We're trying something new tonight. We will hold our first live Q&A session on our Facebook page from 7:00-7:30 pm with our friends from Lady and The Shallot. Ask us about planning healthy vegan meals for the upcoming holidays or fun things to do in Trenton. See you tonight at the Trenton Journal Facebook page!
This week, we had the pleasure of speaking with Francesca Avitto and Kate Wnek, creators and co-owners of Trenton’s Lady and the Shallot. The plant-based eatery opened in May 2018 at the Trenton Farmer’s Market and offers customers a variety of vegan options, including nachos, tacos, and flatbreads. Their farm-to-table approach to dining has made them a local favorite among their loyal customer base. During our conversation, Avitto and Wnek shared how they were able to bring their plant-based eatery to life and their experience operating a small business during COVID-19.
How did you come up with the business name “Lady and the Shallot”?
Kate Wnek: Our cat’s name is Lady. We have two cats – two fur babies.
Francesca Avitto: So, we named it after her.
KW: But we had a catering company in Princeton before we did this, so I kind of wanted us to have like a name and – I’m gonna be completely honest with you – I wanted kind of like a—
KW: –a foofy name. Kind of like two names, like William and Sonoma. We had specific clientele because we were in Princeton. We had to, you know, kind of act toward our demographic. So, I thought that was a cool name. Plus, we like shallots; they’re sexy onions. They’re like one of our favorite ingredients.
FA: Yeah, but she [Wnek] really came up with the name.
KW: It just kind of popped into my head one day.
FA: When we first started Lady and the Shallot, before it was Lady and the Shallot, it was a catering and events company, and we were just calling it KF Hospitality. So, it was Kate and Francesca's hospitality. And then we were like, we need to come up with a solid name that's going to be our real business. And we were just out on a walk one day, and she just blurted out ‘Lady and the Shallot.'
How has COVID impacted your business, if any?
FA: To be honest, you know, like any small business, we were terrified when COVID hit. Of course, for our health and the health of our families and all that, but, as a business, we just— we assumed that this could really impact us.
When we first found out about COVID – you know, that first week that everybody started closing down and making decisions – we decided to close for a month, because I'm high risk and because my wife's mom was also a very high risk at the time. We weren't really sure what to do with it, so we closed down for a month, and I think some sort of silver lining came about halfway through when one of our customers reached out to us and was like, ‘how do we buy gift cards online?'
And then people started asking that more and more. We realized that our customers were so supportive of us that they were willing to just prepay for meals for a long time, just to keep us in business and to make sure that we came back. So, that was kind of where I think we realized this isn't going anywhere, and our customers are amazing. We’re very close with our customers.
What is your most popular meal?
FA: Rainbow tacos!
KW: —we’re known for [them]. In the rainbow tacos, it's fresh tomatoes, fresh roasted corn [from] Jersey, if available, smashed avocado, red cabbage—
FA: Roasted corn and roasted chickpeas.
KW: —and then you can get the chickpeas super spicy, or you can get them regular. And then we top it with our lemon caper aioli, which is like our house sauce.
What do you want people to know about you and your business story?
FA: We always had food and family and community in mind, even when we first started our catering company … We started to realize the things about our parents, [like] illnesses that they had … So, we had all of them in mind when we had started to change our lifestyle a little bit … About a month after we opened, I was actually diagnosed with kidney disease, and so, I have stage three kidney disease; that really put the icing on the cake.
How can people find you?
FA: Instagram has been our biggest source of advertisement. And what's cool about this spot, though, is that we want it to be as farm-to-table as possible, so we figured, let's just be where the farms are. So, we chose the Trenton farmer's market. When in season— if it's on the menu and it's in season, it’s from the market. So, it's straight farm-to-table. Like, they picked it in the morning, and it's on your plate. Because of that, we have such a beautiful base of people that aren't vegan that eat here every day.
What does Trenton mean to you?
FA: It's full of culture. It's full of arts. It's full of really great food [and] really cool people who are really close.
We want to thank you and the Trenton Journal for coming out and supporting our small business by spreading the word about us. We realize what you guys are doing with your publication, and it's actually opened our eyes to a lot of small, local businesses that we otherwise may not [have] known about. So, everybody follow the Trenton Journal and—
FA: —support. We're all just trying to do this together, and we really appreciate you. So, thank you.