Times are changing. And for Renata’s Chef de Cuisine Nick Ford, Covid brought immense change to the wood-fired Italian restaurant kitchen he mans in Portland’s Central Eastside. Once sheltering in place restrictions were lifted these considerable changes involved menu adjustments, providing teams with PPE, no contact order pick-up, selling grocery items, meal kits, and partially baked items for customers to take home.
“That’s where the whole idea for the frozen pizza came into hand,” Nick recalls. “One day we’re messing around saying, ‘Hey, wonder if we could freeze these pizzas so that people can take and bake them at home?’ We reached out blindly to a local grocery chain, ‘New Seasons’, and said, ‘Hey we’ve got these frozen pizzas, would you be interested in putting them on your shelves?’”
To rush to market, Nick’s team made 3,000 pizzas in ten days. He did that with a team of six.
“New Seasons” gave Renata an end cap on one of their freezer aisles, an opportunity that was to last for a month. The overwhelming response from customers has led to success: Renata’s frozen pizzas are now in all 16 of New Seasons and are expanding into other markets.
From the flour to the tomato bases, sauces, cheeses that Renata utilizes – are any of those Chefs’ Warehouse? “Uh. All of them are, except the vegetables,” Nick replies.
Grande Cheese, mozzarella shreds, fresh mozz, ricotta, provolone, Grana Padano, Caputo Blue, Arbequina California EVOO… “It’s just the access to the quality of the ingredient that makes the best pizza,” Nick says.
Beyond Covid, Portland has been hit by multiple crises, rocked by historic levels of protest not seen since the Civil Rights Movement of the 60’s. Nick reflects on the impact it’s had to Renata and to himself personally.
“When the protests first started, it was an additional traumatic experience – for everybody. Just seeing everybody marching in the streets and – from Covid figured out (how to weather the protests’) impact on business. It weighed itself out. And as a company we found ways to contribute. What we actually did during those times, I coordinated with Nathaniel (his CW Sales Rep) on the Provvista/CW product that was going to waste and converted that into meals to drop off to the protesters.”
“We’d coordinate a drop-off location from a text message and go drop of meals for them after they were done protesting,” he continues. “So again – it was another way for us affected to contribute to the change that’s needed in our troubling world. And moving forward for the next generations to come.”
So, who is Nick as a Chef? Massachusetts born to an Italian-American family, he was introduced to food at a very young age, preparing Sunday dinners with his great-grandmother, grandmother, and mother, all making fresh pasta on the kitchen table.
“It’s always been a passion. It’s always been a love,” Nick says. “I’ve always wanted to be hospitable. I’ve always wanted to be in communities, involved with having people come in, having a good time, getting to know them and their stories. I think that’s how we all really need to connect and understand that we’re all one – here at the same time. And if we can contribute positively every single day to something for the greater good, we need to do that. We hold our relationships with our purveyors very closely. It’s personal. It’s like a telescope into their life; getting to see how and who they are.”