Tyceson Mills and Jessica Smith, the husband and wife team behind a new local business, MealSmith, provide hand crafted, locally sourced and globally inspired meals to-go.
Most menu items at MealSmithMarket.com are available for next day pickup including small plates, appetizers, tapas, sandwiches, salads, and sweets ranging from $5 dollars to $12.50.
“You’ll find curried cauliflower with a tomato chutney, greek salad with local feta, Lebanese tabbouleh, jerk chicken skewers served with a mango chutney, a local cheese platter and so much more,” Smith said in a recent interview.
“Signature meals - available two days from your order date - include a chicken, beef and vegan or vegetarian option with two sides that rotates every two weeks. We customize to allow for allergies or dietary preferences like gluten-free, low sodium, keto, etc. You can order as far in advance as you like, or order by 3:00 p.m. and get it tomorrow.”
MealSmith operates and cooks out of Piedmont Food Processing Center in Hillsborough, where they proudly maintain a 100.0 sanitation score. PFPC was started as a joint project of Alamance, Chatham, Durham, and Orange Counties as a base for launching and growing food businesses in the Piedmont and is a pending 501(c)3 nonprofit. The facility offers rental commercial kitchen space in order to enable local food and agricultural entrepreneurship.
MealSmith’s kitchen in Hillsborough also serves as one of its hubs and two meal pickup locations Monday through Saturday.
“It’s location right off of Highway 85 and 86 at 500 Valley Forge Road makes it extremely easy to get to,” Smith said.
Mills and Smith’s hope is to share the love and respect they have for food, from the farmers that grow it and where it’s grown, to utilizing traditional cooking styles to bring out the true flavors in the food.
Mills and Smith were both born and raised in North Carolina - Jessica in the nearby small town of Pittsboro, and Tyceson in Charlotte.
Mills has over 25 years in the hospitality and service industry. He began cooking at home at the age of nine, took his first restaurant position at the age of 15, and at 16 was offered a full-time line cook position. He has worked in every position from line cook to kitchen manager. Over the last six years, he has been the Manager of Weathervane at A Southern Season in Chapel Hill, Rick’s Dinner in Durham, as well as one locally owned restaurant in Mebane, Catrina’s.
Smith has spent over 20 years in the hospitality industry. Her first job was hosting and serving brunch at a locally-owned restaurant in her hometown. She was selected for corporate training for the opening of a franchised restaurant in South Carolina after graduation from East Carolina University. Once the restaurant was open, she moved to the healthcare setting at UNC Hospitals, which led to private events, on the corporate and university level at The Carolina Club.
A passion for planning and design was sparked yet again when she joined the team at Soigné Events, where for the last three years she provided owner Lora Brooker assistance with planning and design, marketing, and event management. Soigné won awards for Best Caterer, Best Event Planner, Best Food at a meeting and Best Wedding from National Association of Catering and Events (triangle chapter) and Best of Durham while she was employed there.
“We actually met working in a restaurant and for years we have shared the dream of founding a company that encompasses our travels and culinary passions,” Smith said. “We have lived in several places across North Carolina in the last eleven years before settling down in a wonderful neighborhood, not far from downtown Mebane. We can’t think of anywhere else we’d rather be, but we miss the food from our adventures and sought more diversity in the local food scene.”
Mills and Smith originally had a traditional restaurant in mind, but last summer when yet another location didn’t work out, they found inspiration in one of the local businesses in downtown Mebane. They are partnering with that business to provide their products to local customers.
“I went to Grit + Grace downtown for some retail therapy,” Smith said. “It was actually the owner Angela (Bobal) who encouraged us to keep going and not give up. So, we set up meetings with some of the most respected names in the North Carolina food and beverage industry who love what they do and have made a career of it. They lit a fire inside us and all of a sudden it clicked.”
“We wanted to give downtown Mebane access to culturally diverse dishes, local North Carolina ingredients and farmers in a welcoming atmosphere. Which is why we are proud to partner with Grit + Grace in downtown Mebane,” Smith continued. “Angela features locally made gifts, photography, custom made furniture and more in her boutique. Her respect for local artisan goods made us feel like Grit + Grace was the perfect place for a pickup location.”
Customers in Mebane can choose to pickup MealSmith items Monday through Saturday 10:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m. at Grit + Grace. or at their kitchen in Hillsborough.
Ingredients are of prime importance to the ownership at MealSmith, and they have carefully selected their local vendor partners to ensure they share our passion and love for sustainable and locally grown products.
“We form relationships with our vendors, visit the farms and really get to know where it all comes from,” Smith said. “We want to grow with and be a part of the community, not just watch it work around us. One of our partners is Transplanting Traditions Community Farm, which gives refugees access to land, healthy food, and agricultural and entrepreneurial opportunities. The farm provides a cultural community space for families to come together, build healthy communities and continue agricultural traditions in the Piedmont. My (Jessica) grandparents were missionaries and there were always guests from different countries in their home, always in the kitchen cooking up a storm. Working with Transplanting Traditions reminds me of her and the families they welcomed into her home.”
“At the end of the day we want to provide ease of access, and awareness, about what products are available around us, and how to use them to create healthy and flavorful food,” she added.
As it turned out, Mills and Smith figured out that they could perform their business without a brick-and-mortar physical restaurant location.
“We didn’t need a restaurant to provide access to local goodness, or culturally diverse food,” Smith said. “When we re-evaluated our business model away from the restaurant, to a more convenience based pickup, we noticed that we found ourselves focusing on the delivery situation in the area.”
“Our plan changed, and evolved, what if you could just go online, order a delicious meal, and pick it up the next day downtown Mebane or in Hillsborough when and where it’s convenient for you,” she continued. “Beyond that, you would know what farm your lettuce came from, and that Chaz (and his family) from Haw River Mushrooms in Saxapahaw, grew the mushrooms on your sandwich? Wouldn’t that make you feel good? Your dollars would be supporting multiple local, independent businesses. Then there is this awareness, that is sparked, and you begin to seek them out at the farmer’s market and develop a relationship with them. It’s about this journey of food from dirt to plate that no one thinks about anymore, but everyone needs to be talking about.”
While Smith indicated they “aren’t there yet,” they are currently in the process of applying for an investment grant offered by Orange County Economic Development to get the necessary funds to start a pilot program by this fall, with hopes to expand from MealSmith hubs including areas like Efland and Haw River.