Joy Rubey brings a whole new meaning to accessible, healthy meals. Last year, Rubey launched Spade & Spoon, a local meal-kit delivery startup headquartered in Denver that partners with Boulder County farmers and producers, including Haystack Mountain, Moxie Bread Co. and Lazy J, to name a few.
Spade & Spoon is a local alternative to national meal-kit companies like Blue Apron and HelloFresh. With each delivery, customers get all the ingredients they need to make delicious, healthy meals at home, plus corresponding chef-created recipes that are easy to follow. Local farmers and producers, meanwhile, get better access to stable markets, fair prices and distribution efficiencies.
“HelloFresh and Blue Apron are essentially household names, but those meal kit services don’t help our local food systems,” says Rubey. “We wanted to create an alternative that supports a whole network of small producers. Each purchase supports local farmers, ranchers, makers and bakers.”
The idea for developing a local-first meal delivery kit came to Rubey while she was in her mid-30s. She was a busy, working mom with a young daughter, and her husband had recently switched careers to become a farmer. At the same time, several of her friends were battling terminal cancer. She worried about the food she was feeding her daughter and wanted reassurance that it wasn’t loaded up with possibly harmful antibiotics, hormones, preservatives, colors and other chemicals. Meanwhile, she wanted to help her husband sell food more efficiently.
So, in 2011, she launched Acme Farms & Kitchen in the Pacific Northwest, a local-first meal kit company and one of the first meal kit companies in the nation overall.
Now, she’s bringing the same concept to the Front Range with Spade & Spoon.
We chatted with Rubey to learn more about her vision and how Spade & Spoon works.
What inspired you to start Spade & Spoon?
I started this model 12 years ago. We did this in the Pacific Northwest and decided, ‘Let’s do it in Colorado and be close to family.’ I saw there were many small producers at farmers’ markets and I saw the struggle of those small producers. There was this magic moment when I could make it easy for small producers to sell and distribute their food. To make it easier for families to eat good food. To make a better food system. I needed convenience because I work a lot and I’m a mother. I wanted good food to be easy.
My history and experience are in food production. The biggest issue was we had this really broken food system. In addition to farmers’ markets, could we add new sales channels for small producers? The driving factor was how much local food can we move. That can boost regional food production.
How does Spade & Spoon benefit local farmers and consumers?
It’s so hard being a small producer. They have to do their social media, bookkeeping, sales, distribution and harvest for the farmers’ market, which sometimes have smaller turnouts due to weather. We handle distribution and marketing. It makes it easier for them to scale and build a sustainable business.
As consumers, sometimes we’re duped into thinking, what is considered ‘healthy?’ People ask, where is our nutritional label? I don’t have one. Nearly half of the meals we post weekly are vegan or vegetarian. If we add in seafood, it’s wild-caught. And with meat, it’s pasture-raised. We approach food with the best ingredients and balance, rather than this compulsion to fit within a certain diet.
What made you choose Boulder?
People in Boulder care about local food. They have more community around local food than any community I’ve been in. They rally for small businesses. The sourcing, the environment. I have been to many places around the United States and have traveled the world. There is something magical about Boulder. If you ever want to create healthy consumer packaged goods, Boulder is the best place in the entire U.S. to develop that because of its community.
What differentiates Spade & Spoon?
When I was starting out, I had a 2-year-old and I knew people with terminal cancer, and I thought, how in the world am I going to feed my kid good food? Everything that we select and put on the website and into the boxes, I have thoughtfully curated. There is no food coloring, preservatives, antibiotics in the meat or pesticides. If it’s not certified organic, it’s organic or better standard. It’s easy to choose healthier. We make approachable meals and use high-quality ingredients.
How does it work for consumers?
We’re an online platform; consumers can do all of their ordering online. Orders are due Thursday at midnight. We do our deliveries the following Wednesday. From the producers to being delivered, it’s a short window of time, about four hours in between. We like everything to go out in its whole form and we use minimal packaging. Local food is not the cheapest. We are paying real people and using healthy practices. We found that adding more labor makes it more expensive and less accessible to people.
What kinds of meals do you offer?
We put up at least four vegan meals every week, including vegetarian, gluten-free and dairy-free. The boxes that we design are called turf boxes. It’s one meal with meat and two vegetarian or vegan meals. We change our meals every Friday to keep a variety, between 16 to 20 meals every single week.
What is a typical workday like for you?
My day starts at 5 a.m. That’s typically when we’ll be receiving food. At 7 a.m. we start packing, it takes about three to four hours to pack, then it is delivered. I meet with my product team, marketing team and ops leader. We have a weekly food and farm meeting where we aim to talk about at least one new producer. When we find a new product, our chef develops recipes specifically to move that ingredient. In action mode, I have lots of people and moving parts and the other half of my day is intentional planning and development. My day ends at 5 p.m.
What makes you most proud of Spade & Spoon?
I just love the people. No matter how hard it gets, the people and the vendors I work with, I see them grow and build sustainable businesses. It makes me the happiest. We put employees and producers before growing bigger and faster. It is all about people in good food.