On Nutrition: An Interview with Kendal’s Kitchen

Happy Monday! I hope you’ve had a chance to read my latest On Nutrition column in The Seattle Times, “5 healthy meal-delivery services in Seattle, taste-tested.” For the article, I interviewed Kendal Swinski of Kendal’s Kitchen, but was only able to fit a fraction of what we talked about into the article. So I decided to let her do more talking by way of a Q&A.
But first, I wanted to share a story from Kendal’s Kitchen customer Anna Wade that I loved, but couldn’t fit into the article. Basically, it goes like this: 
  • BKK (Before Kendal’s Kitchen) lunch for Anna was along the lines of a cheese stick, an oatmeal raisin cookie and a soda at her desk. 
  • When Anna replaced that not-so-great lunch with a mason jar of Kendal’s soup, she ran into a problem: The microwave was all the down the hall in the breakroom. She decided there was no way she was going to carry hot soup back to her desk, because with her luck she would drop it, and be forevermore known as “the girl who spilled her soup in the hall.” 
  • “Because I can’t eat it at my desk, it forces me to sit down away from my desk and take an actual lunch break, which is life-changing for someone who hasn’t ever taken a break!
Whoo-hoo! And now the Q&A:

About Kendal
Kendal grew up in the suburbs of Baltimore, Maryland, where she said she grew up eating the typical American diet “I had never had a fresh beet.” At one point in her journey, she was living with a family who was into vegetarian, whole foods cooking, and she decided she wanted to learn more and expand on her interest in food and the idea of balance. She came to the Seattle area to study nutrition at Bastyr University in Kenmore, and the rest is history! 

Q: What led you to start Kendal’s Kitchen? 
A: I felt that there was a need for this type of thing. People with food sensitivities have a hard time keeping up with the cooking they often must do for themselves. Busy people without food sensitivities also have a really hard time keeping up with home cooking and eating well. I began with an experimental group of friends in which some had food sensitivities or allergies and some didn’t. I cooked to the “lowest common denominator” (no gluten or dairy) and everyone was happy to eat that way. The people without any need to restrict their diets just appreciated really good-tasting food and didn’t miss the items left out – they were so grateful to feel really nourished.

Q: What did Kendal’s Kitchen look like when you first started it? 
A: I first rented kitchen space in a shared commissary in Ballard (which is no longer there) for a limited amount of time each week. I had a set schedule that I had to fit all of my prep and production in, as well as space on shelves and in the coolers. I started it all by myself, very scrappily! I did some trade with a friend who designed my branding and created a website template for me. I knew a little html, so wrote my own site and used a site called Dibspace (which is/was an indirect trade community or platform) to rack up enough trade credits to use toward hiring someone to build a secure shopping cart to plug in to the site I had made. That was the very beginning!

Q: How did you get your first customers? What was your original delivery area compared to what it is now? 
A: My very first customers were that experimental group – friends, and friends of friends. I’m not sure I remember very clearly what my original delivery area was, but I’m pretty sure it was just the Seattle area – I drew a perimeter on a map and had the developer use that to determine my delivery area for the shopping cart. Since I had the website redesigned, the developer couldn’t make the same thing happen so I broadened my area when I incorporated my old delivery area into a zip code format. This has actually made things a bit more difficult for us, but more people are happy to be able to receive our meals!

Q: When did you move to a bigger kitchen space? 
A: We moved recently to a larger shared kitchen, where we have been able to rent more space. We are still trying to find our own space, but the search to find something that we can afford on our own within a decent central location is really difficult. It is looking like we will need to expand by quite a bit in order to make that happen.

Q: Are you out making deliveries every week? (I was surprised that you personally made MY delivery!) 
A: Most weeks, I make at least a few deliveries. I often take the ones that are not close to any others so I don’t have to pay someone to sit in traffic. I can do that and have a moment to think through things or listen to an audiobook – except for when traffic and drivers are really bad, my driving time is mostly meditative. Also, though most people are not there when I deliver, I really do like meeting them when they are there.

Q: What is your mission/intention/vision for what Kendal’s Kitchen provides to its customers? What made you decide to offer all gluten-free foods? 
A: We want to inspire and enable people to care for their health and that of their families. Kendal’s Kitchen has a great opportunity to inspire people to make healthier choices on a regular basis through tasty food. We get to dispel the myth that healthy food is inherently “unappetizing, bland, or insert other negative descriptor.” We build menus that are approachable by most and add small things that might be a little outside the comfort zone. I want to take people on a little adventure in discovering the humongous scope of healthy eating. Especially when someone is faced with new restrictions to their usual diet, the most empowering and liberating thing is to discover that there is so much more out there, pushing those more familiar things aside becomes less of an issue.

I decided to offer all gluten-free foods because there are so many other things out there. Gluten containing foods can be delicious, but they are everywhere. It is not something sorely needed and missing from most Americans’ diets. Vegetables are. Carefully processed foods are. This is what we want to provide.

Q: Your food is healthy and fresh, made from whole-food ingredients, but you don’t offer nutrition information. Is this intentional, or is it something that you plan to offer at some point? 
A: This is a little bit intentional. As I mentioned earlier, I am the sole administrator here. It is a large project to make sure that the nutrition information is accurate and accurately displayed, and it just has not made it to the top of my priority list yet. That said, I do think that people can do themselves a great disservice when attaching too much to the “stats” of food. Just like a relationship with another human cannot be understood or felt through a tally of the individuals’ physical or chemical makeup, how the food makes you feel will never be known through nutrition information.

I believe that if you are eating balanced, healthy and wholesome foods with some good general knowledge about calorie density, that detailed tracking is just busywork. There are some circumstances in which people must watch certain nutrients in a similar way to how some people must avoid gluten. For that reason, I do plan to offer some nutrition information at some point.

Q: Do you have a “typical” customer?
A: We have a pretty good mix, really. I would say the most “typical” aspect in our customers is that they are concerned with eating well and find everyday meal preparation either overwhelming or just not something they like to do. The majority of our customers use our service during times when life is just a little more hectic or there is some kind of disturbance to their usual routine. New babies, injuries, illness, spousal travel, kitchen remodels are all popular reasons. Some people watch our menu rotations and order to stock up their freezer when they see their favorites appear.

Q: Do you currently have plans for expansion, or are you satisfied with the size/scope of your business as it is right now? 
A: We are working on expansion. Not of delivery area, but in scope to some degree. In order to afford our own kitchen space, we may add a delivery day, add a special program to our menu and/or add a limited-hours café. I like the reach of the meal delivery, but do miss direct interaction with people. Though the café would be a really big addition to our workload, I could also see it creating a kind of vibrancy for the business. We all like to see how we are touching people’s lives and truly helping.