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Startup Brings Locally Produced Food To Consumers In A New Way

A startup meal prep service and delivery company is creating new partnerships with food producers and now a major grocery chain in Bloomington-Normal.

Eatology was created by Donovan Muldrow and Kristin Rae last spring. Muldrow pushed his friend and business partner Rae to start a meal prep service for families on the run just like hers.

Since its launch, the company has partnered with Schnucks and area farmers to supply fresh meals each week. Meals have to be pre-ordered by 1 p.m. on Friday for the Eatology chefs to prepare them and have them ready by Thursday of the following week. The ingredients for the meals are brought to the chefs by local vendors each week.

Eatology co-founders Donovan Muldrow and Kristin Rae
Credit Emily Bollinger / WGLT
Eatology co-founders Donovan Muldrow and Kristin Rae.

“Essentially, it's what we call a ghost kitchen, so you can't walk into a restaurant and order, it's all online. You go through our website—you order it and everything is purchased and prepared,” said Muldrow.

The idea of ghost kitchens is not entirely new, but there is now a term for it. Ghost kitchens were not mainstream until the pandemic hit, said Raghela Scavuzzo, associate director of food systems development at the Illinois Farm Bureau.

“Ghost kitchens are an interesting concept, but really came out of COVID. There were parameters of this before but ultimately ghost kitchens allow restaurants to partner together, or small value-added producers come together and use the kitchen while the restaurant is not in operation,” said Scavuzzo.

These kitchens are used to reduce costs while reducing food waste. The money earned is redistributed for carryout options or other access programs so the kitchen can still operate. Companies can make money and those that are producing food have access to somewhere to prepare it.

“I think this is a great opportunity to see some of our small businesses begin to find ways to reach a broader audience and reduce costs. Owning businesses like this have a lot of cost challenges if you're starting out and even if you're operating, so this is an innovative way that I think we're going to see continue even after the pandemic,” said Scavuzzo.

At Eatology, the meals are hand delivered by the co-founders, or customers can pick up their items from the Eatology chefs’ restaurant, A to Z’s Catering and Parties.

“It's about a weeklong process, but the reason why we have it that way and for me as a personal trainer and a coach—I know that nutrition is the number one thing that a lot of people have issues with and part of that is having a strategy and a plan,” said Muldrow.

The startup is gaining traction. Eatology meals have been sold at Schnucks stores in Bloomington-Normal since Jan. 19. That happened after Schnucks sent a mass email to local restaurants, looking to get more small businesses involved amid the pandemic.

Allen Chambers
Credit Emily Bollinger / WGLT
Allen Chambers from A to Z’s Catering and Parties helps with Eatology meal prep at his business in Bloomington.

“We were essentially the only one in the area to answer that call, and we were able to get it. It was a three- to four-month process with all the paperwork and making sure that we did everything by the book,” said Muldrow.

Food suppliers

Eatology’s food comes from various Illinois producers, including Cahokia Rice, PrairiErth Farm, Above Normal Eggs, Rantoul Foods and Honey Pimp Apiaries. They supply meat, rice, honey, eggs and more. Muldrow said locally sourced foods are important to his company.

“I've had eggs from a store and I've had eggs from literally a farm just down the road, and there is a stark difference,” he said.

Honey Pimp Apiaries in Atlanta, Ill., supplies Eatology with fresh honey for its breakfast offerings. The company got connected to Eatology through its partnership with PrairiErth Farm.

Honey Pimp Apiaries founder Tom Pankonen said he liked the idea of a meal prep company using local sources. Pankonen said he and his team were able to start Eatology with a couple gallons of honey and hopes to increase their supply to buckets.

“Hopefully, what we can do in the future is to be able to sell our bottled honey through their customers. They are already providing meal services and stuff like that, which I was super excited to hear ... (with) some local options that are not being shipped from all over the place and they are using local products and organic products which is near and dear to my heart,” said Pankonen.

Honey Pimp Apiaries has four bee locations with different pollen and nectar sources that give each a unique taste of honey, with different pollens inside.

Pankonen said honey has many health benefits and should be on everyone’s tables with their salt and pepper.

“Depending on your allergies, if you have seasonal allergies for outside—chances are that honey is probably going to help fix it,” said Pankonen.

Eatology plans to add a new feature to its website called “Eatology Essentials” that will let customers buy not only meals, but things such as milk or protein powders. The company wants to add a grocery feel to its brand. Accessibility is another priority, and Eatology is in the process of finding other locations for people to pick up food in a convenient manner.

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Camberyn Kelley is a WGLT intern focused on reporting and online writing. She is also a student in Illinois State University's School of Communication.