“Food is one of our most important cultural expressions as humans,” exclaims Mateo Marietti. Coming from Argentina it’s easy to see how he developed this belief. After all, the South American country from which he hails is synonymous with delicious dishes like asado, alfajor, dulce de leche, mate and empanadas as well as the full-bodied and flavorful wine, Malbec.
While Marietti loves to create a home cooked meal, he’s taken his passion for food out of the kitchen and into the office by bringing his passion for eating to other people. And we mean that literally—he’s a serial entrepreneur in the food delivery space. This includes co-founding Sushi Pop, which essentially introduced the Japanese delicacy to Argentine culture.
The success of that venture led to Marietti being named Argentina’s CEO of the year by Vistage Worldwide, Inc., a global organization that assembles and facilitates private advisory boards for CEOs, senior executives and business owners. He was also recognized on the prestigious Forbes 35 under 35 list for his home country.
With that success under his belt, Marietti decided to conquer the USA. Marietti co-founded CookUnity in the spring of 2015, and his wife Clara joined him shortly thereafter as CFO. The company delivers healthy, small batch meals from top-notch New York City chefs right to your home.
While it’s been a hit for consumers looking for heat-and-eat meals (the pre-prepared meals can be ready in under 2 minutes) that’s good for them, it’s also been a boon for chefs whose restaurants have been closed or have been seeing little business during the COVID-19 quarantine.
Helping others, whether it is to eat healthier or to get through tough times, goes right along with the core values of Marietti’s business style, something he wishes other businesses would follow. “We need more businesses built around unity and kindness,” he explains.
Recently, Marietti was kind enough to speak with BXBK about how his upbringing on a farm influenced his big city business, his productivity process and how food plays a part in his life outside of work.
REAL FOOD = REAL SUCCESS
Like many of those who enter the culinary world, Marietti couldn’t handle the cubicle lifestyle of a 9 to 5 job. “The moment I decided I was going to start my own thing was a day that I was commuting to my corporate job and thought ‘I really don’t feel like going to this office now,’” he remembers. “I was 21 at the time and realized it wouldn’t be a good life if 8-10 hours of each day would be something miserable or even acceptable.”
This is a similar tale many entrepreneurs tell—not wanting or even being able to work in the proverbial coal mines, all to achieve someone else’s vision. Looking back, Marietti says his autonomous spirit was inherited. “Both my parents are independent (dad is a farmer and mom is a fashion designer),” he explains.
Not only was this desire to do his own thing indoctrinated in him from an early age, his parents also encouraged his passion for trying new things and creating on his own. “When I was 13 I was obsessed with computers and my mom gave me this book about Silicon Valley and the stories of Bill Gates, Steve Jobs and other builders,” Marietti says.
The same way his pioneering personality is an outgrowth of his upbringing; his love for food comes from his background and childhood. He was born on a farm in Argentina where he became acquainted and fell in love with real, local, seasonal food. “If we wanted milk, we went to the cow, if we wanted eggs we went to the hen and if we wanted to eat meat we had to slaughter an animal,” he recalls. “That is very different from processed food you find in most supermarket aisles.”
The latter is something he quickly found out when he moved to the big city and struggled with the food available to him. This disconnect between people and their food is what made him want “to create a better solution for people to eat well on a daily basis while being mindful on the impact we have on the broader ecosystem.”
Marietti did this first by co-creating Sushi Pop, which has gone on to become one of the largest food delivery companies in Latin America. The startup also has expanded into brick and mortar locations. Working with the same partners, Marietti co-opened Peruvian-Asian fusion and traditional Argentinian restaurants, both in Buenos Aires.
From there, Marietti co-created CookUnity, which takes a lot from their previous experiences in Argentina. “The business we built in South America taught us that it is very hard to scale food while keeping high quality and variety,” he explains. “That trade-off has been accepted by brands and consumers for far too long now.”
Speaking of trade-offs, there’s no bigger one in terms of our health and lifestyle than what we eat. When we’re too busy to take the time to make a proper meal we end up eating fast food, low quality meals or even nothing at all. This is a problem Marietti faced as he left his family farm and its wholesome food to come to the city and pursue the fast-paced life of an entrepreneur.
So like many people who start a business, he solved his own problem and the problem of so many people like him. “I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard a similar story, “I’m a busy professional, would love to put better food on my family table, but don’t have the time and mental space to do it,” he explains. “With CookUnity we were able to enjoy our meals again, get back some time and peace of mind while improving how we feel and look!”
Along with giving people a chance to eat better he’s also giving chefs a chance to cook better since they don’t have to dumb-down their cuisine to make it fit into the confining box of fast food. “The main hypothesis for the CookUnity model is that if we empower chefs that are passionate and talented we can provide an amazing offering that can get better at scale versus the opposite,” he says.
So far, those instincts have been proven right. The company has signed up some of NYC’s top chefs (Jean-Georges Vongerichten, Esther Choi, JJ Johnson, Pierre Thiam, and Leah Cohen to name a few) and is serving up more than 18,500 meals per week while growing 15% monthly.
It’s not just hungry customers and foodies that are taking notice. CookUnity has attracted a star-studded array of backers including the Collaborative Fund, IDC Ventures, Vas Ventures, CEO of People Fund Matias de Tezanos, billionaire Marcos Galperin, co-founder of Weihua Yan, and Rohit Dsouza who founded WealthTech.
BE YOURSELF IN BUSINESS
Since food means so much to Marietti, it’s very easy for him to follow his heart when it comes to his business. For instance, CookUnity tries to be as eco-friendly as possible — again an outgrowth of Marietti’s upbringing on the farm. “We only have one planet…and it’s beautiful,” he says. “I was born in nature, I hope to die in nature and I fundamentally believe we are all united.”
But, Marietti says, many investors take a different route. Instead of staying true to who they are, they go for a quick cash grab. “People focus on not solving a problem lots of people actually need, starting a business for the wrong reasons, prioritizing money over the craft of creating an amazing experience for someone,” he states.
Along with focusing on businesses and ideas that get him excited and have meaning to him, Marietti has other ways of keeping his productivity high and his mind sharp. It starts with getting up early, though not to check email.
“I don’t have email and slack apps on my phone since they are too distracting and create a culture of immediacy that almost never is necessary,” he explains. “I try to do emails one hour in the morning and one hour at the end of the day.”
Often entrepreneurs talk about their personal routine, with an emphasis on the personal. That’s because many of these people started their business as a solo entity, as the lone employee doing everything all by themselves. As they bring on teammates, they continue their personal routine without the awareness that they are now responsible for other people and how they all work and, more importantly, work together.
Marietti hasn’t lost sight of the importance of bringing others into his process. “When you are mainly a very strong individual contributor/maker you can optimize for you, but when you are leading a team part of your job is to make sure everyone is working on the right priorities at all times and setting the pace,” Marietti points out. “Every quarter I consciously choose how to invest 100% of the time I have available and create my weekly schedule based on that.”
Being responsible for himself as well as for a team of employees and multiple companies is consuming. With so much on his plate (so to speak), Marietti says it can be easy to lose focus of what’s important. That’s why, no matter how busy he gets, he reminds himself that the most important part of being a successful entrepreneur is the same thing that makes a successful life.
“None of this matters if you don’t start from an overall healthy lifestyle, sleeping well, eating well, exercising, meditating, spending time with your loved ones, laughing often,” he exclaims.
EATING WELL, LIVING WELL
Take one look at Marietti’s Instagram page (@mateomarietti) with its slogan of “Stressed backwards spelling is Desserts” tells you how he relaxes. If sweets aren’t your thing, he’s got another motto he lives by: EAT GOOD FOOD REPEAT. Again, take a look at his Insta page and you see the amazing meals he’s tucked into recently. And he doesn’t like to eat alone. “We love family meals for friends and family once a week,” he adds.
With such a hearty appetite, Marietti makes sure to exercise daily to burn off those calories to stay fit. Given he hails from Argentina, home of the two-time World Cup champions and the birthplace of superstar Lionel Messi, his preferred method of exercise is playing soccer, but it isn’t always easy to get a game in the city. “Now I’m replacing soccer for outdoor running or cycling,” he says. “In the past I did trail running, duathlons and one triathlon.”
While these solo pursuits help to keep him healthy, for fun he makes sure to include family and friends in his pursuits—in the outdoors if possible. “New York has amazing spots to explore during the summer,” he says. “We love to go camping or going to an outdoor cinema when possible!” Adding others into the mix makes things even more enjoyable, he says. “We try to get one week a year where we share a house somewhere in nature with other friends with kids,” Marietti explains.
Until recently, this love of the outdoors was strictly a three-season affair. “Since my family and I moved to New York City, we’ve kind of hated the wintertime,” he admits. “We spent most of our time inside to be honest.” This seems out of character for a man with such a passion for life and culture. After all, the city draped in snow and with the holiday spirit floating through the air is a special place and time that must be experienced.
Enter the Chenega II. “With our Triple F.A.T Goose jacket this winter we actually enjoy walking outside and exploring the city when nobody is outside,” he says. Add in some family, a good meal and you’ve got a perfect day, signed, sealed and delivered.