MightyMeals Executive Chef, Stefano Marzano’s Story of Family, Food, Luck & Hard Work
By: Christine Bean
MightyMeals Executive Chef, Stefano Marzano, recently talked to The Rest and Recovery Podcast about growing up in the restaurant business, the story of how MightyMeals came to be, and the steps he takes in his creative brainstorming process of bringing innovative, fresh, restaurant quality meals right to your doorstep.
Stefano was born and raised in Burke, VA, and his parents were both born and raised in Italy. It’s safe to say that food and hospitality runs through Stefano’s veins; his dad is a chef and has been in the restaurant business since he was 18 years old, his mom was in the restaurant industry for over 30 years, and his grandfather owned a well-known restaurant, Luigi’s, in Washington D.C., for decades.
At age 12, to make extra allowance money, Stefano worked helping the host, wiping off menus, and doing small odds and ends, at his father’s restaurant, Luigino. During high school, he began to truly love the hospitality industry and became fascinated with the different departments of the restaurant, learning all there was to know about the positions in the front and back of house. The kitchen really intrigued Stefano; he could never sit still and had a face-paced mind. He dove-in working at his grandfather’s restaurant, Luigi’s, as a salad boy, grating cheese, chopping romaine, and slicing pepperoni in the hot, sweaty basement.
Stefano is a completely self-taught chef. He went to culinary school for one semester and dropped-out, knowing that he wanted to be not just a chef, but go into ownership of some sort. But, at age 18, Stefano had no idea what meal prep was or that meal prep companies would one day be as successful as they are today.
Turning His Passion For Food Into a Career
Stefano worked out regularly at Fairfax Station Gold’s Gym, and his future MightyMeals co-founders, Alex Lebonitte and Dan Graziano, were personal trainers there. As a high school wrestler, Stefano was always asking Alex for advice on things like what protein powder to use and what he should be eating to gain weight. They became gym buddies, and Stefano soon met Dan through Alex.
Stefano competed in a physique competition and was cooking all of his own food to prepare for it. People started asking if he would do the same thing for them, and Alex took notice. Dan discussed the idea of MightyMeals with Alex, and he suggested that Dan talk to Stefano. When Dan approached him with this business idea, 19-year-old Stefano had no idea that this conversation was about to change his life.
Dan and Stefano started brainstorming in April of 2015, using Starbucks as their office, and by June they had launched a one-page website for MightyMeals featuring six menu items. After three weeks, they realized that this was a ton of work. Alex kept throwing-in great ideas, and when they officially brought him on-board as the third owner at the end of that summer, MightyMeals took off. The three co-founders balance each other out; Alex is micro-focused, Dan is macro-focused, and Stefano is the visionary.
Luck = Opportunity Meeting Preparation
Stefano believes that if you put a focus out into the universe, obsess over it, and are committed to making it happen, then things will work out in your favor. There is always someone or something trying to achieve what you desire. Stefano believes in luck, but luck is when opportunity meets preparation. Timing worked in their favor; Stefano’s friend, David, offered to build the MightyMeals website for a great price, and his father and sister rented-out Luigino’s commercial kitchen to them at off-hours at a low rate. The three buddies hustled and put their nose to the grindstone, working crazy hours. For 18 months, Stefano spent every Friday, Saturday, and Sunday night cooking until the morning hours, when he would then deliver meals to MightyMeals customers. He’d come home around 2pm, fall asleep for a few hours, and wake up to do it all over again. There were times he would ask himself if it was all worth it, and he wondered if this business would go anywhere. At age 20, he was stuck in a transition phase of feeling like a teenager but working like an adult. But, by age 23, the lightbulb turned on and Stefano knew that he was part of something special.
Stefano is humbled and grateful that MightyMeals has evolved into something he could have only dreamt of. One thing he is most proud of, is all that MightyMeals has done, and continues to do, for the community. MightyMeals is committed to paying it forward, and giving back to the community that has done so much for them.
Cooking & Creating for the People
Stefano has a routine for creating fresh, innovative meal ideas. He takes a shower, puts on comfortable clothes, listens to light music, and thinks, “How can I put sexy, restaurant quality food in a container, and deliver it to someone’s doorstep?” When they take their container out of their fridge and open it, he wants them to think, “Wow, this looks like it was freshly made at a restaurant and delivered straight to me.” As a new chef, Stefano focused on cooking things that he personally enjoyed eating, but now he knows that he cooks “for the people.” Stefano is proud of the cultural variety on the MightyMeals menu. While his background is Italian and Mediterranean cooking, MightyMeals’ sous chef, Pablo, was born and raised in Mexico, so there are a lot of Latin American and Spanish influences on the menu, as well. There isn’t much that Stefano won’t eat; he has sampled live octopus, live sea urchin, frog legs, alligator, and more. Stefano is looking forward to expanding the MightyMeals footprint throughout Maryland within the next few months, and the team hopes to start shipping regionally within the next year or two.