Photo by Lucie Monk Carter
Sweet corn, Creole tomatoes, and bedewed blueberries falling off the bush are just three of the ways Louisiana repays its people for bearing up through the summer heat. No question we’ll be cooking every meal at home for the near future—once the kids are out of school, we meet that deadline at work, and Baton Rouge traffic eases up enough to hit the store before sundown.
Enter the middleman. In 2013, the local delivery service Indie Plate was founded with the hope of making farm-to-table suppers more a reality than a cruel tease for families in the Greater Baton Rouge area. “It’s a way of circumventing large retailers and getting close with your community—eating what your community produces rather than what the world produces,” said Indie Plate CEO and co-founder Paritosh (“Peru”) Sharma. Today the company offers grocery and meal delivery from regional farms to residential doorsteps in Baton Rouge, Prairieville, Gonzales, Denham Springs, Central, Zachary, Port Allen, Addis, and Brusly. There are no minimum order requirements and no delivery fees. Customers simply go online, order their groceries or prepared dishes, and a friendly Indie Plate employee delivers the goods the next day. All products are sourced from local farmers and vendors including Forte Grove Bakery, Inglewood Farm, Nur’s Kitchen, and Iverstine Farms.
Photo by Maria Oanh Do
Founded in 2013, Indie Plate noticed its customers gravitating toward whole, prepared meals rather than individual ingredients.
Despite the popularity of the farm-to-table movement nationwide, Sharma and his co-founder, attorney Ben Bartage, had a discouraging start. Their initial vision was to provide a platform for wholesale buyers, but they struggled with pricing and sales. “There were multiple times when we both were wondering if this was even working. We were taking back damaged food we weren’t able to sell and eating the rest at home,” said Sharma.
The tide turned in 2014, when local chef Elton Hyndman started buying food through Indie Plate for his restaurants Nino’s Italian and Oscar’s Pizza & Ice Cream Joint. Within six months, Chef Elton sold Oscar’s [now Marina’s Mexican Grill], invested in Indie Plate, and started working with Sharma and Bartage to develop new offerings. In one experiment, they saw their sales increase by giving out free homemade soup as a promotion at Nino’s and with grocery orders. The customers, it seemed, gravitated toward whole meals over the individual ingredients that Indie Plate was marketing. “We all buy into the idea of eating locally, but the problem is what to do once you have it in your fridge,” said Sharma. “Cooking takes a back seat because there are so many other options. So we asked, what can we do as a company so that the consumer can eat healthy without having to change their lifestyle?” Soon Chef Elton shut down Nino’s lunch service and focused more of his time on building the Indie Plate Pizza Club and Dinner-to-Door subscriptions.
Photo by Maria Oanh Do
In 2014, Indie Plate co-founders Peru Sharma (left) and Ben Bartage (right) were joined by Chef Elton Hyndman (center).
Indie Plate’s new prepared meals also help farms to cut down on food waste. Hyndman showed Sharma and Bartage how their inventory could be repurposed in recipes, such as using unsold bread for breadcrumbs or blemished produce for sauces and soups. While these goods might go untouched in farmers’ markets, they boast the same taste—and nutritional value—as the prettier products. Indie Plate now only disposes of around one percent of the food it procures. Sharma also credits the waste reduction to the company’s bare-bones roots. Lack of money for a walk-in cooler led Indie Plate to experiment more with soups instead of letting foodstuffs perish. “When you’re backed up against a wall, that’s when you start thinking the most critically and taking the most risk,” he said.
As an avid cook for his family, Sharma was a great test case for the Dinner-to-Door and Pizza Club subscriptions developed by Chef Elton. He’d tried other meal subscriptions services before, but nothing stuck. “The meals would stay in the fridge. I couldn’t get myself to chop,” said Sharma, whose Indie Plate deliveries often keep him at work until well after dark. With Dinner-to-Door, he worked with Chef Elton to make sure the simple meals could be cooked in twenty minutes or less. The Pizza Club combinations are innovative (Bluesey Apple Bacon, Vietnamese Banh Mi) while simple enough for a child to assemble; there’s a sly benefit for parents, too. “You can showcase farm-to-table food in a form that consumers can eat and feed their kids [at the same time],” said Sharma. Greens can be masked in a pesto sauce, but the nutrition remains.
Thanks to the recent growth of their business, Sharma and Bartage have been able to hire more employees, settle into a new kitchen facility off Airline Highway, and focus on the future. “It feels like the sky’s the limit right now,” said Peru. But he’ll mind the soil, too.