While many restaurants in the Northeast continue to be closed during the COVID-19 crisis, Pepper Pantry, a food tech company co-founded by Natalie Mishkin ’18, is making meals at home a little more accessible and elegant.
Mishkin, a Los Angeles native with a degree in political science, jumped directly into a job as an account representative with Uber Eats following graduation. After heavy involvement in the company and a promotion to account executive, she was tapped by former Uber colleagues to join them on the ground floor of Pepper and is now the company’s operations manager.
While a Hofstra student, Mishkin traveled with the Political Science Department to New Hampshire for the 2016 presidential primaries, attended political conferences, and was a volunteer for CNN when Hofstra hosted its third presidential debate. Mishkin says the skills she developed as a student have been invaluable in the workplace.
“My classes in political science, and particularly writing and defending a thesis, taught me the value of time management and how to use research to drive effective communication,” she says. “There are times when I have differing viewpoints from my teammates and when I do, it’s essential that I use case studies and data to approach and support a new solution or initiative.”
Mishkin, who also worked for the Development Office and served as co-chair of Hofstra’s Senior Class Gift Committee, thinks her studies – in combination with her campus jobs – helped develop her sales skills. Also not lost on her is how the worlds of sales and politics sometimes intertwine. She says, “Both are about uncovering people’s wants and needs and crafting solutions to overcome them.”
Pepper started as a B2B app at the end of 2019 to connect restaurants with their wholesale food suppliers. Amidst COVID-19, many restaurants were forced to close their doors, leaving suppliers with no one to buy their gourmet food products. Mishkin and her colleagues quickly pivoted their business so that these clients could sell directly to consumers who were looking for online grocery options. Pepper Pantry launched in New York, and now also services Connecticut, Boston, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and DC.
Mishkin says that by completely overhauling their business paradigm, these food suppliers have been able to keep their doors open and even hire back some of their staff. “Their orders used to be sized for restaurants and hotels, but now they are delivering small orders to private homes. Many are saying that they will continue this part of their business even after the worst of the pandemic passes, because it’s proving to be an important source of revenue.”
Pepper Pantry provides the online platform, takes care of the marketing, and handles the sales transactions and customer service. The food suppliers deliver the orders themselves and can set the terms of sales (ie. order minimums and dates of the delivery). What’s exciting, Mishkin explains, is that households now have access to fresh food from the grocers and butchers that normally deal exclusively with high-end establishments. Suppliers include Tasty Duck, the farm that provides duck meat and chicken to some of the nation’s top restaurants like Tao and Eleven Madison Park; Longino & Cardenal, which services Carbone in Greenwich Village; and Boston Smoked Fish which sells to that city’s famous Row 34 and Whole Foods Market.
Looking ahead, Mishkin is planning at some point to attend law school – a dream she put on hold while she strengthens her career skills.
“I did not think working in a tech company is what I’d be doing post-graduation, or ever, but it’s taken me down a path where I’ve been able to expose myself to so many interests I didn’t know I had,” she says.
She encourages this year’s Hofstra grads and future classes to be open minded about their career potential. “Your first job doesn’t have to be your ‘dream job’ and may not be what you’ll do for the rest of your life. Find an interest or skill that you enjoy and are good at. Then use that as a diving board to get your job hunt and career started. You’ll find that the opportunities are endless.”