Entrepreneur Spotlight: Ends+Stems
Q&A with Alison Mountford, Founder & Chef
Alison Mountford is the Founder of Ends+Stems — a meal planning and grocery management app that helps reduce household food waste. She’s been a chef and entrepreneur in San Francisco for 17 years and founded one of the first meal delivery companies (which sold in 2015). Alison is proud to have worked with more startups, businesses, and impactful individuals than she can count.
As Foundry’s private event caterer for 6+ years, you (sadly) mark the beginning of the pandemic with two canceled events at the Silicon Foundry Hub. How are you doing and how has your company, Ends+Stems, pivoted in response to COVID-19?
We had two events scheduled in the weeks before San Francisco went into the first lockdown and guests were expected to travel. They were the first things canceled and the first sign that this would be big.
Early fear around the safety of grocery shopping wasn’t helpful for Ends+Stems, which is a meal planning web-app. By spring though, the commitment to cooking at home was strong and people were looking for help with recipe ideas and grocery shopping.
More recently, I have begun partnering with startups and businesses to offer Ends+Stems as a company perk/benefit. Employees are given an account on the meal planning and recipe management site and we host virtual cooking classes that teach valuable skills to busy people trying to balance work from home, lack of childcare, and fewer eating out options.
It’s been very well-received in the first few months since launching the program. The classes are great for engagement and they’re fun, but employees are also learning how to set their kitchens up sustainably and realistically through topics like “How to prep dinner during a 15-minute lunch break.” Working parents have been especially enthusiastic about the app — which doesn’t require another Zoom meeting but still makes them feel supported by their employers.
Who do you work with currently and what’s the profile of your dream client?
We’re currently filling the last spots for the Ends+Stems for Business Beta in 2021; I would love to confirm launch dates for those last two spots! Good partners are industry agnostic, but have demonstrated a company culture of innovative care for their employees and an interest in corporate social responsibility, specifically in green initiatives. Our current partners have seen the Ends+Stems program as a unique way to replace a portion of lost in-office food benefits that will be easy to continue after some folks return to the office while others choose to stay home.
The ideal client is a growing startup with between 100–600 employees that doesn’t have a culinary team on payroll. They likely used to cater in-office lunches a few times per week and have considered caterers who donate leftovers. They’ve been providing fun, one-time activities most of the year, but are looking for something more consistent and easy to manage going forward to spare HR.
If you know this client, let’s connect!
Tell us a bit about your professional journey that’s led you to become a food waste advocate and entrepreneur.
My first goal was to be an entrepreneur. Immediately after college, I had a sales job, but I couldn’t stop brainstorming business models and ideas. I landed on the age-old, arguably bad advice — turn your hobby into your business. Cooking was the hobby that had the most potential, so I went to culinary school and started a personal chef service. That business grew to become one of SF’s first meal delivery services, a cafe, and a large corporate catering service as well. When building a self-funded culinary company, it becomes quickly apparent that managing food waste and purchasing is integral to succeeding or going bankrupt; thus, my first introduction to food waste was as a fiscal practicality. After selling my first company in 2015, I worked as the Procurement Director at a food tech startup where the waste was out of control. That inspired me to learn more, dig deeper, and eventually launch my next venture, Ends+Stems, with the mission of reducing food waste.
Other than amateur bakers discovering the joy of sourdough in quarantine, what food trends and technologies have been the most significant in 2020?
Foodie TikToks are taking over! They’re fun, silly, mesmerizing, and short enough to consume anytime. Multiple people have told me they were inspired to cook for the very first time because of something they saw on TikTok. And my personal favorite trend: cooking with what’s in your fridge! Quick trips to the store for just 1–2 ingredients don’t feel efficient or safe anymore; we are no longer taking for granted that we can have anything we want, anytime we want it — so we’re using what we have first.
As many of us continue to celebrate at home this holiday season, any recipe suggestions or pro tips for feeding a smaller-than-usual crowd?
Most importantly, when searching for “holiday recipes,” check how many people it’s written to serve. Many holiday recipes are larger than everyday recipes, but you might not need to cook 10 servings.
My favorite holiday dinner idea for a single household this year is an epic cheese and charcuterie snack board (don’t do this if you’re mixing households!). The trend is “more-is-more,” so get a big board and keep piling things on. There are no rules! Candy canes, mini egg muffins, small tartlets, cheese, meat, nuts, olives, bread, jams, hummus, roasted and raw veggies. I’ve even seen mini bagel pizza boards and make-your-own taco boards. It’s fun and unfussy, very Instagrammable, and feels different.
Or, give the What’s In Your Fridge Recipe Finder a go! Tell me 2 things in your fridge and I’ll tell you what to cook.