopped me from pressing ahead, in fact, it has given me unprecedented time to laser focus on what's working, what's not and given me the opportunity to tap the minds and resources of bright, talented and generous people and organizations who want to share their expertise and invest in people like me. My adopted hometown of Cleveland has welcomed me to run my business in a city that's full of grit, spirit, beauty and hard working people devoted to food. Out of adversity has come opportunity.
I no longer question why I'm in the food business; it was destined to be. Just didn't expect it would take me this long to realize it after reaching the sixth decade of life.
Thank you to customers and long time supporters Pat's Granola who lift me up and cheer me on. My village of people who thrive on connectedness and the building and sustaining strong relationships is mighty and growing bigger and stronger every day in a way I'd never imagined. Food is showing me the way. It just may be what this world needs now.
Love and Peace,
What a lovely post. I enjoyed learning more about you and influences in your life. I especially enjoyed your words regarding food and connectivity. I love bringing people together over food! Before Covid we hosted a monthly community dinner at our house for friends and neighbors. It was wonderful to bring old friends and new friends together!
Thanks so much Pat for your kindness and never ending positivity!
Loved eating at Zapatas.