by Len Lear
We recently found a frozen product at Weavers Way, “Meaty Walnut Vegan Ravioli,” which was absolutely delicious and according to the container, “Vegan, Non-GMO, Organic, Dairy-Free and Soy-Free.” And lo and behold, it turned out that the company which produces it, “Eat Nice,” is comprised of a local couple, Nell McBride, 36, and Paul Cantagallo, 41.
The married couple recently moved to Roxborough but formerly lived in Mt. Airy. “We’re still in Mt. Airy all the time,” said Nell. “Above all, we love its gentleness and its commitment to being an inclusive community.”
Nell, originally from Montclair, NJ, and Paul, from Bucks County, moved to Philadelphia several years ago because they both got jobs here, Paul with a law firm, where he writes briefs, and Nell with Whole Foods in Wayne, PA. “And we’re so glad we did move here.”
Nell has a master’s degree in food, culture and systems from New York University as well as a certificate from the French Culinary Institute of New York. In addition to the Whole Foods job, she worked at a farm/restaurant complex in Cranford, NJ., as an assistant grocery manager for Mt. Airy Weavers Way and currently as general manager of the Philadelphia territory for Relay Delivery, a business-to-business food delivery platform based in New York City.
Their real passion, however, is Eat Nice, a company they started in 2014 that makes a wonderfully delicious and ridiculously healthful vegan pasta that comes in two flavors of ravioli, ricotta and meaty walnut. It is available in both Weavers Way stores and about 175 other stores throughout the Mid-Atlantic and Northeast regions, which includes all 60 Whole Foods stores in the Mid-Atlantic region. They also plan to introduce two plant-based tortellini products, a vegan lasagne and plant-based meatballs over the next couple of years.
“Ever since I can remember,” Nell said last week, “I’ve loved food and animals. When I worked as an operations manager for a farm-to-table restaurant group, I did a lot of sourcing for them, especially meat. I would visit farms where they kept humanely raised animals. Many of these farms were the ‘best of the best’ in terms of animal care, but something always felt not quite right to me.
“I could never get over the fact that, even if they were well cared for during their lives, none of the animals wanted to die for somebody’s dinner. Around that time, it became clear to me that I could no longer personally participate in a system that raises and slaughters animals for food. Meanwhile, Paul had been on a similar journey, and we decided we should go vegan together.”
Nell and Paul have partnered with a traditional pasta maker in South Jersey to produce Eat Nice products. If you watch the TV show “Shark Tank” regularly, you know that the “Sharks” almost always insist that budding entrepreneurs give up their “day jobs” so they devote all of their time to their business. This is obviously easier said than done, however.
“We thought we’d be working full-time for the business by now,” said Nell, “but we’re grateful that we’ve done so well and that so many people have enjoyed our products over the years. Anyone who knows the grocery consumer packages goods space knows that if you’re not funded by institutional investors, it is a long, slow grind.”
On a personal note, I asked how Nell and Paul, being vegans, get the necessary protein in their diets? “We eat lots of plants!” Nell replied. “We follow a normal diet and use plant-based proteins the way non-vegans use animal proteins. It’s not a big deal.”
I also asked if they have a problem finding things to eat when they go to restaurants. “Well, we generally dine out at restaurants where we know there will be delicious vegan options, and the number of restaurants offering plant-based foods is growing. However, if we’re not in control of the venue, then yes, it can often be difficult to find something exciting to eat. One can only eat so many salads, French fries and Mediterranean platters!”
Does the couple have any children? “No, but we have several fur-babies. We have a dog, London, who’s 11, and five cats — Toni, Arthur, Bear, Thomas and Bruce.”
If Nell could have a superpower, what would it be? “I would fly around protecting animals in trouble and rescuing them from the animal agricultural system.”
If she could do one thing to change the world, what would it be? “Get everybody eating a 100% plant-based diet.”
For more information, visit eatnicefoods.com. Len Lear can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org