When Eve Cohen moved to Utah, she was already thinking about a way to help people connect through food — and her solution also connected her to her great-grandfather, who died in a plane crash in Parleys Canyon in 1934.
“My middle name is Marcellus, and so I’d always been curious about my great-grandfather who I was named after,” said Cohen, who is launching Marcellus Foods, a new concept in grocery stores that she aims to open in Salt Lake City early in 2023.
Cohen will have a demo booth, explaining the Marcellus Foods concept and sampling some of its food, at the annual Craft Lake City DIY Fest, happening Friday through Sunday, August 12-14, at the Utah State Fairpark, 1000 W. North Temple, Salt Lake City.
Marcellus “Mike” Zinsmaster, 58, was the head of Zinsmaster Bread Company in Duluth, Minnesota. He was finishing a business trip, heading from Los Angeles to Des Moines, when he was on a United Airlines flight from Salt Lake City to Cheyenne that crashed into Parleys Canyon on February 23, 1934. He was one of eight people — five passengers, two pilots and a flight attendant — who were killed in the crash.
Cohen didn’t know much about Zinsmaster, other than that he owned a bakery. As she researched, she said she learned that Zinsmaster Bread Company was the first in Minnesota to sell sliced bread, and that her great-grandfather was known not just as an innovator, but a community connector, forming deep friendships with other bakers and grocers.
‘Time, energy, equipment and experience’
Like her great-grandfather, Cohen has spent her career in food — working on digital platforms to help people buy and cook food at home. Eventually, she said, she realized that “cooking is this mixture of an abundance of time, energy, equipment and experience, right? If you don’t have all four of those things, it’s really challenging.”
And those aren’t problems that can be solved digitally, she said. So when she and her husband, Dana Berge, moved to Utah from the Bay Area, they were hashing out a plan to create a physical grocery store that would fill the gap.
“When we were thinking about what to name the business, we felt that naming it after him was such a great fit,” Cohen said. Zinsmaster Baking Company’s slogan was “bread made from materials you use at home,” and she said that’s the vision for Marcellus Foods — “simple ingredients and groundbreaking convenience,” she said. “Literally the best things since sliced bread!”
The concept for Marcellus Foods began to hatch when Cohen was working as a meal-planning researcher for Walmart. She said she found many people did want to cook at home, but didn’t have time for the labor of cutting, chopping and grating. They also needed a lot of flexibility with ingredients.
“I was at the right place at the right time in a lot of ways,” she said. “I was commuting three hours each way every day, living in the Bay Area” — which meant she didn’t have time to cook, either.
Berge, a prep cook and caterer, would come home with leftover food — mostly single ingredients prepped and ready to go. They found they could easily put together meals at night, even when they were both exhausted.
“We were working with the same building blocks over and over, but our meals were fresh and new and exciting every day,” Cohen said. “And I was like. ‘OK, fully prepared meals and meal kits aren’t offering the flexibility that people need to eat the way they want to.’”
That started Cohen and Berge thinking about a grocery store that stocked prepared single ingredients from whole fruits, vegetables, nuts, grains and proteins. That would be supplemented with a digital platform, drawing on Cohen’s decade of professional experience with such companies as Walmart, Shipt and Good Eggs, that would help people use those basic ingredients — “minimally seasoned and maximally flexible” — to create an endless variety of meals, just as they had.
Marcellus Foods, Cohen said, will sell only about 80 prepped ingredients, made in-house, including whole grains, vegetables, meat, vegan proteins, beans, sauces and toppings. (The average person, Cohen said, only buys 290 items at a grocery store over the course of a full year, even though the average grocery store carries about 35,000 different items.) Those will be sourced from local farms, orchards and producers.
For people without a lot of cooking experience, Marcellus will have formulas for how to combine different ready-to-cook ingredients in multiple ways.
“We’re calling it a few different things right now — ‘Make it Marcellus,’ or a ‘Marcellus approach’ to cooking. We also call it ‘Cooking by Feel,’” she said. “We’re really trying to get to that skill set of tasting your food, being a little more comfortable playing around with putting things together, a little less rigid around recipes and specific dish outcomes, though we will have tons of suggestions that help people walk through something to a specific end point.”
Cohen said they even kind of want to get away from the word “recipe,” and that prescriptive approach to cooking.
“We’re trying to kind of avoid that framework that people associate with the word ‘recipe,’ where you have to follow a specific set of instructions and a specific number of ingredients and quantity specific quantities, because that’s not necessarily how people with a lot of experience cook,” she said. “We found teaching somebody to follow a recipe isn’t necessarily giving them that full skill set of what being a comfortable and competent cook is.”
A preview at Craft Lake City
Salt Lake City, Cohen said, seemed like an ideal place to launch the first store, because it’s a fast-growing city full of large families, and the state’s water challenges make it more important than ever to support local farmers and eat in an environmentally friendly way.
“Salt Lake City has such an incredible food community, and we’re driven to support it however we can,” Cohen said. “We really value our partnerships with other local foodmakers and are excited to sell a wide variety of locally made goods once we’re open.” (Marlee Belmonte, the third co-founder of Marcellus, is still in the Bay Area, but she will be contributing her experience cooking for 300 people at a time, using all locally sourced ingredients.)
The plan is to open the first store in early 2023, Cohen said. After that, she added, “the long-term vision is to build a national network of what we’re calling human-scale local food processors. We believe that’s a really important component — to build strong, resilient local food systems.”
Craft Lake City, Cohen said, is the company’s first opportunity to get out and talk to people in Salt Lake City about the store concept — and to let people taste the food.
“We will be selling a salad plate that’s kind of based on our approach to cooking and flavor and features product ingredients — it will be a couple of different salads and a pita that we sourced from a local bakery, and a delicious sauce,” she said. “We’re going to be trying to just talk to as many people as we can, and feed as many people as we can.”
Craft Lake City DIY Fest
The annual do-it-yourself event, featuring artisans, food vendors, music, science and technology.
When • Friday through Sunday, August 12-14.
Where • Utah State Fairpark, 1000 W. North Temple, Salt Lake City.
Hours • Friday, 5 to 10 p.m.; Saturday, noon to 8 p.m.; Sunday, noon to 6 p.m.
Tickets • $13 in advance, $15 on the day of the event on Friday; $7 in advance, $10 on the day of the event on Saturday and Sunday; free for children 12 and under all three days. Advance VIP tickets for Friday are $30. Tickets are available at 24Tix.com.
Headliner • Folk singer Joshua James is scheduled to perform Friday night. The performance is covered with the price of admission.
Information • Go to craftlakecity.com.