What’s for Dinner?

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by Kate Siber D’02   Feb 23, 2016

Pantry, a new food retailer founded by Dennis Lasko T’08, has the answer.

It’s 7 p.m. You’ve had a marathon day of meetings, and it dawns on you that there’s nothing in the fridge at home but some wilted parsley and a few lonely beers. How do you cook healthy, delicious meals when you’re short on time and energy? Dennis Lasko T’08 and Amanda Mayo, a gastronomy professor at Boston University, have a novel solution: Pantry.

A new retail shop that opened in August in Brookline, Massachusetts, Pantry offers all of the pre-portioned ingredients you need—plus a recipe—to make a home-cooked meal in less than 45 minutes. In a soothingly grey-hued room with wood floors and a vintage fireplace adorned with reclaimed wood, customers choose from about 20 recipes, from crispy-skin salmon with creamy barley and red veined sorrel-and-dill salad to kimchi meatloaf with soy butter roasted potatoes, each for about $18 to $24 for two. Need a drink? The store offers paired wines and beers by the bottle.

“We’re trying to take all the intimidation out of cooking—and drinking,” says Mayo, who signed on as chief gastronomic officer after she met Lasko through her husband, David Chin T’08, principal for Palladin Consumer Retail Partners. So far, Pantry has increased sales each month since it opened, has only received five-star reviews on Yelp (with the exception of one four-star review that requested more recipes), and recently launched delivery throughout the Boston area. While perfecting their concept in Brookline, Lasko and Mayo are asking the obvious question: Where to next? 

Lasko had an inkling that a concept like this would succeed because he had already seen it work elsewhere and in different forms. He was an enthusiastic customer of Blue Apron, an online retailer that sends a recipe and a box of fresh ingredients to your home. And he watched similar online subscription models and food-delivery services, such as Seattle-based Lish, founded by Aakhil Fardeen T’08, proliferate.

On a 2014 trip to Munich to visit Alexander Koepnick T’08, co-founder of White Knight Capital, Lasko discovered Kochhaus, an attractive German chain that offers pre-portioned recipe kits, appealing to both aspiring cooks and harried professionals. “There is no Kochhaus in the U.S. market but it makes perfect sense,” says Koepnick. In two months, he raised enough funding for Lasko to launch Pantry.

“It really is the right product for our time,” says Koepnick. “People more and more are enjoying cooking, and that’s why these companies like Blue Apron and Plated have such tremendous growth rates—but we really believe we have the best offer in that market.”

It took about a year—with plenty of challenges—to get Pantry’s doors open. Mayo painstakingly painted and sanded, made sure everything met code, and perfected the recipes in her home kitchen, using her husband as a taste-tester. “I made some real stinkers,” she jokes. “That’s why we test these recipes about 50 times.”

Meanwhile, Lasko hand-built the store’s tables, organized the building contractors, and wrangled the paperwork, from the liquor permit to the certificate of occupancy. Now, after several months of business, more than 50 percent of their credit card sales are repeat customers. Mayo is constantly devising new meals with exotic, hard-to-source ingredients like ras el hanout, a Moroccan spice blend that’s delicious as a chicken rub, and the team hopes to open their next store in a year or two.

“For me, what hits home is for busy people this really makes a difference,” says Lasko. “You can do that home-cooked meal in a reasonable amount of time—and it not only helps you be healthier, it helps your family be healthier too.”