The evolution of the brown bag
Guardian Lifestyles Editor
Published: Jun 15, 2013
Two years and four months ago, fashionista Tyrina Neely was running the pop-up Primadona Designer Sales. One day she decided to offer hors d’oeuvres at one of her events. People were blown away and kept requesting the contact for her caterer. Tyrina was her own caterer. The response she got set off a light bulb moment — people were impressed with her food and she realized that there were busy professionals out there like her own family members who never take time out of their day to grab something to eat. She decided that busy professionals could order lunch in advance and someone would bring it to them as opposed to them having to leave their office.
Offering lunch delivery wasn’t a reinvention on any level, but she decided to make it her own. The first thing she decided to do was offer basic packaging, the gourmet meals would be delivered in a plain brown paper sack, the same kind of bag people took their lunches to school in years ago, but those sacks would hold tasty, healthy, sexy meals.
And she wanted the name to be as simple as the packaging, hence the name Brown Bag Gourmet.
Initially, Tyrina took the orders, cooked the food and delivered the meals. Today she works with a team of three young chefs (all graduates of the Culinary Hospitality Management Institute) and has three delivery drivers hired on a part-time basis. And the food has evolved as well, having moved beyond the basic seared fish fillet to offerings like a guava infused jerk braised short ribs served with rustic mashed potatoes and green beans, peppercorn crusted filet mignon served with roasted garlic mashed potatoes and asparagus, grilled shrimp Caesar salad, cranberry chicken salad atop baby spinach and romaine with strawberries, grapes, tomatoes and cucumber, chicken and shrimp stir fry served with garlic and parsley jasmine rice, Indonesian pork tenderloin served with garlic and parsley jasmine rice and English sweet peas, seafood (mussels, shrimp, stone crab) linguine with herbs, butter and white wine sauce, Mandarin salad with crab cake or grilled chicken breast to seared beef tenderloin with crab cake served with garlic and herbed jasmine rice and fresh vegetables served with garlic bread.
Desserts like fresh fruit and berry tartlet, caramel apple brownie, cheesecake stuffed red velvet cupcakes and key lime pie are some of the sweet endings to the Brown Bag Gourmet lunch offerings.
“When we first started we only had one option per day, now we normally have two — what we call our lighter fare option and something that’s slightly heavier,” said Tyrina of Brown Bag Gourmet’s evolution.
“We try to get really inventive with the menus and really give people something really delicious that they typically wouldn’t be able to find locally for lunch at a reasonable price.” All Brown Bag Gourmet meals are $15 whether it’s a stuffed chicken breast, or seafood pasta with lobster, shrimp and mussels.
Tyrina initially ran the business from her home kitchen. She now rents a commercial kitchen. Although she does catering, she recently took Brown Bag’s offering to The Little Pink Party and was literally swamped — to the point where at certain times during the day she had to stop taking orders to catch up with the demand placed on the five-person team she had taken with her to the event.
“We did The Little Pink Party because we wanted to see what would happen if we took Brown Bag to the event, so it definitely took us out of our comfort zone,” she said. But more people were introduced to the Brown Bag fare.
As she looks to the future, Tyrina says when people think of Brown Bag Gourmet, the first thing she wants people to associate with the name is delicious food, great service and convenience because the food is delivered to their door and they don’t have to move. Ultimately she says her goal is to open a little brown bag café and still offer delivery.
And she wants to continue to attract the best young chefs who are passionate about food and feeding people delicious food.
“I want Brown Bag to be the spot that launches the career of chefs, because persons get to know the chefs based on the amazing food.”
While she has professional chefs working with her, Tyrina says she still finds herself in the kitchen more than she needs to be. She says she finds it difficult to take her hands completely out of it.