Could a surplus of Easter hams spark a new business idea? For local chef Rasul Welch, the answer was an emphatic “yes.”
Since founding Ronin Chef in 2015, Welch’s mission has been to build community and help further our food ecosystem by connecting food producers, consumers, and restaurants. At the dawn of the COVID-19 crisis in March, Welch noticed many of his farm partners struggling with oversupply due to mandated restaurant closures — and he wanted to find a way to bridge the widening gap between farm and table.
After a successful pilot project helping farms redirect Easter hams from restaurants straight to local consumers, Welch partnered with Jaime Weinfeld to launch Thrive Box — a thoughtfully curated box showcasing locally-sourced artisanal ingredients delivered to customers’ doorsteps. The contents of the box were geared around helping sell items that weren’t moving from farms to restaurants.
“Rasul and I have been really excited about this concept for over a year, and it just happened to align and support a need that we didn’t realize was going to happen a year ago,” says Weinfeld of the timing of the box’s launch.
The nascent business was designed to act as a “virtual restaurant,” offering quarantined foodies the experience of a restaurant-quality meal with the added satisfaction of cooking it themselves. The first limited-run Thrive Box included one-pound heritage pork chops from Gifted Grass Farms; wild ramps, radishes, and salad greens from C&K and Front 9 farms; cheese from Yellow House; and wine from M Cellars, along with seasonings made by and recipes from Welch.
“It isn’t just restaurant magic or a year of culinary school that you need to make a great meal,” says Welch. “The ingredients actually do make a difference.”
Two months into the pandemic, Thrive Box is changing shape. Rather than replicating a restaurant experience, the now-monthly box will showcase locally-produced food items and share contact information so that consumers can further support those producers.
“In the beginning, Thrive Box served not only an important function for customers who wanted the restaurant experience, but also a crucial economic function,” says Welch. But with restaurants now open, he foresees the new direction of Thrive Box “helping to even out some of the distribution and production woes local producers are now facing. As new problems arise, we’re looking to address them and offer solutions.”
Welch himself is also identifying innovative ways to provide special event catering and private meals for Clevelanders — such as “driveway parties” in which Welch cooks an al fresco meal for clients in their driveway or backyard. He’s also planning to offer virtual celebrations via Zoom in which guests can prepare the same meal as their host. Says Welch, “Even in the age of social distancing, there are still reasons to celebrate.”
Learn more about Thrive Box and how to support Welch’s efforts here.
—Ellie Roberto and Jen Jones Donatelli