Meet and Love: Deepti Sharma
1. First, please tell us a little bit about yourself and your company.
FoodtoEat is a woman-owned corporate catering concierge service that focuses on connecting corporations with immigrant women, and minority-run restaurants in NYC. O started it in 2011. I’m a first-generation Indian-American and come from a political background; after years of campaign work, community-building activities, and a passion for diverse food choices, I stumbled upon an idea while waiting in line at a food truck for a cookie. I realized that some of NYC’s most delicious food creators were so small that they didn’t have the infrastructure to reach tens of thousands of potential clients who could make their businesses sustainable. What started as an individual ordering platform for small restaurants soon morphed into a concierge service that connects food vendors with opportunities for growth, ultimately helping them strengthen their own business skills.
2. What was your biggest inspiration for starting Food To Eat?
My desire to always build up communities and create opportunity for underserved people.
3. What is your favorite part about being your own boss?
I love not knowing it all and being able to hire a group of people that I can learn things from. I know I can become a better leader by listening to them.
4. What is the most challenging aspect of being your own boss?
When you’re in a start-up, your team becomes an extension of your family, at times. It’s hard to say ‘no’ to them when you really want to help them through everything, but you can’t because at the end of the day, you’re running a business that you want to help keep alive.
5. Please take us through an average day in the life of Deepti Sharma.
I wake up and recite a couple of old Hindu mantras and meditate; my grandfather taught me when I was young. These help me mentally prepare for my day. I include my kids in these now because the first thing they want to do is jump all over me. I’ve also started to incorporate gratitude.
After that, I TRY to read the news (both BBC & NYT) so I have a sense of what happened in the world while I was sleeping. I'll see if I can fit in some yoga or running depending on time.
My husband and I split getting the kids ready, breakfast & lunch prepped and out the door.
Drop Zubin (my 3-year-old) off at daycare and Chetan (my 15-month-old) at my parents.
Get to work (depends on how crazy the morning was)
6 or 7 p.m.
Start making my way home, unless I have events/meetings to go to.
Spinning/Running if I can fit it in before heading home.
7 or 8 p.m.
Pick up the kids and make our way home.
Get kids to bed and hopefully get to catch up on work or occasionally unwind.
10 or 11 p.m.
Go to bed
6. What are your everyday essentials for when you're on-the-go?
A good fanny pack that allows me to be hands-free (my new Phenomenal Woman Harriet Tubman one is on the way or my other go-to is by Rebecca Minkoff) especially when I’m around the kids; sunscreen: the best skin care advice my mother gave me; a good playlist to keep me moving; and a pair of sneakers so that I can run whenever I want.
7. Your company champions diversity and supports small businesses. What obstacles have you had to overcome when building your business and how have you overcome them?
When I first started the company, I didn't necessarily realize I had to "sell" the mission to folks I was hiring. If they knew how to sell or code, I would hire them, but I had a lot of turnover. When I realized that the mission was an important part of the hiring process, I was able to retain people on my team longer.
We've also had people tell us they didn't want ethnic food because it smells, which brings back memories from my childhood. We are educating people about food from all over the world. It's one of the main reasons why we love working with immigrant-, women- and minority-owned restaurants.
At FoodtoEat, we're helping corporations realize that in order to create an inclusive environment, they need to think about diversity ad inclusivity beyond hiring. Once you have a diverse team in the door, you need to create an inclusive environment. Food is one of the best ways to do that. That's also why we started the I Made Your Food campaign: to humanize food.
8. The #IMadeYourFood campaign is inspiring and gives your chefs a chance to tell their stories. Which #IMadeYourFood story stands out to you most?
We want people to understand the importance of their food and pay homage to the people behind it. We believe it’s important that our clients (and New Yorkers in general) have a better understanding of the human beings that create, cook and deliver their food every day: their background, their beliefs, their passion, and their story.
One of my favorite stories is the story of Charles Chipengule, the chef and owner of Jaa Dijo Dom, an African catering business that serves cuisines from different African nations to educate customers about dishes that are traditional for each region. Charles started working in food in his native country, Botswana, but due to gender stereotypes, he was never fully given the opportunity to pursue his dream of becoming a chef. So, he decided to emigrate to the U.S., saving up for a year and eventually selling his house and his car to be able to afford the plane ticket. When he arrived in New York, he started washing dishes at an Indian restaurant and then hopped around, working at different restaurants throughout Manhattan, Brooklyn and Queens before enrolling in cooking courses to further improve his skills and get familiar with plating and the utensils and machinery he didn’t have in Africa. After working in so many different restaurants, he realized that there was a serious need for African food in NYC’s food industry and that he could make the cuisine more accessible to New Yorkers. He started his catering business, Jaa Dijo Dom, in June of 2017, and in two years, has gone from running the business by himself (prepping the food, cooking the food and doing the deliveries alone) to having five employees. Although it’s been difficult for Charles to navigate the food industry as an immigrant (he’s had to put all of his own money into the business and borrow money from friends and family because banks won’t give him a loan), he’s never given up. He sees both the culture in Botswana and the conversation around African cuisine in New York changing, and it motivates him to keep working. His passion and his perseverance, despite all of the challenges that he’s faced, are truly inspiring.
9. If you had to choose the last meal you would ever eat, what would you choose to eat?
Kichidi. It's basically a savory porridge of lentils, rice, and vegetables. My mom used to make it for me growing up. It’s traditionally made when someone isn’t feeling well, so I call it “the chicken noodle soup for Indians.” I love watching my parents make it, because they make it seem so simple. They open the fridge while singing their traditional Bollywood songs, rummage around for some vegetables, and effortlessly combine it with the lentils and rice to create the ultimate comfort food. Now, we do Kichidi Sundays where I add my own twists to it.
10. Lastly, what does "Love Squad" mean to you?
To me, Love Squad is bringing a group of diverse individuals together to create and build a more inclusive world.