Boston Foods 1_Cara Cuomo

The Start-up to Chow-down 

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Harvard students launch a start-up dedicated to Bostonian delicacies. 

Perhaps there’s something in the water in Kirkland House that engenders an entrepreneurial spirit. First, Mark Zuckerberg, a Kirkland resident, came along and founded Facebook in February 2004. More recently, this past month, Kirkland residents Cara Cuomo ’17 and Jake Levin ’17 founded Boston Foods.

While Facebook connects people to other people, Boston Foods connects people to cheap and healthy groceries. As co-founder Cara Cuomo put it, “Boston Foods is a self-sustaining non-profit that provides reduced price groceries to families who otherwise would not have physical or economic access to healthy and nutritious eating options.”

“Reduced price groceries” is a vast understatement. Boston Foods’ flagship box of food has enough fruits, vegetables, and meat to feed a family of four for a week. For how much, you ask? Just $35. “Personally, it’s really exciting when we tell people about our program and they ask, ‘Really?! Only $35? What’s the catch?” explains Cuomo. “Well, there is no catch, and it’s great to see what an impact something so simple can have.”

When I asked her how it was at all possible for there to be no catch with a deal like that, Cuomo details how Boston Foods is able to sell at such low prices: “We cut out almost all overhead and inefficiency in the food system. We pick up food directly from wholesale suppliers and deliver it directly to community centers, so we cut out the cost of grocery stores, owning buildings, paying for cold storage etc.”

This really made me wonder. How much are those evil grocery stores jacking up the prices?!  But then I remember that Boston Foods is a non-profit, whereas groceries stores, as we all very well know, are not. However, this is what necessitates an organization like Boston Foods to help make the healthy food one can find at grocery stores more affordable. “Our main goal,” says Cuomo, “is to help as many people as we can, and put an end to food insecurity in the Greater Boston Area.”

Achieving such a goal is no small feat. The founding of Boston Foods required six months of work, and still has a lot more potential for growth. It all started last semester, when Cuomo and Levin, along with students from Boston College, got together and applied for the Boston College Venture Capital SEED fund. Fortunately, they won the SEED money, and spent the summer launching head first into making Boston Foods a reality.

For Cuomo and the rest of the Boston Foods team, this past summer “involved a lot of legal work with incorporating and applying for 501(c)3, and applying to snap benefits as a retailer,” explains Cuomo. “Also, we had to do a lot of outreach to Greater Boston community centers to see where there was the most need and the most potential for a Boston Foods program.”  During this semester, Cuomo also received some very helpful input on Boston Foods from Professor Paul Bottino, who teaches a class on start-ups at Harvard called Start-Up Research and Design.

One of the biggest challenges for Cuomo, as co-President of Boston Foods, is that “it is a lot more time than I would have ever imagined and a lot of problem-solving, but its something I’m passionate about, and never once during those late nights working on Boston Foods did I ever regret help starting it. “

Then came the launch earlier this month, which was “riddled with hiccups,” as Cuomo described it, chuckling to herself. “The day before our first launch, our wholesale supplier suggested we find an alternate source for meat and protein, which was a stressful morning and afternoon,” she recounts. “Ultimately, we pulled it together for the next day. We called a meat supplier whom we had previously contacted over the summer and they generously agreed to get our order ready for the next morning”.

Although the launch was a long day indeed for the Boston Foods team, by the end of the day, they had served 25 families. “My favorite part of working for Boston Foods so far,” Cuomo reflects, “was at the end of that long delivery day, preceded by months of organizing and planning, when a customer picked up their box of groceries, and was excited about what’s inside.”

 

Caroline Gentile ’17 ([email protected]) lives in Kirkland House, but has yet to found a start-up.