How’d They Do it? How a Start-up Partners with NYC 3 Star Michelin Restaurant Eleven Madison Park
For most foodies, it’s a dream to even have dinner at a 3 Star Michelin restaurant like Eleven Madison Park. But how do you go a step further? Imagine being a food start-up company who gets to partner with a legendary New York 3 Star Michelin restaurant. How’d they do it?
Let’s find out in an exclusive interview with Mellody Food’s Darko Mandich.
Darko Mandich is a food entrepreneur in San Francisco. After spending almost a decade in the European honey industry as a business executive, Darko committed to reimagining the honey industry to become sustainable. Darko immigrated from Europe to California to launch Mellody, the world’s first plant-based honey brand. Darko is an advocate of saving the bees and wild pollinators.
Recently, I had a chance to talk with Darko for nearly an hour.
Eleven Madison Park is a 3 Star Michelin restaurant, one of New York’s most esteemed fine dining venues. How did you start that relationship?
Yeah, thank you for asking that question, because this is an opportunity to tell the story. It started at the beginning of 2022. We were busy with our process of making this honey. Still not having the final product and bringing it to the market, but we’re getting there. I was really excited with what our team was delivering at that time. And I started thinking, okay, at some point sometime soon we’re gonna have a sample, and who should test that sample?
The reason why this sample was important is because it was a one ounce jar, like a very tiny jar, but the cost of that sample was $300,000.
I was thinking who should open this? Who should be the person to taste this? And that week I came across this podcast featuring Chef Daniel Humm, leading one of the most well-known restaurants in the world, Eleven Madison Park.
[On the podcast he explained…] When covid kicked in, it taught him a lesson about the importance of the interaction of foods and the world around us, and how the stories around if the virus came from an animal. That inspired him to think more about the interaction between animals and people. And he took this responsibility as a chef to really think about what he wants to do next. And what he wanted to do was one of the boldest moves in the world. To transform a well-known restaurant that serves all kinds of products, including meat to a fully plant-based restaurant.
So this Chef from Eleven Madison Park, the finest French cuisine. [Food and fine dining] experts were very skeptical about that decision. But what I really cared [about as a person] at that time is that there was someone who took responsibility to reflect on his own role in the food industry. And that immediately connected me with my story of being part of the honey industry before working with bees, and now taking the responsibility to build the future that’s kinder and sustainable.
I said to myself, we have to get to this person. He should be the one to taste [our] $300,000 one ounce of honey made without bees.
So, I reached out to my network to [find ways to] send them a sample.
In that process, I got to learn a lot about high-end, Michelin Star restaurants and how they operate. It wasn’t going to be easy or straight-forward to do.
So my co-founder and I, we decided to book a dinner at the restaurant. They just re-opened and [so even booking a reservation was hard.] We flew from San Francisco to New York, show up as regular guests for dinner. We loved the dinner, we loved the food. And then we asked if someone from their team would talk to us, that was just the beginning of it.
They were very excited. They quickly assembled a panel of people and they wanted to hear what we had to say. For me, that was really amazing. That was a dream come true.
As a kid growing up in Eastern Europe and thinking about the impact I wanna make in my career, I never thought that I’m gonna be having a company in San Francisco and then pitching to the highest culinary authority of the food industry honey without bees.
That was the beginning of the relationship.
They are very careful around the food that they incorporate. [While] they are a plant-based restaurant, they don’t usually work with mainstream plant-based brands that they don’t believe in the level of their quality. So for us it was a big honor.
Seeing our company brand next to the brand of the best plant-based restaurant in the world is really amazing.
From the time you’re at the restaurant Eleven Madison Park that night to getting the deal, what did that journey look like?
What lessons did you learn from going through that process?
From the “cold dinner” to this jar, was hundreds of hours of conversations. And what I learned as a business owner is that conversations are necessary for trust to be built.
If there’s a culinary authority with 3 Michelin stars and so many awards, and [then another company] basically a new company, a startup, there’s a big dis-balance in terms of authority and brand equity and the image and reputation.
When they asked us how it’s made, let’s go beyond the ingredients list. Let’s show them the photos of the plants that we source. Let’s tell them a story of where these plants are found. Let’s tell them the story of the terroir. Because if you think about all these future of food products, all these companies creating the new industries, these companies are led mostly by amazing scientists who know how to make products in a different way.
But what’s very often forgotten, this culinary story, the story of terroir, the story of the plants around us. And I think the Eleven Madison Park team was amazed to see the other side. A bunch of experts who are forward thinking, who understand that we wanna advance towards a better process, a better product, but we also don’t forget the nature around us, and we are actually doing this for the nature that’s around us.
So I think that level of thoughtfulness, attention to detail, and our ability to go the extra mile for them, I think that paid off.
So all of that plus lots of patience because these people take time to move, these are the best culinary minds in the world.
When we would be following up, I would be adding more, “Here’s something more on that plan. Here’s the report on the bees. Here’s the video that we did.”
Last year in May, there was kind of a mid-step [in the process]. We pitched them this idea to partner for World Bee Day, which is May 20th.
So for May 20 2022, we pitched the idea of organizing an event at Eleven Madison Park and invite The Mayor of New York, investors, people from the business community, the United Nations diplomatic core. Invite all these people to taste Michelin star food made with our product, a specialty menu for dinner.
Is your honey currently available at Eleven Madison Home?
This is the product from a direct to consumer collaboration. We just launched with three Michelin star, Eleven Madison Park in New York City.
Yeah, the honey is currently available. The Specialty Tea and Honey Box launched for the Mother’s Day collection and Earth Month.
It’s a specially curated box of artisanal teas coming from different parts of the world with honey and also amazing, shortbread cookies. All plant-based, also made with our honey. That’s available right now
Sometime very soon a standalone jar [of honey] will also be available to Eleven Madison Home.
Tell us again what’s available, how to find it; and how to follow you and support you.
Yeah, follow us on Instagram and TikTok at MellodyFoods
In terms of purchasing, head to ElevenMadisonHome.com and you can purchase it there.
Saving the bees is learning more about them. Learning more about pollinators and you can do that on our social media.
And finally, if you’re equally passionate about bees and plants as we are, ask your favorite restaurant to reach out to us to offer Mellody in your favorite restaurant. It can be a vegan restaurant on non-vegan.
We are gonna work with all the restaurants that reach out to us where people ask to see our product offered, either on the menu, either within a meal, or just if you order a cup of tea and you want a side of Mellody.