Reframing the Family Meal: Stocked by Three Owls Founder Suzanne Lehrer
As the year winds down, you may be thinking about how can the day to day flow more easily. One area that I personally and many other moms I know struggle with – is the dinner time department. I am a good cook, but I need a break. And I am not looking for five-course meals but food that inspires me yet at the same time is healthy, delicious and will get eaten by the entire family.
A few months back, I stumbled upon a delicious solution—Stocked by Three Owls, founded by chef and cookbook author Suzanne Lehrer Dumaine. I had been running around all day, and while visiting a friend, I was offered a tasty vegetable dish that, along with a delicious dressing, was enough to linger in my foodie brain for months afterward.
I recently touched base with the reason for my epicurean delight, Suzanne Lehrer, to learn more about how this pandemic-era new mom reshaped her business into a full fledge served at your door service of healthy food -perfect if looking for some nights off from cooking this new year.
What was your defining moment in going from a storefront with your business to focusing on delivering food in the tri-state area?
Sitting at home during lockdown with both a new brick and mortar business in Covid freefall, and a new baby, something just clicked for me to connect the two. I was an exhausted new parent wishing for prepared foods to magically arrive at my doorstep (despite being a trained chef), and also the owner of a shop that made the exact type of food I was craving. I saw a distinct hole in the food delivery space to accomplish what I was looking for; something closer to a marketplace model instead of single-serving subscription or a meal kit, where you could stock up for days with healthful food to mix and match. Maximum flexibility, and the happiness of a full fridge. At your door.
I decided to take a leap and threw together Stocked in three weeks as a last-ditch effort to save the business I had worked so hard on. We did almost zero marketing, put up a Shopify site, and sent it out into the world. When the (then-shuttered) dining area of our shop was completely covered in food packing operations a few weeks later for customers all over NYC, I knew I was onto something and told myself to just keep going.
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You are a pandemic-era mom; how did you handle reshifting Three Owls into Stocked by Three Owls and managing a baby in a pandemic(!)?
Becoming a first-time mom during the height of the first Covid outbreak quickly eroded any fantasies I had about what that newborn and postpartum experience would be like (visitors, for example!). But in the process, I built a new level of resilience that permeated everything else I took on. The business I had started only a year earlier had also felt like my baby, an intensely personal endeavor, and I watched it take a sharp downward turn I didn’t plan on and couldn’t control.
Being an overwhelmed new mom gives you no other choice but to keep going, even when it feels impossible, and I felt the same about Stocked. I was going to give it all I got, trust my instincts that this was a product people wanted as much as I did, and if it didn’t work out, I now had a real baby that needed me, and a whole new dimension of my life to engage with that I was equally excited about. Feeling like I was somehow supporting other families wishing for an easier solution to the eternal “what should we eat” dilemma kept me motivated.
Since you feed New Yorkers, what kind of work goes into planning the meals you serve them?
As a mom, busy New Yorker, and a giant fan of prepared foods, I plan meals based on what I wish was in my own fridge at home to get into the mindset of our customers. When we plan meals, we keep in mind that New Yorkers are always on the go, and usually so are their kids! They usually have less time to cook than they would like (and tinier kitchens!), and despite a sea of restaurant delivery options, they want something that feels homemade.
I’m also keenly aware that New Yorkers are spoiled for choice, and that makes them the world’s toughest critics. Our food has to be great to stand out here. We spend hours developing and testing recipes (and making sure we love them throughout the week in our own fridges at home), combing customer feedback for insight, and obsessing over getting the product up to a New York standard.
Can you share with us the foods that enlighten you as a chef and a mom that help to inspire you in the meals you serve to your customers?
When I’m “off the clock” cooking for my family on a lazy Sunday morning, or for a dinner party on a Saturday night is typically when I come up with the ideas that inspire our menus. At Stocked, we have a rotating “vegetable pancake” every week that’s a bestseller for both parents and kids alike, and it stemmed from a Sunday morning spinach pancake recipe I made with my son at home, just messing around in the kitchen together.
Vegetables are at the forefront of many of our dishes, so I’m always pushing myself to get as creative as possible to develop new iterations of them every single week – for both adults and kids. I think ultimately proteins are easy, it’s working with vegetables, through the lens of “what will our families truly want in their fridge” that really pushes me to be a better and more thoughtful chef.