While organic, free range, natural, and even local, are now common labels to see in the supermarket or on menus, this was not the story twenty years ago.
When Chef Peg Botto, Owner of Cosmic Catering and Cafe, wanted to source responsibly raised poultry for her Chestnut Hill rotisserie chicken stand she had to drive to the farms herself and even then finding enough for her restaurant was difficult.
She got in touch with a local chef and restaurant owner, SBN and Fair Food Founder Judy Wicks, who was convening local businesses in the food industry to bridge the farm to table divide.
“We would meet each month and ask each other, ‘Where’d you get that’ and ‘How do you do this?’” said Botto.
This model affirmed the need for a network of mission-focused businesses and catalyzed the creation of SBN and its sister organization, Fair Food.
Business owners helped each other match their principles to their practice, but still, certain products were difficult to find.
“I remember trying to locate compostable packaging and ended up ordering a product from a company in Colorado that shipped their product to Philadelphia from China,” said Chef Peg. “The containers were all banged up when they arrive and they had Chinese writing on them.” (She has since found a supplier nearby.)
Still, even though eco-friendly products and practices have become more prevalent and popular in recent years, Botto continues to see a need to gently guide and educate customers.
“With catering orders, people will ask if it’s cheaper to substitute compostable utensils with plastic containers,” said Botto. “But we don’t offer a plastic alternative. It’s just not what we do.”
Using business as a force for good is wired into Botto’s business practices.
Before she was a chef, she ran group homes that supported more vulnerable populations in the city. Bogged down by paperwork, she found a more active and engaging way to make a living, but she has built a social mission into her business: Botto makes an intentional effort to hire people with disabilities.
“I have one employee who works three days a week for twenty-minutes sweeping the area outside the cafe,” said Botto. “When he got his first paycheck, he was so excited.”
At first, Botto looked for support from local organization SPIN who had job coaches that could help train her employees who have disabilities but now her staff is empowered to make sure the whole team is thriving. (Botto recently set up a nonprofit to support this work called Cosmic Foundation.)
As a committed from-scratch chef, Botto considers the details in her food and this translate to all aspects of her business, including how retains talent, cares for her staff, and demonstrates how to consider the triple bottom line.
You can visit Botto and her team at Cosmic Cafe at Lloyd Hall on the Schuylkill River Trail and contact her to learn how Cosmic Catering can cater your next event. Click here to learn more.
Cosmic Catering has been an SBN Member for fifteen years and was one of the founding members.