Fork It is coming upon its fifth year operating live, but the origin of our company goes back a few more years. A few of our customers remember the initial meals, in the burn unit at Loyola, that formed the roots of the company that Fork It is today. If you live in the Crystal Lake area or the suburbs around Chicago, you likely have heard of us, or maybe you’ve seen us on TikTok and Instagram. Either way, we often get asked about how long we’ve been open and how we got our name. So, here’s the story.
Jess was a nurse at Loyola before starting Fork It, and that’s actually where the whole thing got its start. She simply was making meals for the crew she worked with at the hospital, cooking each of her friends their favorite dishes. Over time the amount of people, and the amount of food increased - and her (great) friends started offering her money. At the hospital Jess was able to hone in her recipes and form a sort of sign up sheet for all of her coworkers. Other people became interested in signing up, but not just for themselves, for their neighbors, friends and family. Eventually the budding company was big in the hospital and the Maywood area.
Some of our favorite recipes, and the classic Fork It recipes that people know, come from this time. The recipes that Jess started making for her friends are the same ones that our clients enjoy today: turkey meatballs, stuffed peppers, pasta primavera…if it works, it works!
So, how does cooking for your friends become a business? Before Fork It actually became a business, Jess was cooking and bringing meals to the hospital for a year. The first 3-6 months at the hospital she started honing in her process: the sign up sheet, shopping on Saturday, cooking on Sunday, packaging properly, then having someone meet her in the garage at the hospital to bring everything inside. She said that somewhere in the process she was running numbers and realized she might be able to make a profit. The next 6 months were spent writing down the recipes, making the website, licensing, and finding a commercial kitchen while working full time at the hospital. August 2017 Fork It went live, online, social media and as an official business, and Jess quit nursing in 2018 to run the company full time.
We got lots of compliments…and comments, about the name ‘Fork It’. It’s brilliant, and has an edge. Before landing on that particular name there were a lot of different options... At Loyola, Jess, many of our customers may be conscious of her fire, had a strong vocabulary. Every few days someone would mark the amount of times she used a specific profanity, beginning with ‘F’ and ending with ‘K’. There was also another obscenity represented by EAD. With her coworkers and friends, one of Fork It’s possible names was, EAD (Excellent and Delicious, of course). Fork You was another option, which developed into Fork It with the help of Jess’s Dad and Brother, “I don’t wanna go out let’s just Fork It”. If you’re going to leave a solid career in nursing and you’re gonna take a leap, it has to be bold - so is the name.
As the company has grown, the goal has been to make the meals with as much fresh, local food, as possible - the goal was never to make diet food, but to have a well rounded diet, with vegetables, proteins and carbohydrates. Attempting to make Food as delicious, convenient and local as possible has been one of Jess’s favorite aspects of creating the company. Part of that involves getting to know local farmers, and forming real relationships. Making connections with farms and small businesses has been a crucial aspect of achieving healthy and diverse produce sources. It’s also been an interesting way of networking, not something nurses need to do. Web design and finance were a foreign part of running a business, and that’s why Joanne, Fork It’s co-founder, has been an integral part of the company since the very beginning. Spearheading the behind the scenes aspects that make a business run.
The end of the year is a busy season, but as we get into the run of the new year we have more time to diversify what we make for our customers. We have such a creative set of cooks in the kitchen, that every week a flight of ideas comes out. It’s often a conversation buzzing with “oh, but what about this, and what about this?” A lot of people may want to buy the same thing every week, but we hope our clients appreciate the diversity. When you are trying to cook food that flows with the seasons, that means you’ll be adapting to what is available, and that means each meal may be a bit different.
This somewhat connects to our charcuterie and grazing. The fun part about our grazing tables and charcuterie is that if you are trying to push the envelope you can. Not everyone wants to spend money on an expensive slice of cheese, but our tables allow you to try it, and if you like it you may be more willing to spend money on it for yourself if you know it’s good. Fork It originated as a company focused on meal prep, and has developed its palate quite a bit. We are excited to be connected to the community and to farmers to show people the beauty and value of food.