An ongoing health crisis forced many people to rethink aspects of their lives in 2020, said Bryan Sparks, but for members of the hospitality industry specifically, the sustained pressure of a lingering pandemic and its leftovers prompt even greater self-reflection.
For the experienced Kansas City chef, that meant leaving his restaurant home this spring for a new venture — one that allowed him to work on his own terms as an entrepreneur with a family, as well as redefine “to go” options to match changing consumer trends amid historic restaurant challenges.
“We saw [people] were looking for ways to prioritize their family,” said Sparks, a veteran of The Jacobsen, Jax, and Broadway Bistro, referencing observations he and his co-founder, Hailey Allen, made as they assessed the world one year into the COVID-era.
“We were sitting on the couch. … Bryan was stressed out and exhausted after working 57 days without a break,” Allen added, emphasizing just how demanding the hospitality industry has become as it faces unprecedented setbacks that include staffing shortages.
Click here to watch a Fox 4 report on the state of hospitality work in Kansas City.
As Sparks vented his frustrations and laid out his dreams, the creative and food-obsessed couple honed in on an idea for something they could call their own and operate on a schedule that dished out more family time.
The result: Beloved-On the Go, a meal delivery system — not a service, Allen noted — designed to nourish equally-busy customers with chef-driven, health-conscious, ready-to-eat meals without a subscription or other long-term commitments.
The company has grown to six employees within its first quarter of operation.
Click here to follow Beloved-On the Go on Instagram.
“We want to help our customers by creating high-end, restaurant-quality meals they can eat at home — but without the added investment of the time it takes to prep and do the dishes,” Sparks explained, offering comparison on how building the business has differed from his work in restaurants.
“You must consider if the dish will last for four-days and taste as good as when you put it in the box [versus plating it and immediately serving it in a dining room],” Sparks said.
“Our biggest learning curve was [discoveing] garnishes don’t last in the microwave. That simple fact forced me to learn how to re-conceptualize a dish.”
Additional lessons have included what does and doesn’t belong on a delivery menu, Sparks added.
“We’re never going to put a Sloppy Joe on the menu because, while we like Sloppy Joes, there are certain things that don’t carry well,” he said, adding a dense market filled with various types of diets has also helped influence menu offerings, which include such dishes as sweet potato and poblano breakfast tacos, mushroom ravioli, chicken thighs with succotash, ratatouille gratin, and an abundance of fresh juices.
Click here to learn more about Beloved-On the Go or to view its current menu offerings and place an order.
“Since we were already in a pandemic, I think it was easier to adjust to the to-go mindset. We saw great strides in how you can create [and] have the same respect for to-go as [dine-in] meals. When restaurants were upping their game, it forced our specific branch of the industry to also up our game or be trampled.”
Building a to-go focused business that works to better the environment has offered additional lessons for the couple, Sparks said.
“Some people don’t want to order from us because of all the packaging required,” he admitted. “We get it. … We use recycled plastic boxes, but it’s not a permanent solution. … We’re in constant search.”
Such a commitment to sustainability reflects a larger community focus for the business, which Sparks said he’s hopeful will create a legacy he can pass onto his daughter, Esme.
“We made it our mission as we built the foundation of our company to think about how to serve and build the community Esme will be a part of,” he said of the potential impact on the surroundings of his daughter, whose name means “beloved.” “The best way to support a community if you are a chef is to feed them. For every $100 order, Beloved-On the Go provides $25 in food [to] those in need in Kansas City.”
“We want to build a [thriving] community around Esme. … If you’re really good at something, why not use your talent to help others?”
Baking such a community-focused mission into the business is just what good neighbors do, the couple said.
“No business model works if you are similar to everyone else. I think the way we achieved [growth] so quickly is by being as personal as we possibly can be with every client we have,” Allen said.
“… We’re still in the hospitality industry. Taking care of customers and creating an atmosphere where, if you need something, you feel comfortable asking for it is a way we’ve proved reliable. That’s how we stand out, [treating] customers like part of the Beloved family. We want them to feel like they are sitting down at the dinner table with us.”