During the past few months of the coronavirus-induced shutdown, many families have gotten used to preparing dinners themselves–all the time. Two Wilton entrepreneurs took notice, and are here to help make sure family dinners stay safe, easy and fun while giving everyone a break.
Both Michael Fensterstock of All Day Snacks and Danny Lugo of DANNY–The TACO Guy have centered their new businesses around ready-to-make food by Wiltonians, for Wiltonians, and aim to deliver a delicious, well-deserved break from cooking at a time when families need it most.
All Day Snacks–Delicious Arepas, Cheesy Breads, and Big Plans
As a father to two little boys, creating a business that made snacking easy and nutritious, especially at a time when many families are cooking more than ever, was of central importance to Fensterstock.
“Getting kids to eat something that’s super healthy and nutritious that’s really simple and easy to make is not always the easiest task for parents,” he said. “Especially during COVID where lots of parents are essentially turned into line cooks…having something that you can literally in like five minutes in a Panini maker that there was no cleanup was really attractive to me.”
Arepas are a South American staple–versatile, gluten-free pancakes made from corn flour. They can be prepared a variety of ways, Fensterstock explains, making it a meal or snack that can be eaten at any time of day.
Fensterstock loves arepas but when he wasn’t able to find a great brand at the grocery store, he decided to create one himself. He envisioned it as a “novel concept,” in which instead of selling to grocery stores, he would set up a distribution channel with people from all over the country where they could sell his products to their area, like a “hub and spoke” model.
However, planning the business in the middle of the shutdown in late April meant making some adjustments to the business plan, not only to lay the foundations for a successful brand but also incorporating the local communities’ current safety and economic concerns due to the pandemic.
“COVID was part of the reasoning for me launching the way I did, which is sort of bolstered by the fact that lots of people didn’t want to go to the grocery store. Lots of people want things to delivered to their homes, many grocery store were out of a lot of frozen goods,” Fensterstock said. “I wanted to be able to deliver a really quality frozen good directly to people’s homes during a really scary time.”
He began selling them in early May, and has been giving back to the community ever since. Fenerstock currently offers chocolate arepas, classic arepas, and rosemary & garlic arepas, as well as cheesy breads after partnering with Buddha Bread and merging the two brands. The arepas come frozen, so people can stock up on them and prepare them at their convenience.
He cooks out of a commercial kitchen in Fairfield County that is specifically designed to be gluten and nut-free and currently delivers everything himself.
Not only is ordering and preparing them easy, Fensterstock explains, but it’s healthy too, as his arepas are made only with six “easy to pronounce” ingredients (one of which is ‘water), and no preservatives–something that, as a father, was important to him.
“I could make [arepas] and feel good and empowered about what my kids were eating and what ingredients they were putting in their bodies…[because] feeding my kids a healthy meal is the most important thing to me,” he added.
Additionally, he prides himself on the quality of his products, especially as someone who has been gluten-free for 10 years and knows how hard it can be to find high-quality, low-priced, gluten-free goods.
“Having grown up with Crohn’s [Disease] and seasonal allergies and lots of other health issues, it was an important thing to be able to offer people,” he said. “We can’t be all things to all people but what we can do we can do really well.”
Cultivating a social media presence was also very important to Fensterstock as well, especially because arepas are a food that many people haven’t heard of, he said. Sharing visuals of arepas, different recipes, as well as fun facts about the food is Fensterstock’s way of introducing people to a product he believes in. “It’s a really fun opportunity to get in front of people’s eyes with a pretty limited budget,” he added.
In the future, he hopes his All Day Snacks brand makes arepas a household name in the United States, and that he can provide well-paying, meaningful business opportunities for future distributors.
“Trying to find a job is really hard..for people of all socio-economic factors across the country,” he said. “So if I could help create jobs, then I’d be doing something really awesome for society, and if those jobs are helping me build my company even better.”
Danny the Taco Guy–Ready-to-go Taco Kits For Families, made by a Family
‘Danny the Taco Guy’ earned that title after a life-long love for cooking. As a man who wears many hats–from working in television as stage manager to being an interior painter and a DJ on the side, Lugo calls himself a “jack of all trades.” When the shutdown hit, Lugo looked for the next way to keep himself busy, and cooking seemed like the perfect next step.
Though this is his first time in the taco business, cooking has been a passion he’s cultivated for years. After moving to the area from Chicago 11 years ago, he would spend his free time recreating very thin Chicago Italian beef sandwiches and Chicago burritos “the size of your head” that he missed eating.
However, deciding what food to center his business around, Lugo thought of his own childhood and what he makes for his own family now, and there was no question what that would be–tacos.
“When my kids were little, I was like, you know what, let me try to fry corn chips, like tortilla chips you buy at the store,” he said. “The kids loved it. Then I remembered a lot of people used to invite us over so I used to make these chips and they were like, ‘Oh my god, you got to start selling this.'”
Though he and his wife Selena had been talking about possibly starting a taco business for a while, it wasn’t until the quarantine that they realized they could make it happen. With his newfound downtime and the closure of many restaurants during the shutdown, it was the perfect time to turn his passion project into a reality. “I love to cook and I love that people enjoy it,” Lugo added.
Every kit is made to feed four people and includes salsa, home-made chips, guacamole, salsa, beans, tortillas, and one of four protein options: shredded chicken, carnitas (shredded Mexican pork), shrimp, and steak. He makes the salsa and chips the day before, while the meat, guacamole, and beans are made the morning of delivery to be as fresh as possible. The production makes for an active kitchen, but one with fresh, personal food.
“To make chips for, let’s take for example 10 kits, I use probably close to 500 tortillas for 10 orders,” Lugo said. “So it’s pretty crazy.”
Lugo prepares the meals twice a week every other week in his home kitchen, surrounded by family helpers who share his love of cooking. Customers fill out a form he posts on Facebook to order a kit, and he does 10-11 kits each night for a maximum of 20-22 kits a week. And although though the cooking and delivery days can be hectic, with homeschooling, making his own family’s meals, and other responsibilities in the mix–it is full of fun.
“We wake up early to start prepping. Selena helps a lot, my kids help me a lot with prepping and packing food,” Lugo said. “So, it’s a team effort. It’s really busy…and we have to take into account homeschooling eLearning. We figure it out but it’s fun.”
The Wilton community has been very receptive to his new enterprise. In fact, Lugo says he usually sells-out within an hour or two of posting the form. His theory–the business helps meet peoples’ needs to try something new even when they’re stuck at home, and he feels “lucky” that so many people are loving what he offers.
“A few weeks ago, everything was closed so I think that helped,” he said. “People didn’t want to cook and people love to order out…So I think I helped some families try something new and see if [they] like it and I guess it is working.”
Long term, Lugo knows that he needs to set himself apart from the multiple taco trucks already doing business in the area. One idea he has is to have a ‘Taco Cart’ to cater local parties and cook made-to-order tacos right in front of the guests.
Lugo is very thankful for the community’s support and hopes to continue bringing his food to the community to enjoy.
“I hope that people enjoy it and tell their friends, and I just love to have what I make, what I do,” Lugo said. “Hopefully they see the love that I have for it in the food.”
To order Arepas and cheesy breads from All Day Snacks can be ordered online and customers can stay up to date on Instagram or Facebook. Danny the Taco Guy’s order forms can be found on Facebook, where he posts on two days every other week.