Longmont resident Phaedra Culjak noticed that local restaurateurs, food producers and caterers turned to social media to sell their products as the pandemic weighed on the food service industry. From this realization, she hatched a business idea that would help other small firms.
In February, Culjak launched EatingPost — an online platform to purchase locally-made food items, farm-to-consumer products and prepped meal services from neighborhood chefs.
“One thing I noticed during the Covid crisis is I kept seeing more and more people on social media trying to sell food products,” Culjak said. “I started noticing a need out there in the community to start enabling those people to sell their products more.”
She wanted to find a better solution than selling goods on Facebook Marketplace.
EatingPost offers a user-friendly way to list products so chefs, bakers, farmers and other food-makers can focus on their craft rather than marketing. Culjak sees EatingPost as a way to help Longmont’s food industry while utilizing her extensive business experience.
Culjak,a serial entrepreneur, was a founding member and worked in upper management for a number of companies including food temperature-moderating software company TempTRIP LLC, a subsidiary of the packaging-product giant Sealed Air Corp.
Culjak’s first vendor to join the platform was her friend Jered Reif, owner of Thyme Savor Chef. Before the pandemic, Reif booked commercial catering gigs, but that part of the business dried up, he said. His meal kit service, where he prepares mostly completed dishes for customers to easily cook at home, became a prominent part of his brand.
As the single chef and employee of his business, Reif has to wear several hats. He marketed his services through Facebook ads and word-of-mouth exposure. The marketing side is Reif’s least favorite part of owning a small business, but he knows that it’s crucial to gain customers, he said. Since becoming a vendor on EatingPost last month, he has started to see new customers ordering Thyme Savor Chef meals.
“By using EatingPost, the goal is that that's going to help me with the marketing so I don't have to spend as much time trying to get my brand out there,” Reif said.
Now Reif, a chef of 35 years, has more time to focus on his favorite aspect of his business: cooking. He posts a changing menu weekly on his site, linking back to his profile on EatingPost for orders. This week features smoked korean-style ribs, Maryland crab cakes and baked ziti. Orders are required to be placed the Sunday prior to delivery days. He delivers meals around Boulder County and Eastern Weld County every Wednesday.
Vendors are responsible for their own deliveries, but Culjak plans on forming an EatingPost delivery system. Still in the startup phase and securing investors, Culjak works from her Longmont home. The goal is to set up an office and warehouse for inventory to fulfill deliveries for multiple vendors, she said.
Current sellers are included in the “beta vendors” group and joined EatingPost without needing to pay a commission fee. Starting in April, a small amount from each sale will be charged by EatingPost but listing items on the site will remain free. However, money raised through the website will go towards an in-the-works mentorship program for food industry entrepreneurs. When the mentorship program is eventually launched, the program will advise business owners on licensing and requirements for starting a business, suggest courses and food safety classes and offer other resources.
“It's so community focused, because I see it as a platform to also give back to the community, mentor people on starting businesses and enable them to get their businesses going when they may not have the wherewithal to be able to do it on their own.,” Culjak said.
Other features are still in the works including a review system to help vendors gain customer recognition. There’s an option to rate products, but she said for vendors like Thyme Savor Chef that changes menus frequently, it's not as helpful.
Plans for onboarding food truck businesses is also in the works. When food trucks are added to the site, customers can easily find parking schedules and locate trucks in real time with an EatingPost app.
Though the service is currently targeted towards the individual consumer, it will eventually feature a wholesale market. Restaurants and retail will be able to use the database to find local products and farms.
EatingPost features 10 vendors, 25 categories and 72 products, and Culjak already has more small businesses interested in joining, she said. While EatingPost is focused on Longmont she’s seen interest from businesses outside of the city, including the non-profit produce box LittleJohn Produce Boxes which serves from Denver to Fort Collins. Culjak said EatingPost will likely expand out of the community, but will remain true to its buy-local mission. The site would still show customers locally-sourced items.
The Covid-crisis opened up a market where consumers want to support their local businesses and Culjak believes that the trend is going to stick. Out of all the startups she’s worked on in her career, she’s the most excited for EatingPost, she said. It’s her way of giving back to the town she’s called home for more than 20 years.
“I hope that we have a full fledged community supported retail and wholesale marketplace that's vibrant, and has provided a lot of opportunity for a lot of people,” Culjjak said. “At this stage in my life, having done a number of companies, the idea that this can be a business that helps enable other people to start and grow businesses, to me makes it more meaningful.”