Founding Principles: FoodtoEat's Deepti Sharma
Welcome to our new recurring blog series, Founding Principles, in which I’ll share interviews with the founders of businesses featured on Plan with Purpose, and their sources of inspiration, planning tips, and ways for us all to be part of positive change in the events industry.
For this first interview, I chatted with Deepti Sharma of FoodtoEat. Based in NYC, FoodtoEat is a woman-owned corporate catering concierge service that focuses on working with immigrant, women, and minority-run food businesses. What they’re doing is innovative, impactful, and awesome.
A first-generation Indian American passionate about diverse food choices, Deepti got the idea for FoodtoEat while waiting in a long line for an exceptional cookie. She realized that so many of the city’s most delicious food purveyors are so small that they don’t have the infrastructure/ capital/ resources to offer catering services and reach tons of potential clients. And so Deepti envisioned a platform that would allow these small businesses to expand their reach far beyond their delivery zone, and be able to cater major events. FoodtoEat’s platform handles the complicated logistics and requests inherent with catering services, which allows their food purveyors to focus on what they do best: making delicious meals.
On a mission to unite people around the communal table, FoodtoEat adds diversity to the food community, all while championing small businesses from every neighborhood.
Here, Deepti shares why she’s so passionate about her work, her frustrations and hopes for the events industry, and how we can all take part in making an impact:
Plan with Purpose: What do you enjoy most about your work? Any "lightbulb" or “a-ha” moments that have reassured you that you’re on the right track?
Deepti Sharma: The most interesting and rewarding part of my work is getting to add value to all of the small food businesses and restaurants we work with. We recently launched a social campaign called #IMadeYourFood, that is all about telling the personal stories of the food businesses we work with; people who don’t typically have their stories told. #IMadeYourFood helps our clients gain a better understanding of the human beings behind the food they eat; the people who create, cook, and deliver their food every day. It’s also empowering for the small businesses we work with. It makes people feel important, and realize that they aren’t just “making food” but also really building a brand, and creating a meaningful business.
I know FoodtoEat is making a difference when I get calls from our food partners saying how much they love and appreciate that we share their stories. We’re helping give their businesses a name, and brand, and putting faces to it. These small businesses often don’t have the time or opportunity to do that.
I have a motto: “You can’t be what you can’t see.” So I have always had the goal of changing the way people see diversity. FoodtoEat was built on the mission of investing in businesses that are owned by immigrants, women, and minorities.
PWP: What most frustrates you about the events and/or food industry, and how do you hope it see change?
DS: At events, you see the same thing over and over again. People aren’t really pushing the limits. At the big conferences and conventions, it’s the same food service companies doing everything, and they all do it the exact same way. It’s the same cold, sad, sandwiches. It’s the same grilled vegetables as the vegetarian option.
If you’re doing an event around a cause, you should be extending that cause to the vendors you’re working with. If it’s an event to support immigrants, why aren’t you using an immigrant-owned caterer? For a women’s event; work with businesses that prioritize empowering women. People need to know that things can be different, and there are other options out there that can make a bigger impact.
PWP: What's your #1 piece of advice for people planning events?
DS: Know the top three things that are most important to you, and plan around that. And then know that you’ll likely only be able to fulfill two of those three things, unless budget is not an issue for you, which is rarely the case.
Basically, know what you can control, and be realistic about it. It’s all about prioritizing what’s important, and setting expectations of what’s actually achievable.
PWP: What's a common mistake you think people make in planning their catering for events? How can they avoid it?
DS: I’m not sure if this is a mistake exactly, but people don’t understand the cost of food and what goes into the food at their events. People need to know that when they get a quote from a caterer, and they are charging x amount of money for something, it’s not because they really paid $2 for it and are inflating the cost just to make lots of money. It’s because there are a ton of overhead costs to running a business, and that needs to be reflected in the price of food. People need to understand all of the factors that go into pricing, and be realistic about what they can get for their dollar.
People say they support raising the minimum wage, for example, but then they don’t think about how I as a business need to be able to afford to pay my employees that higher minimum wage, which means I need to charge people more for catering services.
PWP: What can people do help support positive change in the food and events industry?
DS: Try to support small businesses! When you’re choosing caterers and venues people so often go with the obvious, easy choice, but there are so many more options out there. And people should want to use their dollar to make a difference. These bigger, larger caterers that do 500 person events every weekend, they already have the power to scale. Smaller businesses don’t, and we need to invest in them.
If you’re using a venue that gives you a list of preferred caterers, ask if you have to use those caterers or if you can support a small business, or a food vendor that supports women, or minorities, or immigrants.
If you’re doing an event around a cause, you should be extending that cause to the vendors you’re working with. If it’s an event to support immigrants, why aren’t you using an immigrant-owned caterer?
PWP: What was the best or most creative event you've been a part of?
DS: It wasn’t a FoodtoEat event, but a friend of mine started this movement called Day of Purpose on June 21, which is the longest day of the year. It’s a day when we’re all encouraged to reflect on our purpose, to do things #OnPurpose, and to really think about the meaning of each and every thing we do. It’s also a chance for all of the people doing amazing work-- in education, in health, in wellness, in every sector-- to share the purpose that drives them. It’s incredible to see people come together and just show the world their own badassery. It started as a social media movement, and now involves a bunch of workshops that are about actually finding your purpose and how to tangibly do that. Conferences so often share big ideas, but then you aren’t left with anything concrete. With this, it’s about walking out with five tangible things you can actually do yourself; that you can change. It’s empowering.
At FoodtoEat, we start with purpose. I have a motto: “You can’t be what you can’t see.” So I have always had the goal of changing the way people see diversity. FoodtoEat was built on the mission of investing in businesses that are owned by immigrants, women, and minorities. These businesses often don’t have the power and ability to scale, so we’re investing in them, and helping them reach more people. We’re changing the face of the food community.