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Our Story

Alison Mountford, Founder of Ends + Stems

Hi! I'm Alison, the chef and founder of Ends + Stems.

Thank you for being here! I’m truly grateful for your interest. The Ends+Stems you’re seeing today is the result of a long journey as a chef entrepreneur, working hard to help busy families get a home cooked meal on the table. I’m proud and excited for Ends+Stems to have a meaningful impact on your life and the planet.

It started when I moved to San Francisco after college, for adventure.

Having grown up on the east coast and gone to school in New York, California was the land of sun and possibility. I got a job, but wasn’t sure what I really wanted to do. I was sure that my next step had to be on track to begin My Career. It was 2004 and I had a beige cubicle and a headset, with which I was supposed to answer incoming calls and close the sale. I took to google and typed: “What Should I Do With My Life.”

An article came up from Forbes listing the fastest growing business opportunities you’ve never heard of - or something like that. Number 3 on the list caught my eye: Personal Chef Service. I already loved cooking. I grew up as the the food network was booming and once in CA, I couldn’t be stopped. The rainbow of produce available and farm-to-table ethos here was inspiring. Cooking 7 course dinners for friends on a Tuesday became a common occurrence. We still joke about that time I made pasta from scratch but it wasn’t ready until midnight.

When I saw that most personal chefs also run their own businesses, I knew that google had delivered the answer.

I quit the next day and started culinary school 2 weeks later. Within 6 months, I signed my first client (I cook for their family to this day). Once school ended, I had filled every day with a client and realized I could only scale by moving to a commercial commissary kitchen. So, I did that. Next, I wanted to lower the price of each meal so a larger variety of customers could afford the “luxury” service. I restructured the business to what is now called a Meal Delivery Service. At the time, that phrase didn’t exist though, which was one of my challenges.

My first thoughts about food waste came at this time.

When I was cooking for 30-50 families a day, it was almost impossible to predict exactly the right amount of an ingredient to buy. I know now, that determining the amount needed of an ingredient when you scale a recipe to large numbers takes many rounds of testing. At the time, I just saw that I had leftovers all the time. To solve this problem, I signed a lease and moved the business to my own cafe/kitchen. I added walk-in retail service to sell the extra food. (Anything no longer sellable was donated through SF Food Runners).

Then, food waste became significant and personal.

At our largest, the meal delivery business had 8 cooks besides me. My team and I did our very best to leverage all the ways we could think of to utilize every ingredient we bought. I’d often watch and retrain new cooks who would lop off a full inch of each of the zucchini ends when only a tiny sliver was needed or how they’d square the sweet potato fries leaving large wedges off the baking pan because they weren’t the right shape. If someone was tired or lazy (sometimes that was me), they’d skip doing inventory before ordering food for the next day and we’d be confronted with double the amount asparagus or parsley.

The business was doing well - we had plenty of passionate supporters, we purchased gorgeous ingredients, we made delicious food - but it was challenging. Rents, taxes, red tape, lack of technology, marketing, parking tickets, wages, insurance, etc.

After 10 years, I sold my business and took a job at a fast growing food-tech company. They were doing meal delivery, just like I was, but the business was 20x larger than mine. I was the purchasing department of one. I bought all of the food for the kitchen to produce the orders; I managed inventory of ingredients; and I oversaw the team of 5 stewards who had to throw the leftovers or mangled items into the trash can. And by trash can, I mean full size dumpster.

This is where I learned about the environmental catastrophe that is food waste.

This company was in the habit of throwing away enormous amounts of food. I still had my catering van at the time so a few times, I’d fill it up with leftovers and drive it to a donation facility. I wasn’t being paid for this and the company did nothing to support my effort, so it wasn’t sustainable. The reasons for the waste at this company require another essay but some were valid and common, some were inexcusable and specific to their operations. Either way, my team and I would stand on the sidewalk dumping container after container of food into the dumpster. These “containers” were filled with enough cooked pasta for a grown man to bury himself in, enough broccoli to fill up 4 refrigerators, 2 ounce sauce containers you could stack as high as a house.

From this, Ends+Stems was born.

I couldn’t afford to quit this job, so as an outlet of my frustration, I started an instagram feed to talk about the problem of food waste, which by 2016 was popping up more often in the news. I was intrigued to learn that the single largest place where food is wasted is in our own homes. Behind closed doors individuals and families are responsible for 38% of the total waste, while restaurants just 8%. Food waste scientists and advocates are calling for an “effortless social change” and widespread consumer education campaigns to reduce food waste in homes. Halfway through 2016, I quit the tech job because I knew what to do.

I want to help you reduce your household food waste!

I’ve spent 15 years writing recipes and learning the ins and outs of the kitchen, all skewed towards home cooking. I’ve figured out how to build a business that brings value to people's lives and is a trusted brand; 10 years lowering food costs and improving ordering tactics and systems. I care deeply about the environment and the well being of our planet. All of these efforts and values combined with the U.N.’s goal to reduce food waste by half in the next 10 years and the advocates calling for a social movement equals Ends + Stems!

I understand that your top goal might be an easy healthy dinner, and I can do that. But, we can also effortlessly reduce your food waste and save you money at the same time! So, what are you waiting for?

Please reach out by email or any of our social channels anytime. I would love to hear from you. Enjoy your Meals!

(If you’re wondering how I went from instagram to this awesome web-app your using today, read that part of the story here.)


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