Business partners Lindsay Henry, 26, and Jane Pruitt, 50, may be at different stages of life, but when it comes to food, they’re firmly on the same page. The pair, who met while working at a local catering company, recently opened The Nook Café together in the University of Maryland BioPark. And while they may not have degrees in science or engineering, they certainly did their research. The result? A creative, locally sourced scratch menu perfect for on-the-go guests.
How did you transition from catering to The Nook?
We first met almost four years ago. I (Lindsay) started off as Jane’s assistant, and within a month, I was a sales manager alongside her. Although we were in competitive positions, we both felt we strived the best when working together as a team. Despite our age differences, we have the same passions (for food!) and ambitions. It wasn’t a matter of if we would do something on our own, but when. Within a year, an opportunity presented itself and we took it as our chance.
Did you have a background in the food industry?
Jane has been in the industry longer than I have been alive. She ran a cafe in a similar environment at Johns Hopkins over 20 years ago, which ultimately led to her owning her own catering company and Gourmet-To-Go line in grocery stores. After meeting her husband Bob (who plays a huge roll at The Nook) and raising a family, she decided to end her catering company and work for another, which 10 years later is where we met.
I graduated college with a focus in radio and broadcasting. However, in college, I discovered my passion for cooking. After graduating, I enrolled in culinary school, started a food blog (Vodka & Biscuits) and began teaching cooking classes, food styling and practicing food photography. I was soon wrapped up in the catering sales and wedding industry with Jane, and while I wasn’t cooking, I was constantly using culinary knowledge and creativity.
Very cool. Where does the cafe’s name come from?
We’re located in the corner on the ground floor of a huge office building in the University of Maryland’s BioPark. That corner is what inspired our little “Nook” café, [which is] industrial and modern, yet cozy and welcoming. There’s something about the space — whether it’s the comfortable chairs, handmade community table, or window ledge with a gorgeous view — that makes you want to sit back and enjoy.
How did you develop the menu?
Our inspiration was the employees, students, doctors, and patients found in the BioPark, as well as our respect for and vision of food. We wanted to create a high-quality, locally sourced, made-from-scratch menu that can be ordered and in the hands of hungry busy guests in minutes. Unlike a cafe in a location of leisure, The Nook’s average customer is either on a quick lunch break or grabbing food between classes.
So what are a few of those on-the-go bites?
So far, our top sellers have been our cheeseburgers and hand-cut fries. They’re thin burgers, made to order with Roseda Farm’s grass-fed beef, between a hand-picked house roll, thinly shredded lettuce, ripe tomato, a choice of cheese, and our secret sauce. I mean, what’s a place without secret sauce?
You can also find fresh salads, like our Zesty Southwest with romaine, black bean and corn salsa, cilantro lime rice, pepper Jack cheese, tomatoes, and our Zesty Cilantro vinaigrette —which has guests hooked. We were also recently told by a guest that they thought about Jane’s chicken noodle soup all weekend, so now, it will be on our menu every day.
And your personal faves?
Jane’s is the Powerhouse sandwich. Her Powerhouse is legendary. It’s served on multi-grain and piled high with cucumber ribbons, shredded carrots, sprouts, tomato, dill Havarti cheese, and each slice of bread has a spread of herbed cream cheese and house hummus.
Mine is the Gypsy Harvest salad with field greens and baby kale, caramelized sweet potatoes, curried crunchy chickpeas, cranberries and a tangy-slightly-spicy Green Goddess vinaigrette. Yes, please!
Not going to lie though, we both can be found munching on our hand-cut fries, seasoned with good ol’ salt and pepper and smothered in liquid cheddar.
What’s been the most surprising part of opening the café?
We are a new business and fortunately we have experienced high volume, but every day is a learning curve. Wrapping our heads around what to expect hasn’t been as easy as we’d imagined. One day, our egg salad is our top seller, and the next day is our curried chicken. Just when we thought something wasn’t selling, the next day it’s [popular]. But our guests have been so welcoming and positive. We feel incredibly blessed to be a part of the BioPark community.
Catering! Lots and lots of catering, especially holiday parties. Not many items can be executed as successfully on a large scale as they can as a single order, so we have thought long and hard about our catering menus. While we plan to cater very soon, though, we haven’t quite yet published our menus or services.
In the future though, our big plans are to expand. We want every high volume institution to have its own Nook.