It's time for Dining Month, presented by Deer District and its spooky Halloween-themed alter ego, Fear District. Throughout the month of October, we'll be serving up fun and fascinating content about all things food. The signature dish, however, is our 2019 Best of Dining poll, who's winners we will dish out all month long. Get hungry, Milwaukee!
The meal kit delivery market is a crowded space. In fact, national companies like Blue Apron, Hello Fresh and Plated are heatedly competing for dollars from busy, stressed consumers who really just want an escape from the daily meal planning grind.
But a local company, Miltown Eats, is disrupting that national rat race with a new approach to the meal kit model – one that delivers high quality locally sourced ingredients and more sustainable packaging – all at a price that meets (or beats) the big-name brands.
A new model for meal kits
Miltown Eats is owned by local entrepreneurs Jonathan Marrone and Yulia Koltun, Wisconsinites who – like most of us – love the idea of perusing local farmers markets for their groceries and cooking delicious meals at home, but whose busy lives all-too-often get in the way.
Their solution? Create a company that satisfied their desire for delicious local food while saving time and money.
"As we looked at data and surveyed people about their experiences with meal kit delivery services we found that the one thing people hated most about the national services was the excessive amount of packaging necessary to keep food cold," says Marrone.
"They had a point. So, I began thinking: what if we scaled the business model down, made it local, and delivered the kits ourselves, rather than mailing them? We could reduce the packaging. We could also support the work of a variety of local farms and suppliers."
The idea stuck, and Marrone began looking for a software platform that would work for the business. When he didn’t find one, he created his own. From there, he connected with local farms and local food companies, tested and curated a collection of recipes that could be converted for meal kit use, developed a business plan and quit his job. He launched the first phase of the company – a meal kit delivery service called Isthmus Eats – in Madison in spring of 2018.
Within the first year and a half, Marrone says they attracted over 250 subscribers, surpassing both his expectations and the benchmarks he’d set for the business.
"When I saw the success he was having with the business and he told me that there was an increasing demand in Milwaukee, I was really interested," says Koltun. "So I did some research. There were quite a few prepared food delivery services, but no locally based meal kit services in Milwaukee."
With that data in hand, Marrone and Koltun, who’d met years before while working together at a software company in Madison, decided to partner up to launch a Milwaukee-based service.
"People have a wide variety of reasons for choosing a meal delivery service," says Marrone. "Some like the simplicity. Others really want to spice up the variety of things that they’re eating. The other big one is food waste. Buying whole ingredients and then only using a portion is a huge contributor to the problem of food waste. And we help people to do all of those things."
Koltun nods. "I travel a lot for work, so meal kits are perfect for me," she says. "They’re portioned, so I’m not buying ingredients I don’t need. And I only buy as many meals as I need for the week while I’m home."
Marrone says they’ve proven that the model works, and that it served customers’ needs. They’ve also proven that they can offer customers a superior product at the same cost (or less) than their national competitors.
"We’ve been very successful at keeping our costs down," he says. "And a big part of the picture is that we save a ton of money on shipping by offering delivery directly to peoples’ homes."
Marrone says they also pride themselves on being able to offer customers a ton of variety using tested customer-approved recipes.
"Customers have a chance to rate the recipes," he says. "And if a specific dish doesn’t get a high score, we take it off the menu."
Currently, Miltown Eats has a database of over 200 recipes at their disposal, including globally inspired fare and vegetarian dishes, resulting in a weekly menu that appeals to a variety of eaters.
For example, the menu for the week of Oct. 28 features Thai style drunken noodles with ground pork; vegetarian pineapple poke with tofu and avocado; arugula chicken salad with homemade croutons and Merlot Bellavitano; and one pot gemelli with pistachios, peas and haricot verts.
And most recipes can be executed with a short list of basic kitchen tools (pots, pans, utensils) on the stovetop or in the oven. Ingredients are all provided, with the exception of items like salt, pepper and olive oil.
Why Miltown Eats?
If the idea of supporting a local company rather than a national brand isn’t quite compelling enough, here are a few compelling reasons why choosing a Miltown Eats meal kit service makes sense.
It’s delivered, not shipped. Miltown Eats hand delivers all of their meal kits right to your home or workplace. What that means is, you’re actually paying for the food you purchased, not the cost of same-day shipping.
There’s (a lot) less waste. Unlike national services, which need to be packed in insulated cardboard boxes with multiple ice packs, Miltown Eats hand delivers their meal kits in re-useable insulated tote bags that they collect and reuse for future deliveries. Ingredient packaging is also minimal and recyclable whenever possible. Even better, if you place your used tote bag and ice pack at your doorstep on your next delivery day, Miltown Eats will pick it up, clean it thoroughly and use it again for another delivery.
Plus, since you’re receiving exactly the amount of pre-measured ingredients you need, you’re not spending extra cash on ingredients you might not use (or making meals for four people when you only need servings for one or two). So it’s a win-win for both your wallet and the environment.
Like the company, the food is fresh and local. Produce and meats in Miltown Eats boxes are sourced locally, directly from farms and locally-owned suppliers (in the case of meat, Miltown Eats purchases from Kettle Range Meat Co.). So your dollars support family farms and locally owned businesses including the Riverwest Kitchen Collective (a commercial kitchen space located in the former Milwaukee Beer Bistro), where Miltown Eats meals are prepared.
Miltown Eats is available to anyone who lives (or works) in Milwaukee County. Live outside of Milwaukee, but work Downtown? You can have your meal kits delivered to you at the office.
How it works
If you’re familiar with other meal kit delivery services, Miltown Eats is very similar.
Sign up for a plan. It begins with an easy-to-use platform that you can use to sign up for a plan that meets your individual needs. The deadline for sign-up is Thursday at noon for delivery the following week. Current options include:
- Riverwalk Plan (provides food for two individuals up to four times per week at $9.75 per serving; $60 for three meals)
- Lakefront Plan (provides food for up to four individuals up to four times per week at $8.75 per serving; $110 for three meals).
Choose your weekly meals. From there, you pick the meals you’d like delivered (you can choose meals up to three weeks in advance). Currently, weekly menus for the Milwaukee market include four meal options, two of which are vegetarian.
Important note: If you have dietary restrictions which prevent you from eating meals that contain nuts, gluten or dairy, you can also receive a customized plan (just send an email to info@MiltownEats.com and they will put a note on your account and adjust your weekly recipes accordingly).
Once you’ve signed up, you’ll be contacted each week to choose the meals you’d like to receive. You can change your plan at any time and even skip a week when your schedule requires it.
Unpack, cook, eat. Voila! Your meals will be magically delivered to your home or workplace on your assigned delivery day (deliveries take place on Monday or Tuesday, depending on your zip code). You’ll know when your meal kits are delivered because the good folks at Miltown Eats let you know with a text and/or an email. Each dish comes complete with a step by step recipe (which you can keep in a binder that’s provided with your first order) as well as all the ingredients needed to create a delicious meal at home.
Stay tuned for deals. Miltown Eats is a local company, so customers are community. And they engage their customers in a variety of ways, including monthly promotions and discounts that make sticking with their meal plans even easier. In fact, anyone reading this article is eligible for a special discount of 30% off their first order with the code ONMILWAUKEE. You can enter the code manually during checkout or click here to activate your offer.
Lori is an avid cook whose accrual of condiments and spices is rivaled only by her cookbook collection. Her passion for the culinary industry was birthed while balancing A&W root beer mugs as a teenage carhop, fed by insatiable curiosity and fueled by the people whose stories entwine with each and every dish. She’s had the privilege of chronicling these tales via numerous media, including OnMilwaukee and in her book “Milwaukee Food.” Her work has garnered journalism awards from entities including the Milwaukee Press Club.
When she’s not eating, photographing food, writing or recording the FoodCrush podcast, you’ll find Lori seeking out adventures with her husband Paul, traveling, cooking, reading, learning, snuggling with her cats and looking for ways to make a difference.