By Linda Borg The Providence Journal, R.I.
WWR Article Summary (tl;dr) Mary Hughes had been toying with the idea of starting a meal service for seniors for years, but it took two programs -- the Hope & Main food incubator in Warren and the Social Enterprise Greenhouse, a business accelerator in Providence -- to spur her on.
Mary Hughes believes it's never too late to launch a second or even a third career.
At age 70, after several jobs in food and nutrition, Hughes is starting her own company, Savory Fare, which offers home-cooked meals to the elderly, delivered to their doors.
"The goal is to help seniors stay in their own homes as long as possible by delivering delicious, home-delivered meals," she said. "As my husband and I started thinking about our retirement years, we realized we wanted to stay at home as long as possible."
For Hughes, cooking has been a passion as well as a career. She has been a personal chef for the past 10 years, preparing meals for harried parents and several older clients. As a young woman, she worked as a nutritionist for the Providence Health Center and the state Department of Health.
Hughes had been toying with the idea of starting a meal service for seniors for years, but it took two programs -- the Hope & Main food incubator in Warren and the Social Enterprise Greenhouse, a business accelerator in Providence -- to spur her on.
The Greenhouse, a nonprofit that partners with Brown University, offers coaching to social enterprises. Hughes enrolled in a 12-week program that helps clients refine their business plans, raise money and perfect their pitches.
Hope & Main helps new food entrepreneurs get licensed, provides them with access to commercial kitchens and storage and helps them market their products. Ultimately, it allows businesses to thrive. Ten businesses have "graduated" and opened their own facilities.
"We take people from recipe to product to brand to business," said Lisa Raiola, president and founder of Hope & Main. "How many times are you going to reinvent yourself? You're coming here to build a new career. We've lowered the bar" to help businesses get started.
"I felt isolated before," Hughes said. "There is a community of people here who are very supportive."
Hope & Main charges an hourly rate for Hughes to use its kitchens and cold storage. As her business grows, she can rent more time or equipment.
"A lot of people start out doing everything," Raiola said. "At each step, we provide a different service."
Because Hope & Main is in downtown Warren, it is able to introduce businesses to the community, especially with the monthly "Meet Your Maker" markets, which showcase local food products.
"It gives them the opportunity to tell their stories and build a revenue stream," she said.
Savory Fare offers seniors individual servings from a selection of $9 to $12 entrees, fresh or frozen, from ricotta gnocci to Maryland crab cakes. In addition to main dishes, Savory Fare sells soups and salads. There is an additional charge for delivery.
Food has always been a way for people to connect. Living alone, unable to drive, many elderly people become isolated and depressed. Since Hughes' customer base is small, she is able to spend a little time with each client.
"I want to become a trustworthy member of the family," she said. "I want my food to make a difference in their lives."
Isabel Rao, 80, who divides her time between Providence and Florida, hired Hughes to cook for her husband last summer when she was in a play in Warren. The meals were so tasty, she kept coming back.
"I couldn't stop," she said. "I sent a friend a week of meals and she told me it was the best gift she ever got."
Janet Gutterman, wife of Rabbi Emeritus Leslie Gutterman, met Hughes seven years ago when a friend gave her a gift of food delivery following a medical procedure.
"I've been doing it all these years," Janet Gutterman said. "It's tasty, healthy and Mary is the most wonderful person to deal with. We don't eat shellfish or pork. She is very responsive. I have a vegetarian daughter who she will accommodate. She has baked for me for the Jewish holidays."
Gutterman, who is 70, said she sometimes orders five entrees a month and puts three in the freezer.
"I'm seeing firsthand how wonderful this is for older people," she said.