The New Convenience Foods: Healthy, Plant-based, Delivered to Your Home
Long workday, hungry family, no time to make a healthy meal. It’s why restaurant delivery services and meal plans are so popular – and why Artichoke Foods is turning out vegan meals as fast as they can.
You can get nearly anything you want delivered to your home: cantinas, juice deliveries, paleo meal plans, low-carb, meals prepped and ready to cook, even farm-to-table choices. But Maria Alemann couldn’t find what she was seeking: simple, homestyle, plant-based meals. Her journey led to creation of Artichoke: Foods Made from the Heart.
Alemann is not a chef. But she grew up in a family where everyone cooked. When she moved to Miami from Buenos Aires in 1998, Alemann worked at bakeries and studied hospitality management at FIU, graduating in 2004. After stints in tourism and travel, she returned to restaurants, working at an Argentinean steakhouse. But the ethics of eating animals weighed heavily, and at a barbecue, she decided not to eat meat from that day on. She started working for the fledgling juice company Jugofresh – now one of South Florida’s best known cold-pressed juice and healthy food bars, with 10 locations – and suddenly she found her joy.
Inspired at Work
“It’s beautiful when your job is something that inspires you,” she says. After three years at Jugofresh, Alemann left when she was pregnant with her first child. She started to look for healthy, organic, plant-based baby food. “Nothing fancy, just simple, warm-up-and-eat foods,” she says. Not finding anything, she started to make tasty, meatless recipes for friends. The seeds of an idea for a business were planted. Enter friend and fellow vegan, Silvana Lettieri, who had recently moved to South Florida. “She said, ‘I need to learn to cook and you need help,’” recalls Alemann. She, her husband and Lettieri formed a vegan meal plan company called Artichoke: Foods Made from the Heart, named for Alemann’s favorite flower.
“Eating an artichoke is a ritual,” she says. “As you go deeper toward the heart, the leaves are softer and the flavor changes. The heart is the best part.”
They rented commercial kitchen space and found suppliers for organic ingredients that are free of pesticides, preservatives, additives, hormones and GMOs. Recipes were inspired by various cuisines – Latin American, Italian, Indian, among others – that fit their goal of serving home-style plant-based cooking that’s delicious and nutritious. “We made a decision that health is priority number one,” Alemann says. “Respecting Mother Nature is our core value. Our dishes are seasonal; exploring what the earth has to offer at its perfect time and moment.”
“We also try to be eco-friendly,” adds Lettieri. They decided to use packaging that is 100 percent biodegradable and recyclable, including labels made from eco-friendly stone paper made from calcium carbonate. They want get B Corp certification that meets standards of social and environmental performance, accountability and transparency.
To market their meal plan, the trio first looked online via Facebook. “But it’s hard to sell food online,” she says. So they set up shop at what was then the new Wynwood Farmers Market located behind The Lab. They brought lentil balls, croquettes and some of their spreads. “We weren’t prepared,’ Alemann says. “We sold out.” They started going to other markets, including Pinecrest Gardens, the Indie Craft Bazaar in Fort Lauderdale, Miami Flea and the Seed Food and Wine Festival, gradually expanding their recognition and customer base by talking to people about their products. “Nowadays people want to know who’s behind their project.”
They discovered that most of their customers aren’t even vegan or vegetarian. “They’re mostly mothers with kids and busy schedules. They’re buying our meals because they’re healthy. People are looking for not processed, meatless dishes with fresh ingredients.” Some also want gluten-free choices, so they’ve added some to their menu.
Next up: kids’ menus, “all-organic, non-GMO,” says Alemann. “We’re trying it out on our friends’ kids: vegan quesadilla, veggie burgers, empanadas, croquettes, broccoli and cauliflower, brownies, vanilla and chocolate pudding.” she says. They’re also doing vegan catering for parties. She and her team may be working seven days a week, but Alemann is happy with it. “When you’re aligned with your purpose, everything comes together.”
Menu items include soups, including butternut squash and carrot, portobello mushroom and broccoli spinach ($8.99); entrees like chicken-less curry with basmati rice and super green croquettes with kibebe (squash) puree, around $12; and spreads and dressings ($5.99-7.99). Customers place their orders online for delivery. A sample meal plan is $49.99 and a five-day gluten-free meal plan is $99.99.
Find Artichoke Foods at farmers markets at Pinecrest Gardens (year-round) and Coral Gables (seasonal); the Indie Craft Bazaar in Fort Lauderdale, the monthly Miami Flea in the Arts and Entertainment District in Miami, and the Wynwood Farmers Market (check website for dates and locations).