Nicole Centeno, BC ’05, has often wondered what life might be like if there was a nutritious meal waiting for her every day when lunch rolled around. Instead of choking down a lunch salad composed of wilting greens and soggy vegetables, Centeno imagined indulging in a steaming and aromatic bowl of chickpea soup that would nourish the mind and body. But in her busy day-to-day life, spending hours in the kitchen bringing the meals she envisioned to life was impractical.
Speculating that others might have the same vision bouncing around their minds, Centeno founded “Splendid Spoon“, a company that she hoped would solve the lunch problems of customers across the country by delivering plant-based meals to their doorsteps every week.
Motivated by scientific research that shows increasing your daily vegetable intake is the simplest way to improve your health, Centeno developed Splendid Spoon as a national meal delivery service. Based on the idea that small changes can make a big difference in one’s life, Splendid Spoon’s wellness program provides nourishing vegan, gluten-free, and GMO-free meals to customers who can reap the benefits of intermittent fasting.
Centeno oversees a staff of eight at Splendid Spoon’s headquarters in New York City, where she works as its CEO. Her core responsibilities, which include communicating the brand’s message to press and investors as well as product development, provide her with the perfect vantage point from which she can ensure that the company runs smoothly. The rest of her team manages day-to-day operations, and experiments with new recipes in the test kitchen. Splendid Spoon meals are prepared by the company’s manufacturer in Hudson Valley, N.Y., and shipped to 40,000 customers in each of the contiguous 48 states. Though the majority of Splendid Spoon’s customers reside in the Northeast, the company has a strong presence in cities like Miami and Los Angeles.
After growing up in western Massachusetts, Centeno viewed going to school in Boston as a big step in her life. She remembers the “specialness” of Boston College, a school which she describes as always having been an aspiration for her. Centeno attributes much of Splendid Spoon’s beginnings to her time as a biology major at BC. She spent many hours in the lab of Thomas Seyfried, a professor of biology, researching the effects of intermittent fasting as a treatment for epilepsy.
“My interest on the powerful impact of diet on one’s health crystallized while I was conducting research on diet therapy in college,” Centeno said.
Shortly after graduating from BC, Centeno made the move to the Big Apple, where she began work with tech magazine Wired. As a media strategist, Centeno worked closely with publisher Condé Nast creating marketing programs to sell to brands like Samsung and American Express. During her time at Wired, Centeno realized she wasn’t exploring food the way that she had in college, leaving a void in her life. Hesitant to quit her stable job, Centeno instead took her salary and enrolled in night classes at the French Culinary Institute (now the International Culinary Center). There she learned even more about the discipline and art of cooking, preparing herself for the business that she would soon start
But even with that preparation, it wasn’t easy for Centeno to make the jump—people often ask her when she realized it was the right time. For her, she remained in deep contact with her intuition, which told her when it was time to make big decisions, and when it was time to hold back. Plus, she had a little surprise on the way.
“Shortly after I got pregnant with my first son, I knew it was time for me to launch Splendid Spoon,” Centeno said.
For Centeno, New York was the ideal environment to start her first business. The vibrant city is at the forefront of wellness trends, making it the perfect place for a health-related startup. Centeno knew that if Splendid Spoon succeeded in New York, it would be a market signal for the company to eventually expand nationally.
Splendid Spoon’s most popular wellness plan is a two-fold system called The Program. For $95 a week, customers receive 10 packaged plant-based meals. Five of those meals are part of the five-day swap, where you replace your lunch during the week for a wholesome and satisfying vegan bowl. Dishes like Thai coconut curry with mushrooms and eggplant are not only filling, but also full of bold flavors and textures.
The other five meals are part of the one-day cleanse. Centeno explains that the intention behind this part of the plan is helping the consumer connect with clean eating habits for one full day, giving the body a rest from processed food and excess sugar. Unique drinkable soups like parsnip apple and butternut turmeric are bottled and perfect for a meal on the go. Both the broths and the soups are dense with nutrients, and made with just the right balance of complex carbs, fats, and proteins.
In 2016, Centeno published her own cookbook based on many of the recipes that made Splendid Spoon a success. The Soup Cleanse Cookbook introduced those unfamiliar with the concept of a weekly soup cleanse to the simple and delicious recipes that could get them through the day.
Sathish Naadimuthu, the chief marketing officer of Splendid Spoon, works closely with Centeno on strategy and growth for the company. Naadimuthu oversees all the marketing elements of the company, including advertising and customer acquisitions.
Prior to being CMO of Splendid Spoon, Naadimuthu founded Goods of Record, a startup focused on men’s accessories that failed to take off. While at the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School of Business, Naadimuthu received an email from Centeno, who reached out to the career office at Wharton to recruit graduate students to Splendid Spoon. Naadimuthu immediately saw potential in the business, and felt he could bring useful skills to the company.
“I have always had an interest in wellness, and the issues Splendid Spoon aims to solve really resonated with me,” Naadimuthu said.
According to Centeno, Splendid Spoon customers are primarily women ranging from age 24 to 55. The company, however, expects to branch out to more men in the future. Naadimuthu believes that Splendid Spoon is a perfect fit for anyone, regardless of gender, who wants to make a big change in their eating habits, but needs a practical and convenient option.
Centeno admitted that the life of an entrepreneur is one of survival. To leave behind the structures of a corporate job to be on your own is something Centeno described as “jarring and terrifying.” But she also sees the startup life as an indication that you are participating in the world in the best way possible. Centeno believes that the ability to find peace in uncomfortable situations is an entrepreneur’s greatest asset, as it helps them make decisions with clarity.
Naadimuthu thinks sky is the limit for the business. He and Centeno have big ambitions on where they want to go with Splendid Spoon, and even believe it could be a billion dollar company in the future.
In the future, Centeno hopes to explore partnerships with companies, and look into different distribution models for Splendid Spoon meals. She hopes one day Splendid Spoon bowls will be available in every airport or on every flight—moments when people tend to not look after themselves.
Centeno’s ultimate goal is the same as it was while studying in Seyfried’s lab: to share the impact of diet on health. With Splendid Spoon, Centeno wants to teach people about caring for themselves in the long term, a goal that isn’t as daunting as it sounds.
Actually, it’s as easy as opening a box on your porch.