Maria Kennedy, self-taught chef and owner of Vegan Meatballin’, is forging ahead into a niche food market with her vegan weekly meal service and small-group catering. When asked why she began this type of business, Kennedy simply said, “food brings people together, and I love making it!”
Kennedy’s road to starting her own meal delivery business was a bit winding, but her passion for making flavorful food was obvious from an early age. Born into a close-knit Italian family, Kennedy says gatherings were always centered around a large and varied spread of delicious food. Kennedy remembers being welcomed into her grandmother’s kitchen as a child to help her make their traditional Southern Italian meals.
“I can still remember how the light streamed into my Nonna’s kitchen and how I felt this sense of calm as I rolled dough,” she says.
At home with her own mother, Kennedy enjoyed helping make meals and learned how to adapt traditional recipes to be healthier. For example, eggplant parmesan was baked and not fried in Kennedy’s household. Kennedy’s love of cooking continued to flourish in college as she gathered with college friends to cook and host dinner parties in their off-campus housing—serving up savory pots of “Sunday gravy” any day of the week.
When Kennedy settled into her elementary teaching career and family life in Hoboken, she sought to fully embrace, “we are what we eat.” She began choosing only the highest-quality ingredients (non-GMO, locally-sourced, organic) to create her wide array of healthy recipes. While Kennedy was pregnant with her third child, her husband’s long-term neck and back pain became debilitating. Looking for answers, Kennedy began reading up on food sourcing and discovered the health benefits of eating a plant-based diet. Books like The Plantpower Way: Whole Food Plant-Based Recipes and Guidance for the Whole Family by Rich Roll and Veganomicon: The Ultimate Vegan Cookbook by Isa Chandra Moskowitz and Terry Hope Romero, guided Kennedy. Her husband adopted an organic vegan diet—eating foods with no ingredients derived from animals—and Kennedy says, his ailments improved within just weeks.
With this life-changing discovery, Kennedy and her husband agreed they’d prepare and eat only vegan foods. Kennedy says this change in diet was at first overwhelming as she spent hours experimenting with different vegan ingredients (no meat, fish, or dairy) and methods to perfect the texture and flavors of her traditional Italian recipes. Gradually, Kennedy found ease and confidence as she transformed some of her favorite traditional Italian dishes into vegan versions, including meatless “meatballs’ and eggplant lasagna. To Kennedy’s surprise, friends and family sought her out for food advice and her delicious vegan dishes. With some prompting, she went on Instagram in 2016 to share recipes, her favorite food brands, and cooking and lifestyle tips.
In the summer of 2017, Kennedy and her husband moved into Verona with their three young children, and they instantly fell in love with Verona, with Kennedy describing their new community as, “family-oriented, close-knit, and welcoming”. She thought the timing was perfect to switch careers and pursue her passion for cooking. Knowing families are busy and conscious about eating healthy, Kennedy began her vegan food business in April 2019 with hopes she could offer time-saving, nutrient-rich, and delicious foods. Each week, she offers three types of plant-based meal options, packaged in reusable 32-oz. jars. Customers can choose from savory foods like vegetable 3-bean chili and sauteed sesame tofu ($19 to $25 per 32oz. jar, serves 4 to 6). Kennedy also prepares unique and savory dishes for small-group catering, including her savory vegan meatballs and sauce ($95, serves 8 to 12) and tofu caesar wraps ($85, 36 sandwiches). All cooking is done in a commercial kitchen. On her website, Kennedy labels menu items with symbols so that people with any type of diet can find items that work for them.
Kennedy strives to keep her recipes unique and fresh—using mostly ingredients available at local markets and accommodating the tastes and needs of her client base. At least one of her weekly meal options includes an entrée that can be served in several different ways. For example, her savory jackfruit “chicken” salad can be served in a sandwich, with rice, or atop a green salad.
As an educator at heart, Kennedy plans to continue taking culinary education classes and keep abreast of current food sourcing regulations and health benefits of plant-based and minimally processed whole foods.