I remember the moment I reached my backpacking spoon into my pouch of recently rehydrated Thai curry, and realized that the backcountry would never be the same again. I was used to just-add-water camping meals that only tasted good after a day of willingly kicking your own ass up a mountainside. They were the ones that also required you to drink a gallon of water afterwards.
But, this moment was different. This moment tasted like—real food. It tasted like food I would eat even if not hiking up a hill with a heavy load on my back.
On my trips to come, I’d sample my way through a whole bunch of pouches that tasted this way—herbed mushroom risotto, Indian vegetable korma, smoked three bean chili, pad Thai, classic marinara with penne. They tasted like real food because, well, they were.
Good To-Go specializes in the world’s greatest just-add-water meals, and behind the glory is the venerable Jennifer Scism. Jennifer is a professional chef. She graduated from The French Culinary Institute in Manhattan, and has worked at a variety of successful restaurants. She was also a part of the first team to beat Mario Batali on the TV Food Network’s Iron Chef—the show’s first all women team, to boot! After 10 years as owner of one of NYC’s top restaurants, she headed up to Maine where she met her future husband, David Koorits.
Jennifer and David co-founded Good To-Go to combine their love of outdoor adventure with Jennifer’s passion for creating delicious food. Now, we’re all benefiting from their partnership.
I had the chance to ask Jennifer some questions about her business. Her thoughtful responses reflected not only her care for the food she creates, but also for the well-being of her staff. Supporting an entrepreneurial woman like this at the same time I’m filling my belly with tasty meals is one of those win-wins I love to find in the companies I support.
KB: Starting your own business can be scary! What would you say is the most valuable character trait you have that has helped you be successful in taking on this adventure?
JS: You hit the nail on the head with your question. It is scary, but acknowledging the risks and not letting your fears guide you is instrumental in growing a successful business. My husband and business partner, David, and I both face our challenges with a strong sense of tenacity. We are planners, thinkers, and hard-working; and in order to have our ideas become a reality our greatest strength is our grit. We get sh*t done.
KB: What is the most important characteristic that you have had to develop or learn since beginning your entrepreneurship journey?
JS: Successful entrepreneurs have many of the same character traits. They’re driven, creative, risk tolerant, and highly motivated. I feel like I had all those traits starting Good To-Go, but the one that I’ve had to really develop is business skills. I’m practical and conservative by nature, which is good for business, but my college degree was in interior design, and I have my culinary and sommelier degrees, all of which don’t add up to an MBA. I’ve spent time working with advisors, accountants, lawyers, and strategists to hone and develop the business skillset needed to run a successful business. Luckily, I love numbers. Quickbooks is second nature to me now, and I’m obsessed with spreadsheets. I even write recipes in Excel nowadays!
KB: You’ve done a lot of traveling as a part of your study of food. In what ways did you draw upon this experience of regional cuisine in order to make your backcountry meals stand out?
JS: If you look at the category of “easy” to prepare camping food, you will find a plethora of traditional American cuisine. My experiences cooking professionally, as well as traveling, have been on a global level. I traveled extensively through Southeast Asia and Europe for a year, eating my way from country to country, savoring and learning the culinary styles and flavors. Bringing those life experiences to my professional cooking career seemed like the most natural expression of my love of food and travel. That’s my go-to for inspiration, which sets Good To-Go’s meals apart from the rest.
KB: How do you strike the balance between scaling your production to meet increasing demand, and keeping the great taste that comes from your meals being handmade by a chef?
JS: When I create a Good To-Go meal, I test it on a very small scale. If things go well and the flavors and textures are right on, I increase the size of my test batch. I keep increasing the size to finally match what our kettles and dehydrator can handle. If all tests go well, then we put the meal into our production schedule. We’ve had failures and things don’t make the cut, but it’s our constant quality control that keeps things delicious and up to our standards.
KB: I’m always looking for companies that not only sell a product, but also give back in a meaningful way. In what ways have you incorporated social responsibility into your business model?
JS: Incorporating social responsibility into a business model should be done in the start-up phase of the company. David and I feel strongly that our first responsibility is to our employees. The success of Good To-Go can only be attributed to the many hands that it takes to build the business. It’s from that belief that once a strong team is formed, the business can give back to the larger community.
Obviously, as a small start-up, salaries are one of the biggest challenges and opportunities for us. As the business grows, we continually revisit salaries and adjust accordingly. David and I are also not the highest paid in the company, as our priority is to take care of the staff first.
We also do company-wide gatherings at least once a quarter. From beach cookouts (hey, we’re on the coast of Maine!) to baseball games and pumpkin carving in the fall, we get both staff and families to get together and bond outside of work.
Outside of the company, we began by supporting the White Pine Programs, a local Maine organization serving children and adults with quality nature connection experiences. This year, we also became a member of The Conservation Alliance, a nonprofit whose mission is to protect wild places for their habitat and recreation values. And, in 2018, we are joining 1% For The Planet, whose mission is to support their nonprofit partners in protecting land, water, climate, and food systems.
KB: Where do you hope to see your business in 10 years?
JS: My hope for Good To-Go in ten years is simple: to continue to make and provide the most delicious and healthy meals to outdoor enthusiasts. I hope to provide the support, benefits, and services to our staff that they deserve because it is their dedication that has gotten us to where we are.
I also hope to continue to work with our local Maine and U.S.-based growers that pride themselves on delivering the best quality ingredients. By supporting our farms, we help ensure they are successful and continue to provide safe and healthy food in a sustainable environment. It’s not my desire to be a massive manufacturer, but a quality producer of amazing meals that customers are proud to take wherever their next adventure may lead them.