Jennifer Shearer, co-owner of PRESS Bistro in Johnstown, Pennsylvania, may have found success with her award-winning Strawberry Cornbread Panzanella, but she is not one to rest on her laurels. Since winning the 2017 Neighborhood to Nation Recipe Contest, Jennifer and her husband Jeremy have launched a meal delivery service and are in process the opening of a brewery. This is all in addition to their day-to-day activity at PRESS Bistro, the popular restaurant and bar they own and operate in the heart of Johnstown’s downtown area.
We recently caught up with Jennifer to talk about life after winning the Neighborhood to Nation Recipe Contest, where she received a $40,000 cash prize, $10,000 to share with a non-profit in her community, and a special visit to her restaurant from Food Network star and celebrity chef Amanda Freitag.
General Mills: What has life been like since winning N2N?
Jennifer Shearer: It has been fantastic! People recognize me when I’m out and about. There has been a positive response from the community and they are excited that we put little Johnstown on the map! We definitely saw a spike in business as several cities surrounding our area shared the news that we won the contest.
GM: Are you still serving your award-winning recipe?
JS: We added the salad to our menu after we entered the contest and had it on throughout the summer. Now that strawberry season is over, we are transitioning to fall items. We will bring back the salad next summer!
Jennifer’s Strawberry Cornbread Panzanella is a twist on a classic Italian bread salad that uses Gold Medal™ Honey Cornbread Mix, brown sugar and poppy seeds to make delicious croutons.
GM: Why is the cornbread mix a good fit for this recipe?
JS: I think the cornbread adds a sweetness that pairs well with the strawberries. There are several other savory items in the salad, so it is a nice balance. The texture is also appealing in salad—it’s not the traditional bread crouton but it’s softer with a crumbly texture.
GM: Have you used the cornbread mix in other menu items?
JS: We have used the mix in corn puddings and several times for BBQ applications. You can be so diverse with it by just adding bacon jam or candied jalapeños; you make it creamy or more dense like a bread.
GM: How can prepared mixes be a help in commercial kitchens?
JS: I think the variety of things you can do with a mix, like the cornbread mix, is very beneficial. Even though it is a mix, you can put your own spin on it and be as creative as you want to be. Another benefit is the consistency that mixes provide to ensure the end result will always be the same so the customer gets the same product. It is also helpful to have all the ingredients in one box so that you are not buying several products, having to store them and use valuable labor to prepare them from scratch.
GM: As the Grand Prize Winner, you were able to share a $10,000 donation with your community.
JS: Yes, I shared the donation with The Discover Downtown Johnstown Partnership, which is helping to revitalize downtown Johnstown and has created a number of events that draw people to the area. We thought it was important to invest back into the community and are grateful that General Mills gave us this opportunity. (Read the news release.)
PRESS Bistro is located in downtown Johnstown, Pennsylvania, right near the city’s Central Park.
GM: You also won $40,000 for yourself! Have you done anything fun with your prize winnings?
JS: We are in the process of getting Stone Bridge Brewing up and running in the next few months, so we used a portion of the prize money to help put in a new front and back entrance to the brew pub area. The rest we have stashed away!
GM: Last question, meal delivery services are taking off and seem like such a great opportunity for restaurants to get in on. How does your service work and any tips for others interested in starting a service of their own?
JS: Our service, Fresh exPRESS, includes meals that are already prepared and simply need to be reheated. We know many of our customers are trying to eat healthier and are focused on clean eating or whole foods. This service gives them healthy meal preparation delivered to their door.
PRESS Bistro’s Fresh exPRESS meal delivery program launched in July 2017.
I prepare meals and drop them off at customers’ doorsteps on Sunday afternoons. There are two options: a five-meal plan for $55 or an eight-meal plan for $75. (Jennifer posts the weekly menu on the restaurant’s Facebook page.)
The service has been going well! I have customers who use them for lunch every day at work or save them for dinner. I am only able to handle about 25 customers at a time because I do it all on my own. If I had any advice to offer others interested in starting a delivery service, I would recommend figuring out foods that hold well and look good even when stored a few days. For instance, I quick blanch all my veggies so they are pretty and green until they are ready to heat. I use all fresh veggies and meats to ensure that I am putting out the best quality food at a reasonable price.
Want to boost your retail revenue? Start with a strong carry out program. Find out how—and receive free promotional materials.