An Auburn couple is planning a food business they hope will fulfill their community in more ways than nutritionally.
Fran and Nick Daloia are the cofounders of FEAST Kitchen, a forthcoming line of artisanal plant-based food purees. From butternut squash to caramelized onions, the business will manufacture and sell the purees for commercial food preparation, not retail. For instance, the butternut squash puree could provide a base for soup at not just restaurants, but hospitals, nursing homes, schools and more.
The Daloias hope to find a site in Auburn and begin manufacturing later this year, they told The Citizen. Their business plan is all but finalized, and they're seeking funding to begin operations.
The roots of FEAST Kitchen extend to Syracuse University, where the Daloias met. After living in the Hudson Valley while Nick attended the Culinary Institute of America, they moved to Fran's native Chicago, where they considered starting a food business. Among their ideas was healthy baby food. They realized there weren't many easily accessible options after having a son, Joseph, who's now 4.
In July 2019, the Daloias moved to Nick's hometown of Auburn. There, the couple's food business idea continued to grow into a name: Finger Lakes Educational And Sustainable Test Kitchen.
"New York, particularly central New York, is a bit of a food basket," Fran said. "This region lends itself well to food businesses."
The Daloias met with several programs, including the Auburn chapter of SCORE, the Cayuga Economic Development Agency and Cornell University's AgriTech food and agriculture research center. Those meetings led the Daloias to realize FEAST Kitchen could fill a gap in the food supply chain. Most similar businesses are located on the West Coast or Midwest, they said, leaving the East Coast in need.
But making artisanal plant-based purees also met a few other needs the Daloias had for their new business.
A manufacturing business has more room to grow than retail or food service, they said, and therefore it can offer more job opportunities to the public. Their purees are also healthy, both because they're plant-based and because they're frozen instead of processed with sodiums, acids or sugars. And the Daloias will be sourcing from the area's farmers, particularly smaller, family-owned ones, they said.
"People are more conscientious about what they're putting into their bodies, what they're feeding their kids, the businesses they patronize," Nick said. "We're trying to tap into all of that."
The Daloias hoped to do more with FEAST Kitchen, such as classes in the community and private catering, but the COVID-19 pandemic led them to focus their business on puree manufacturing for now. When the time is right, they'd like to partner with local school districts and other entities to teach local youth, as Nick's food service background includes more than a decade in food education.