Cookbook author and entrepreneur Maggie Battista discusses her journey founding the food blog and pop-up retail market Eat Boutique, which is opening its first permanent retail space in Boston.
As told to Sarah Pascarella and Julianne Jensen
My background is in startup technology. I only left full-time tech—and a tech paycheck—at the end of 2014. Since 2015, I’ve been working full time on Eat Boutique. For many years, I considered Eat Boutique a side hustle that I was exploring to find my path in food.
I worked at internet consumer start-up companies to build and make stuff that people would use. But a few years into my career, I realized I wasn’t making anything anymore. I started reading about the domestic arts and hospitality, and the more I learned, the more I wanted to explore.
I started Eat Boutique in 2007 as a blog. It was through the blog that I started writing about food, restaurants, all my travels, and the various food makers I met, and discovered what I wanted the site to be about—and what it wasn’t about. I got involved in the food blogging community, went to conferences, and learned that this is where I wanted to be.
By 2009, I had a dedicated following online, and thought: OK, I like to share and promote food makers, what if I put all of their products together in a gift box and let people send it to friends and family? I took some money saved from my paycheck and built out a couple hundred boxes, working with five of my favorite makers in New England. I put them up online and we sold them out instantaneously. I thought OK, that’s something. And that’s before all the sites that exist now where you can get subscriptions to get food sent to you. For me, it was a way to figure out what I wanted to do, and I knew it was in food.
Eat Boutique was one of the first brands selling on Gilt and on Food 52. By this time, I had help, because I was basically working two 40-hour full-time jobs—my tech job and Eat Boutique—up until the end of 2014.
In January 2015, I was full time on Eat Boutique—except that my cookbook was also coming out that fall. I managed to do a lot of pop-up events over the course of the year, and I was also running the marketing for the book, including promotion and a 10-city cookbook tour.
Right after the tour, I returned to host a three-week pop up holiday market in Allston with Harvard University. Being in that space every day and seeing the lines form before we opened—and just getting to know the neighborhood—was a realization. It felt the most like “me” than anything I’d ever done, including my cookbook. At the market, I saw that everybody wanted access to under-the-radar small batch food items, and they really wanted to learn about food. The experience fully confirmed that we’re offering something that other people aren’t; it makes my customers happy, and it makes me so happy, too.
A core value of Eat Boutique is choosing products “with intention.” Nothing is an afterthought. No product we feature, no pop up event we do—everything is done intentionally. That is the biggest lesson I’ve pulled from all the different food makers I’ve worked with, too. Everything I do is purposeful and should be.
This year, 2016, has been dedicated to putting together a final business plan for the in-real-life Eat Boutique retail and gathering spaces. I’m in a different phase from previous years, evolving the next phase of the business, creating decks, pitches, and spreadsheets; meeting with developers, investors, and banks to bring it all to life.
It’s the first time in 10 years where I’ve been focused on one thing; that’s a lesson for me. I was doing Eat Boutique on the side, then writing a book on the side, then marketing the book on the side, and I was doing 20 million things at once. Now, I’m very focused on one thing.
Career-wise, I planned my 20s: I knew what I was going to do, what my next job was going to be, what my title was going to be, and how much money I wanted to make. I planned it methodically, and once I stopped planning and let go of that, that’s when I was able to fully figure out how I really wanted to spend my days, what I wanted to do, and I was so excited about doing it.
By the way, we’re all makers. When I was working in technology, I was in strategy and management roles. I always thought that wasn’t making anything. But now that I’m doing Eat Boutique, wrote a cookbook, and hosting these events, I realized, I’m a maker, too. I create experiences, online and offline, for food makers to show their stuff and for others to learn about food, and that’s making something, too.
For Grownups seeking non-cubicle careers, just start the damn thing. Start! Don’t ask for your career: You make it, bit by bit by bit. Don’t ask permission: Just do it. Just go. I waited a long time; I didn’t know what Eat Boutique was going to be. It changed in many ways and it was almost like I was waiting for someone else to tell me what I was supposed to do. And I realized over the last couple of years, I’m the one who’s supposed to tell me what I’m supposed to do. I’m the only one who knows what my professional life is going to be.
Get more details from Maggie and the Eat Boutique team—including affordable holiday gift ideas—on EatBoutique.com.
All photos courtesy Hannah Cohen.