By Chris Olsen
On a chilly Minnesota evening in late February, Liza Atkinson’s eyes scanned the stylish interior of a now-empty co-working space that was, hours earlier, bustling with women working. It had been transformed into a warm and welcoming cocktail party ready for guests to arrive at any moment. Liza was giving everything a final once-over. Her face flushed in anticipation of what was to come, but she was more excited than nervous.
Liza beamed as she admired the oversized table displaying a variety of items she’d prepared for the gathering: crunchy crudité with hummus; a hearty charcuterie board including her scratch-made parmesan and thyme crackers; savory frittata with balsamic glazed roasted cherry tomatoes and goat cheese; bacon, lettuce and tomato jam finger sandwiches on Liza’s famous sourdough; a sweet treat of cornflake, marshmallow and chocolate chip cookies. The Prosecco was on ice and craft mixers were ready to be blended into refreshing drinks. This was not just any party, it was the soft launch of Liza’s new business venture, Nosh and Gather.
Big changes had been coming for Liza for quite some time and she was finally ready. She had just turned 40. The youngest of her three kids had started kindergarten. She’d been planning to move on from her direct sales business for a while. Liza appreciated the flexibility direct sales provided when her children were younger and she even recently celebrated her personal best in sales and revenue. But her true passion was cooking and entertaining, and 2020 was going to be Liza’s year of transformation.
The launch party was a success. Those who knew Liza weren’t surprised. She was raised by a mom, grandmas and great grandmothers who were all passionate about cooking and community. She began hosting her own dinner parties in college. She joined a gourmet dinner club in her twenties where hosts and themes rotated monthly, and everyone brought a decadent dish to share that they’d never made before. When Liza’s kids were babies, she began batch cooking on weekends and made extra food to trade with other moms in the neighborhood. One of Liza’s favorite places has always been the kitchen. And food is her love language.
The feedback Liza received at her launch party was overwhelmingly positive. She had already booked several catering gigs and was planning what would be her signature offering—secret pop-up dinner parties inspired by her gourmet dinner club. In addition to the event side of her business, Liza was in the process of introducing Nosh to Go, a weekly meal service for busy people who craved home-cooked suppers like pasta, salads and soups, but didn’t have the time or energy to cook. Everything was going well and moving forward as planned. And then the unexpected happened. Just a few weeks after she introduced Nosh and Gather to the world, the pandemic shut the world down.
Since dinner parties were no longer a possibility, Liza poured all her energy into building up the meal delivery side of her business. As it turned out, the chaos of working and schooling from home, along with a desire to minimize trips to the grocery store, made the service a lifesaver for many individuals and families. With her own kids back at home, there were times Liza struggled to juggle her new venture with her own personal obligations. Still, as meal delivery took off, Liza considered other offerings that could replace dinner parties. On the fly, she offered a bunch for Mother’s Day meals delivered directly to moms to enjoy at home. It was also well received and sparked the idea for a series of prepared meals for holidays and special events.
At the end of May, George Floyd was murdered in Minneapolis, not far from the commercial kitchen where Liza prepares food for Nosh and Gather. Many local businesses were damaged and basic staples were hard to come by. As she watched the community and the city she loves hurting, Liza felt driven to do more. She began making and donating meals to families in need in the Twin Cities. She included an option on her website for clients to add a meal donation to their order to help make a greater impact. One year later, hundreds of meals have been provided. And giving back to the community with food is now foundational to Nosh and Gather.
As Liza celebrated Nosh and Gather’s anniversary and businesses began re-opening to the public, she resumed planning dinner party pop-ups. She’s also partnering with local floral and décor company, Revel and Flourish, on a lux outdoor dining experience that is far from a traditional picnic. In addition to Nosh and Gather’s signature party fare, Noshnics includes gorgeous table settings complete with linens, glassware and flowers, plus cozy pillows and rugs for lounging and noshing at a local park or in your own backyard.
While nothing went according to plan for her first year of business, Liza grabbed entrepreneurship by the horns and has made the most of every moment. She couldn’t be more grateful for where she is today.
Photo: Chelsie Lopez Production
About the author: Chris Olsen is a radio veteran turned communications consultant, educator and author of “Whyography: Building a Brand Fueled by Purpose”. Through her work as a consultant partnering with startups, Chris realized her WHY—to support women-owned businesses in confidently communicating their purpose and impact, setting them up for entrepreneurial success. She created My Founder Story as a platform for doing so.