A lot of people think about changing the world when they graduate from college. Not so many risk everything to do it. Marisa Smith, founder and CEO of Ritual, is someone who decided to follow her passion for food from the outset.
Loaning money from family to get her business off the ground, Smith created a custom meal delivery service when she was just 23 tailored to the dietary and taste preferences of her clients. Herself plagued by health issues in part resolved through changes to diet, Smith wondered if other New Yorkers faced the same problems but lacked the time, motivation or access to fresh ingredients to address them. Little wonder therefore that her mission to this day continues to be to “empower people to live more fully.” Through a combination of business bravado, good taste and a flair for the delicious Ritual was born.
The chef-curated meal delivery service designed around custom dietary profiles and organic seasonal ingredients launched in early 2012. Ritual’s aim is to deliver healthy food, not “health food,” with portions tailored to individuals or groups. The results have been astoundingly successful. Smith’s business has grown from preparing one-off meals to renting food production space in Crown Heights to support a small team of dedicated chefs, delivery workers and food scientists. Despite only delivering on Sundays and Mondays (though the service is due to expand soon), Ritual operates seven days a week behind the scenes to source, test and prepare meal kits. An ever growing legion of hungry customers in Brooklyn and Manhattan now count on the service to prep restaurant-quality dinners for them and their families. Those keen to learn more can recreate the recipes afterwards with detailed instructions, provide feedback and choose from 25 different dishes a week.
Based next to Smorgasburg and Brooklyn Flea founders’ foodie lovechild Berg’n, it’s hard not to admire the cool factor of the young entrepreneur, her glamorous team and the hipsterlicious surroundings. Her chefs hail from Michelin-starred kitchens and other highly regarded food establishments. However this enterprise owes its success as much to strong business acumen as its cult following. Smith’s decision to enter into the meal delivery service arena coincided with a time when profits were right for the plucking. These days New Yorkers can count on Seamless, Grubhub or services like business-leaning FoodieForAll to deliver made-to-order food cooked in your favorite restaurant. Chef-to-home services like Kitchensurfing bring the restaurant to you. Beyoncé’s health-focused delivery plan or meal kit services like Plated and Blue Apron provide options for those looking to eat well without the shopping or prep factors. However for those looking to dig a little deeper to source chef-curated healthy, organic, non-GMO, local and “sustainable” meals Ritual fills a large gap. That’s a lot of different plates to juggle.
Similarly Smith’s attention to dietary restrictions without compromising on flavor sets her business apart. Initially adopting an “anything goes” approach to catering, she analyzed a dataset of over one hundred customers to determine main dietary preferences and food plans. Smith picked up a lot along the way. (Who knew, for example, that a dislike of cilantro tends to coincide with one of cumin?!) This level of planning and scrutiny now goes into the ingredients, texture, flavor and prep factor for each Ritual meal to ensure every omnivore, vegan, vegetarian, pescetarian or paleo plate meets a consistent standard when it arrives at your door. Scale that by a factor of 25 every week and it’s hard not to marvel at the dedication this first-time entrepreneur puts into her work. Even the name stems from a considered approach to her brand. Outgrowing the company’s initial “Sweet Roots” the business rebranded to “Ritual” after a customer noted the special place she accorded to the service. That name now reflects the customs of over a thousand loyal customers every week. With her fledgling business now primed to leave the nest and expand to new boroughs and cities, Smith exudes the gravitas of an entrepreneur twice her age.
Each Ritual meal kit costs $25 and takes less than 30 minutes to prepare. A full list of ingredients used in each dish can be found online before you order. Customers can order from a range of dishes grouped by dietary preference or combine for groups and families. Deliveries take place on Sundays and Mondays in allotted two-hour slots with Ritual hoping to expand delivery to more days a week soon. Once delivered, food will keep fresh in the refrigerator for up to four days.
Photos courtesy of Ritual