An Interview with Nicole Centeno of Splendid Spoon on Boutique Wellness
The concept of “having it all,” as a woman, becomes continuously more daunting – while women gain accessibility to higher professional achievements, these are echoed by more extreme standards of appearance and motherhood. Rather than succumbing to these external pressures, Nicole Centeno embraced them through the creation of her successful wellness meal company, Splendid Spoon. Originally a passion project for the classically culinarily trained Condé Nast employee, Splendid Spoon evolved into a full-fledged subscription soup and juice “cleanse,” for some, lifestyle for others. Centeno has created a dining experience that allows for the ease of healthy eating, leaving a position with a major publishing company to pursue a thriving dining enterprise while balancing her growing family.
How did you get inspired to enter the F&B Industry
I have always been fascinated by food – the sensory experience and the alchemy of growing food and cooking it. Food has been central to so much of my personal growth: I studied diet therapies as treatment for epilepsy in college, I struggled with an eating disorder, I later went on to culinary school, taught cooking lessons to school-kids, and had a tent at Brooklyn’s Smorgasburg. When I became pregnant I found it deeply frustrating that so much of the information in the ‘wellness’ industry was confusing, inaccessible for my busy life, and even contradictory. I created Splendid Spoon to simplify healthy eating.
What differentiates Splendid Spoon from other juice and soup services, and how would you say that the differences have contributed to its success?
Probably the biggest differentiators for us are that we create real meal experiences and they are totally ready to eat. Our ingredient lists are simple, with lots of organic whole fruits and vegetables, and our meals are designed to help you when you need nourishment most: during the 9-5 Monday-Friday grind. We are pretty no-nonsense when it comes to health – I don’t talk a lot about superfoods changing your life (they won’t) and I do talk a lot about habits. Simple changes, every day, are what add up to lasting wellness.
What sparked your interests in nutrition and diet therapies, both of which you studied in college?
Oh boy the cleanse. Nothing is being ‘cleansed’ in a cleanse – our liver, lymph and kidneys are the true detoxifiers of the human body. I do however, believe in periodic eating resets to get ourselves back on track after indulging. I use the word cleanse because most people understand that it means a full day of eating only (or mostly) Splendid Spoon. I encourage a day of eating plant-based soups as a way to reset after indulgent or ‘big-eating’ moments like weddings, holidays, and birthdays. These are important cultural moments that contribute to our sense of community and togetherness and we should give ourselves permission to enjoy these moments without rules. Usually, these times are also marked by an increase in sugary treats, alcohol, and calorie-dense-nutrient-poor foods. A day of souping is a lower calorie day and for some this can even be considered a part of an intermittent fasting schedule. It is packed with veggies and helps your digestive system relax, reconnects body and mind with natural hunger cues, and kickstarts the cellular repair mechanism, autophagy.
You have an extensive culinary background, how has working in other restaurants affected development of your own culinary voice?
Mostly, it has created a sense of wonder and awe at the endless flavor and texture possibilities. I actually had to remove myself from the Splendid kitchen pretty early on, because I am rarely pleased with a recipe and much prefer the process of making meals a little differently each time. I have so much respect for professional chefs – it requires a lot of discipline to take a creative impulse and refine it for larger audiences.
What would you say makes Splendid Spoon a boutique experience?
Boutique to me means having the courage to always improve customers’ experiences with your brand. We are really driven by making every customer experience special – from inventing delicious meals to developing community events to surrounding our customers with inspiration in their box and on social media.
Considering your background at Conde Nast (in marketing), what insights can you offer on the evolution of print, and do you believe that it is important to support that industry?
I think human beings will always be interested in the tactile world. It’s not a coincidence that rapid advancements in connective technologies have been met with an increase in demand for real-life experiences. The print industry has not struggled because of it being print, it has struggled because it depended too much on home subscription for distribution and ad-dollar monetization. I think the increase in high quality brands with strong print products like Cereal, Gather Journal and Cherry Bombe indicate that there is still an appetite for thought provoking printed material. I think brands that diversify their methods for engaging readers will continue to be successful.
How has your media background affected your work with Splendid Spoon?
Story telling! Humans have gathered together to hear and share stories since the beginning of time. I have such an appreciation for story-telling through words, pictures and experiences.
In other interviews, you’ve mentioned the importance of self-care, can you elaborate for us what that means to you, and your journey to that realization?
My greatest realization in self-care happened in my first year with Splendid Spoon, which also coincided with the birth of my first son. Taking time for myself – even if it was literally just 10 minutes to eat a bowl of soup quietly and without a screen in front of me – was a revelation as I was trying to get a business off the ground and come to terms with the many needs of a newborn. When I had a free moment, I took it, I savored it, and I felt my body move out of stress and into relaxation. Physiologically this is a really big deal because our body in stress does not make good decisions. No one is going to give you more time. You have to preserve this for yourself. And everyone around you is better off when you are making calm, sound decisions.
You have two beautiful children; in what ways has raising them played a role in your outlooks within Splendid Spoon?
Having a child is the closest thing to starting a business, so I learned a lot of lessons very quickly in the first few years with two young boys and a new business! The biggest lessons 1) nothing goes according to plan so keep your sense of humor in good shape, 2) building resilience is the most important skill for success (this is a marathon not a sprint), and 3) surround yourself with good people who love to do the things you don’t do well.