We had the good fortune of connecting with Melissa Pickering and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Melissa, what was your thought process behind starting your own business?
Food is love. And like many people, my fondest memories involve food – sharing a meal with loved ones during the holidays, eating out at a great restaurant with friends, or learning to bake in my grandmother’s kitchen. I’ve also been fortunate that I’ve never had to worry about where my next meal will come from. But for 1 in 5 people in Arizona, approximately 38% of which are children, that is not the case. As my career naturally gravitated towards working in kitchens, I became acutely aware of the amount of food that is wasted – at many levels and for many reasons, not just in restaurants – meanwhile knowing that so many people in our state are food insecure. I decided to do something about this. My initial inclination was to try to rescue and redistribute the food myself or with help from volunteers. However, the logistical and cost issues were such that this did not seem feasible on top of my current work. I realized, though, that organizations which do this work already exist, and if there were a way to support them – as well as earn some side income for my family – that would be the better option. Out of this thought process, Cooking Up Luv was born. Cooking Up Luv is a charitable boutique apparel store. The designs are based on every day elements of working in a kitchen, and 20% of each sale is donated to charities fighting food waste and hunger. I am proud to say that for its first partial month of existence – August of this year – donations from sales provided 89 meals to people in need through Waste Not Arizona.
Can you open up a bit about your work and career? We’re big fans and we’d love for our community to learn more about your work.
I’m very excited that social entrepreneurship is on the rise – consumers are increasingly making buying decisions to support humanitarian causes by shopping from socially conscious organizations. Similarly, it’s been unexpected and immeasurably gratifying to see the positive impact that even a low volume, little heard of charitable boutique like mine can have. Just the small donations from my first couple of months in business have enabled two incredible local organizations (Waste Not Arizona and Community Food Bank of Southern Arizona) to provide meals for hundreds more people in need. Although the charitable for-profit model seems to be increasingly common these days, Cooking Up Luv is unique in several ways.
First of all, my target audience is a group that relatively few companies cater to, or even think about – the restaurant worker. If you’ve ever worked in a kitchen you immediately recognize and relate to the images on my graphic Tees, as will many home cooks and other food lovers.
Secondly, Cooking Up Luv supports other local businesses in addition to local charities. I use local screen printers to produce my final product, so more dollars are kept in the community.
Lastly, and perhaps most importantly, is that I try to educate consumers about food waste and hunger, in addition to making sales and donations. Change begins with awareness, and many people do not realize that food waste and hunger are not only huge issues (recently exacerbated by Covid), but they are related and largely preventable.
If you had a friend visiting you, what are some of the local spots you’d want to take them around to?
Sadly, in the Phoenix metro area we’ve lost many beloved restaurants to the pandemic. Fortunately, though, there are still many wonderful establishments to choose from – so much so that I will have trouble narrowing it down! In no particular order, some of my favorite restaurants include The Parlor, Hana Japanese Eatery, St. Francis, Ocotillo, Tarbell’s, Postino, Revolu, Cock N’ Tails, Cherry Blossom Noodle Cafe, Asi Es La Vida, Anhelo and Hanny’s down town… all of which have fantastic food and a great vibe, many with patio seating and options for the plant based eater and carnivore alike. As the weather cools, one of my favorite spots to visit is the underground bar at The Rokerij in Uptown. It has a cozy, welcoming atmosphere complete with roaring fireplace and great wine selection. For the happiest of hours: I love the “5 for $5” drink specials at the Upwards Projects restaurants (not to mention super tasty bites!) as well as the laid back, work is over atmosphere at The Vig. Sushi Vibe and Sushiholic also have fantastic specials on drinks, sushi, and other Japanese inspired dishes. There are also a few spots I’ve been hearing great things about and wanting to visit, such as The Larder + The Delta, Barrio Cafe, and Vecina. Other than visiting restaurants I would definitely take a friend to downtown Phoenix. First, we’d go to the Heard Museum or the Science Center, then drive by the many beautiful murals adorning buildings along 16th St. or Roosevelt Row… later on, we might catch a show at Stand Up Live or Crescent Ballroom. One of my favorite cocktail spots, The Breadfruit & Rum Bar, is also located down town. On another day, we’d go hike North Mountain or Piestewa Peak in the morning and soak up the amazing views.
Who else deserves some credit and recognition?
There are many people whose love, support, encouragement, and good example over the years have led me to where I am today. First and foremost, I need to give a huge shoutout to my husband, Phil Madison, for supporting my decision to start Cooking Up Luv even in the midst of the pandemic, being furloughed, and having limited start-up funds. I’d also like to recognize my parents, who have always been 100% supportive in our endeavors, and particularly my father who has always personified the epitome of good work ethic and good business ethics. I also thank my sister and brother-in-law, who included me in opening French Grocery, and my current Executive Pastry Chef, Roy Pell, for taking a chance on someone who’s never been to culinary school.
Phil Madison, Joel Muniz