Good Recipes, Not Fences, Make Good Neighbors, Stevens Students Say
Subscription Service Aims to Share Cultures, Tear Down Walls by Sharing Food
Unless she’s enjoying a visit from her family, Nicole Kloepping can’t find chicha morada anywhere.
Kloepping, a senior at the School of Business at Stevens Institute of Technology, can get ahold of the drink — made from purple corn and a variety of spices — when her family from Bolivia visits. Otherwise, she can’t find the right ingredients, even in the Bolivian enclaves of Queens, N.Y.
That’s what makes The Global Plate such an interesting concept for her. It’s a subscription box service with a twist — it specializes in hard-to-find spices and seasonings, with a companion website listing various recipes where customers can create international dishes or lend exotic flair to old favorites.
“I can’t readily share these foods that I grew up with — they’re so hard to find,” Kloepping said. “I’m hoping that, through this project, we can spread some of these foods to a much wider audience.”
The six seniors behind the project hit on the idea as a way to leverage their diverse backgrounds. In addition to Kloepping’s Bolivian roots, the team claims heritage from Malaysia and the Philippines, in addition to northern and central Europe.
Aimed at younger customers
The project has evolved both as a subscription service and a website. Senior Matthew Labianca said the team is now finalizing the size and price of the monthly box, which is expected to run $10 a month — well below the going rate for competitors like Blue Apron.
That’s by design, said Robert Keyser, another member of the team.
“We’re really aimed at the 18- to 30-year-old range, so we have to be price conscious,” he said. “But this generation is a great customer. We’re more experimental — our parents might not eat Thai food, or sushi, but you survey students here and they eat sushi once a week.”
The team, which is rounded out by fellow seniors Jen Rizzo, Carlyle Migallos and Faizah Azhar, has rolled out its website; in addition to recipes, it offers a store listing some hard-to-find ingredients, with orders fulfilled by Amazon. That’s designed to make the service even more accessible.
“The core factor in determining what people eat is accessibility,” Migallos said. “With a subscription service, you ship it straight to your door — it makes things so much easier to people who otherwise might not experiment with these foods.”
While no one on the team has any immediate plans to continue The Global Plate, Azhar said it’s a concept she’d be interested in revisiting down the road, crediting Dr. CV Harquail, the project advisor, for her influence in shaping her initial idea, which she came up with as a junior Economics major at Stevens.
Seeing the project's potential
“She helped us to see our project’s potential to help solve global conflict,” Azhar said. “Our project gives value to culture and connects people. She really helped us to see the value of the whole project, beyond just a subscription service. I hope one day that I can take what we learned here and do this as a business.”
The project’s obvious cultural importance has become part of its mission, Keyser said — “At a time when some people insist on building walls, we’re talking about tearing them down by sharing food,” is how he put it. And while The Global Plate is perhaps more lighthearted than other Senior Design projects to be showcased at the May 3 Innovation Expo, Migallos said Dr. Harquail’s support and vision made the idea successful.
“Sometimes, when we’re thinking about this project, we compare it to what other groups are working on, and our work doesn’t seem quite so serious,” he said. “But CV is very supportive and helps us to see the strengths of our project, rather than its weaknesses.”
Besides an understanding of how to use a service to connect disparate cultures, members of the team said they learned some valuable professional skills, as well — particularly useful at a time when every business is a global business.
“This project has really taught us how to work with people who come from different backgrounds,” Rizzo said, “and that’s so important right now — to be able to collaborate with others, but especially with people of such varied backgrounds.”