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From CSOM to Cider Maker: The Story of Boston College Entrepreneur Jake Mazar

One of our very own, Boston College Class of 2008 graduate Jake Mazar, has blazed a path in the food and beverage industry as an entrepreneur. Mazar is the co-founder and co-owner of two successful businesses: Artifact Cider Project and Wheelhouse. Artifact Cider Project is a Massachusetts-based hard cider company, which collects apples from local orchards in Massachusetts, New York, New Hampshire, Vermont, and Maine to make hard cider. Artifact sells canned ciders and kegs, and has recently expanded to include two tap rooms in Cambridge, MA and Florence, MA.  Wheelhouse is an Amherst, MA- based catering company. “We take raw ingredients grown by local producers, which in this case is a variety of ingredients, including vegetables, meats, dairy, even grains, sourcing from over 40 different farms, and we turn them into dining experiences for people and catered events,” Mazar explains. Wheelhouse caters ticketed farm events and private events such as weddings. 

Soham Bhatt (on left) and Jake Mazar (on right): co-founders of the Artifact Cider Project.

Mazar’s path to being a food and beverage entrepreneur was nowhere close to traditional. “Life has a lot of twists and turns,” he says before beginning his story. Mazar was a finance and economics major at the Carroll School of Management at Boston College. Despite a lacking interest in the subjects, he took the finance road because it was secure, and it reflected his father’s career. His first experience with the food world came during a summer internship after his junior year abroad in Cape Town, South Africa. “I spent that summer in Ghana, doing an internship with smallholder farmers and microfinance research,” Mazar begins. “I was in a relatively remote village in Ghana, working with farmers and with a bank… A lot of my CSOM friends were interning in New York in banking, while I was in a village living in a broken down house that didn’t have electricity and sometimes no running water. This was the first thing that really got me out of the bubble I had grown up in and spent a lot of my high school and college time in. This was a cool experience to get me to think differently about ways of being in the world and what I wanted to do.”

After graduation, Mazar spent some time in the corporate world, working at L.E.K. Consulting in Boston. Enduring 2 years of a desk job, Mazar felt “burnt out from long hours, 80-hour weeks, and staying past midnight at the office consistently.” Mazar shares, “I had gotten everything I could’ve out of that experience and I didn’t feel any moral value in what we were doing.” He then moved on to TechnoServe, an organization funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, through which he returned to sub-saharan Africa to do more work with smallholder farmers, researching soybean farmers in Zambia, Malawi, and South Africa. “I loved it. It was awesome. It was a cool combination of the skills I’d learned in consulting and what I had enjoyed about the internship I had in college,” Mazar recounts. However, he confesses that it was too difficult to be away from his friends and family, so he returned to the United States at the end of his six-month contract. Back in Boston, Mazar worked at EnerNOC, a clean tech company, which he felt combined his interests in the environment and his business background. Unfortunately, a year into the job, Mazar once again found himself feeling “burnt out” and unfulfilled. He bravely decided to leave, spurring a big change in his life.

“This was actually the hardest decision I made during my career. I left the business world and I started vegetable farming. I took an apprenticeship in Martha’s Vineyard and spent a year working on a farm. I was pulling out weeds by hand, doing some harvesting, tractor maintenance, and driving a tractor. Doing the really nitty gritty stuff, and nothing business related,” Mazar reveals. He calls this “a really big departure from the path that he was on,” as his peers and colleagues headed to MBA programs and kept moving up in the business world while he started over on a farm. Mazar confesses, “I had a lot of doubts when I made this decision, but it ended up being one of the best decisions of my life. It put me on a very different trajectory.” He spent the next two years working at a farm in Amherst, MA, where he met his wife Lila and his friend Will Van Heuvelen, who is now his business partner at Wheelhouse. Mazar reflects on his time working in farms, saying, “It was one of the most formative experiences in my life because [I discovered] what I was passionate about and cared about, [I met] these people who were so influential, and [I grew and developed] as a person.”

In 2013, during his third year doing farm work, inspired by Johnny Appleseed and the history of apple cider in our country, Mazar had the idea to start his own cider company.  He reached out to his high school friend, Soham Bhatt, an engineer who was passionate about food and beverage, and together they co-founded Artifact Cider Project. Bhatt handles the apple sourcing and production of cider, while Mazar handles the business management side of the enterprise. They rented a small space in Springfield, MA and grew Artifact slowly, while each still maintaining a full-time job as a farmworker and engineer, respectively. They would make cider and bottles during nights and weekends. As the business grew, Mazar and Bhatt transitioned to working at Artifact full-time and expanded the company by moving to a bigger production warehouse in Northampton, MA and hiring full-time employees.  “There’s many ways to start companies,” Mazar says, “but we did it in a very slow, bootstrapped, cautious way. We tried to invest as little as we could out front and slowly grew it.” Artifact cider now sells across over 2,000 locations in nine different states, and the business has grown to include twelve full-time employees and ten part-time employees.

In 2014, Mazar and his friend and fellow farm colleague Will Van Heuvelen had the idea to start a food business. They toyed around with the idea of a restaurant, catering business, or food truck, eventually buying a food truck on Craig’s List. Mazar recounts, “We started out super small, scrappy, barebones. We bought an old food trailer and renovated it, turning it into a nicer food trailer and started doing events, and the company has kept growing year after year. Wheelhouse expanded so much that Mazar and Van Heuvelen now own a brick and mortar location in Amherst, MA, in a building which used to be an old restaurant. Wheelhouse caters 75-100 events per year and has seven full-time employees and sixty part-time employees.

Mazar offers some advice for students who are interested in being a food/beverage entrepreneur but may not have a business/finance background as he does, “In my case, since I didn’t know as much about the cider production side of things, I found a business partner who did. I recommend doing the same. My business partners have learned more about the finance side and I have learned more about cider making. Finding people to complement your skills is very important. It doesn’t have to be a co-founder or co-owner, it can be people that you hire to help or teach you. And I’d also say that the business knowledge you need to run a small business is not that complicated. Business tends to be something that’s intimidating to people because of the accounting and the lingo, but it’s definitely something you can teach yourself. There are a lot of resources online. You can learn it. You don’t need to go get a degree.” 

Mazar leaves us with a few words of wisdom about big life and career changes. “I felt scared when switching from business to farming. It was a hard decision. The people that knew me best were very supportive and understood why I was making that decision, but there were definitely a lot of people, probably the majority of people, who thought I was crazy and going through a phase and would go back to business school after a couple of years. There was a lot of soul searching involved. The one thing I always like to remind people is you only have to figure out what you want to do for the next year. Just because you take a job it doesn’t mean that that’s what you are going to do forever or that that is who you are. It doesn’t have to define what you’re doing. You can always make changes. Life is so broad and there are so many things you can do. There is no right path. There’s only the path for you. There’s so many options that can work for you and fulfill you and add value to the world. Find what that is for you. Don’t be afraid to keep searching and finding different things. If what you’re doing doesn’t work for you, don’t be afraid to change it!”

All images courtesy of @artifactcider on Instagram.

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Kured Inc: Introducing the Charcuterie Bouquet!

The phrase “edible arrangement” tends to conjure images of whimsical fruit bouquets and kitschy commercials. Gillian Rozynek decided to play with this concept and make it her own by creating charcuterie bouquets. Rozynek, a Cape Cod native, marketing and psychology major, and Boston College Class of 2020 graduate, already has her own business fresh out of college, at only 22 years old. She is the founder of Kured Inc, a Cape Cod based, edible arrangement, e-commerce business that offers charcuterie bouquets of all sizes. 

Rozynek was first inspired with this idea while studying abroad in Madrid, Spain during her junior year of college. “Day after day in the city, I noticed how people gathered in the afternoons and bonded over a charcuterie board and a glass of wine. I loved this method of slowing down and enjoying life with loved ones.” She wanted to bring that feeling back to our fast-paced, workaholic American culture, and now makes charcuterie bouquets and delivers them to homes all over Cape Cod with the help of a trusted friend and a supportive neighbor. 

Kured Inc’s mission is to “foster relationships, bonds, conversation, and good times between friends and family by sharing a charcuterie bouquet.” Through her idea, Rozynek also wishes to “revive the gift-giving and edible arrangement business,” which has grown stale and littered with tired and predictable fruit baskets.

Photo courtesy of Gillian Rozynek

Kured Inc’s launch story began in April 2020 when Rozynek entered the Strakosch Venture Competition with her business idea and made it all the way to the semi-finals. One of the judges took a particular liking to Rozynek’s pitch, contacted her through LinkedIn, and helped her get involved with the SSC Accelerator Program, which provides seed money and mentorship to startups. With the program’s help and her own personal savings, Rozynek was able to turn her vision into a reality.

Rozynek creates her charcuterie bouquets with the help of an iGourmet wholesale account, through which she purchases her cured meats, and a loyal relationship with the North Falmouth Cheese Shop in Cape Cod, where she acquires her cheese and crackers, in support of local businesses. She builds the bouquets in a commercial kitchen and hand delivers them all over Cape Cod. Kured Inc. has partnered with a digital marketing agency that helped the young business with branding and marketing, including social media ad campaigns to increase traffic on its website.

Rozynek admits that there have been professional and personal challenges in launching her own business and becoming a young, woman entrepreneur. Professionally, she has faced the challenge of balancing finances and choosing where to direct money such as choosing between prioritizing materials or marketing. “Owning my own business also comes with the challenge of wearing many hats,” she adds, “I have to wear the legal hat, financial hat, production hat, and many others.” Personally, Rozynek fights to be taken seriously and achieve legitimacy as a young business owner. “There are some who view me and my business and simply think, ‘Oh that’s cute,’ but I am fully dedicated to continuing giving my business legs and proving its worth.”

As for navigating a new business in a COVID-19 world, Roznek says, “I completed a Food Service Certification to keep customers comfortable and reassured of my caution during the pandemic. I also adapted the product to COVID-19 by creating a downsized option, which is a small charcuterie bouquet that is enough for one or two people.”

Photo courtesy of Gillian Rozynek

Despite challenges, launching her own business has proven incredibly rewarding for Rozynek. She feels as if she has grown immensely from a business knowledge standpoint, calling this experience, “my own version of getting an MBA.”  Her hard work and devotion have proved fruitful as her business is now profitable. Apart from business success and growth, Rozynek has found her relationships with customers to be the most fulfilling. “I love making customers happy and seeing them love the bouquets and come back for more.”

Rozynek excitedly shares her short-term and long-term goals for Kured Inc, “In the short run, I want to keep expanding geographically and achieve the three Rs of customer satisfaction: Returns, Repeats, and Referrals. I want to run a customer-centric business. In the long run, I aspire to be the next Edible Arrangements, except a charcuterie version. There is no clear-cut market leader right now, and I strive to eventually be at the top.”

To the young, aspiring entrepreneur, Rozynek says, “Just go for it! It is risky, but I encourage you to do it, especially at a young age. There is nothing to lose and everything to gain as starting your own business will push you to grow, lead you to new opportunities, and advance your aspirations. There is no right way to turn your vision into a reality, just dive in.”

Photo courtesy of Gillian Rozynek

If you wish to continue following Rozynek and Kured Inc’s story, I encourage you to follow Kured Inc Facebook  and  Kured Inc Instagram.

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A Moroccan in Miami

A walk through my Miami neighborhood takes me past a Spanish melody echoing out of the Cuban restaurant, the faint chatter of a masked crowd waiting outside of the Japanese bistro, and the sight of fresh gyros being assembled through the window of my favorite Greek spot.  While many associate Miami with its Cuban presence in culture and cuisine, our city is home to many smaller communities that make up our melting pot. Over the past year, my family and I have been discovering Miami’s Moroccan community through our friend Maryama. Maryama grew up in Casablanca, Morocco and immigrated to Miami, Florida by herself at 25 years old. It was in Miami that she met and fell in love with her husband Amr and had three kids together. Maryama came to be a part of our lives after my mother, a nurse, began to care for her son. I recently had the pleasure of interviewing Maryama as she shared her love of cooking and how she uses food to keep her Morrocan culture alive in a new country. 

Maryama celebrating her son’s birthday.

Caroline: How did you learn to cook?

Maryama: I learned to cook at home when I was growing up with my family. Cooking is all we do! It’s a big part of our culture. Cooking was my school. It’s how I learned many things. If we were home, we were cooking!

What were some of your favorite dishes growing up?

I loved couscous, of course! I loved to make bastilla, which was a baked pie with fish. These were very special dishes for us. 

When you moved to the United States, did you feel any pressure to “Americanize” and forget or hide your culture?

I did not feel that pressure in Miami. Even though I was adapting to a new country, I still wanted to keep my culture and was able to do so here. I would cook only Moroccan food for myself. I don’t miss Morocco a lot now, but I still feel connected to my culture. I travel back there to visit sometimes.

Were you able to make new friends and find a support system here?

Yes, I was able to make some friends. My best friend here is from my city back home, and we have a big group of friends. We would meet every couple of weeks, before Covid of course.

How do you keep your Moroccan heritage alive for yourself and your family?

I keep a Moroccan fridge and a Moroccan kitchen full of spices. I cook only Moroccan food for my kids, and I make sure that they have the same dishes I had growing up. I try to incorporate some of my culture into the decor in the house. For example, I have furniture from Morocco in the house. I also teach the kids my native language.

Couscous, a Moroccan cuisine staple.

Where do you buy your ingredients? Are there any good markets in South Florida that sell Moroccan ingredients? Is it hard to find ingredients sometimes?

Well, something I love to do is buy lots of spices in Morocco when I visit and bring them back with me (she laughs). But here, although I have not seen any specifically Moroccan markets, I have been able to find many Moroccan spices and ingredients in Asian markets, some Chinese markets and Indian markets like Big Bazar. Many of our traditional ingredients, such as ginger and saffron, can also be found in the average supermarkets like Publix and Walmart. I can usually find most of the ingredients I need to cook Moroccan food here.

Are there any good Moroccan restaurants in South Florida?

Although Moroccan food is not as present as other cuisines in the Miami restaurant scene, there are some Moroccan restaurants such as Dar Tajine and King David Cuisine. There are some restaurants that blend Moroccan cuisine with other cuisines such as French and Spanish, like Rouge and Boulud. Many Mediterranean restaurants offer Moroccan food options. Surprisingly, many Jewish restaurants here offer great Moroccan food. Some Jewish restaurants that offer Moroccan dishes are Shalom Haifa Kosher Restaurant and Subres Grill.

Has it been hard to pass on your culture to your children when you are living in a different country?

It has been hard to pass on my culture to the kids because of school and work. Most of the time, the kids are at school and I am at work. I work from 6 a.m. to 7 p.m. Even when the kids have a break from school, I don’t usually have many holidays off from work. Because of this, I don’t get as much time with them as I would like, but I try to teach them about my culture as much as I can. I try to show them my culture and practice my language with them. Learning my language has been hard because they mostly speak English all day in school, but I am trying. They cannot speak it very well right now, but they can understand a little better.

Finally, would you be able to share one of your recipes with me?

Yes, of course! I am going to write a couscous recipe for you.

Thank you so much for chatting with me today!

Of course!

. . .

There are people like Maryama all over the U.S who immigrate here from around the world and bravely face a new country, culture, and language. However, they still find different ways to preserve a piece of their heritage, as Maryama does with her cooking. Food gives us the power to take our culture with us wherever we go, and provides us the comfort of home in new, unfamiliar places. Through food, we can also learn to appreciate cultures that may not be our own and embrace people like Maryama, who make our country so wonderfully eclectic. 

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Finding Russia Just Outside Boston

If you find yourself a bit tired of the Italian and Asian fare that covers our Boston culinary landscape, I suggest venturing to Brookline and Newton to discover a wonderful, hidden, culinary scene: the Russian food community. I discovered these hidden gems thanks to the recommendations of my Russian professor during my freshman year at Boston College. This past weekend, I had the chance to surprise my mother with a Russian food tour during her visit to Boston. I knew it would be a special surprise because she had a connection to Russian culture growing up; she had Russian family members, and her father worked in St. Petersburg, returning to her with treats and recipes to prepare at home.

Our first stop was the lovely Bazaar on Beacon Street in Brookline. With Cyrillic signs and Russian speakers all around, it feels as though you have stepped into another little world. I could browse there for hours. They offer homemade dishes abounding, including cucumber salad, red cabbage salad, and paté. They have a wide selection of fresh seafood, as well as meats, cheese, fruits, and vegetables. 

My mom was delighted to find one of her favorite beers from years ago, the long-lost Pilsner Urquell, among their internationally assorted wine, beer, and vodka section. My favorite area of the store is found in the back, displaying Russian cookies of all flavors and beautiful jars of fruit preserves. My mother was only sad she didn’t bring an extra suitcase to take half of the store back home to Florida. The next time you need to go grocery shopping, consider skipping standard supermarkets and head to this brilliant shop full of surprises.

Our next stop on the tour was in Newton, for lunch at Café St. Petersburg. This is a cozy, colorfully decorated spot that makes one feel as though they are at grandma’s house––which we all know is where the best cuisine comes to life. A grand piano sits in the center of the restaurant for live music performances during dinner. The café boasts an elaborate menu full of traditional soups, salads, duck, steak, chicken, lamb, and seafood, with potato- and cabbage-based entrees for vegetarian guests. 

We began our lunch with the delicious St. Petersburg salad, composed of chicken, potatoes, carrots, eggs, pickles, cucumbers, and mayonnaise. I would return for that salad alone. The traditional and vibrantly colored borscht followed; a meat soup with beets, cabbage, and potatoes. This was accompanied by a pirozhok (meat pastry) and sour cream––the perfect comfort food for a cold Boston afternoon. We continued our feast with beef stroganoff (sautéed beef with cream and spices) and chicken tabaka (fried hen with garlic sauce). On the side were buttery, fried potatoes, and we ended with sweet, cherry-filled blinis. 

My mom was elated, and I left planning my next visit to Café St. Petersburg. I encourage anyone looking for a change to discover these tasty, charming spots for themselves!