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Eric Rivera Cooks

In a way you haven't experienced before

Public eateries can be traced back to ancient civilizations, yet since those first restaurants, not a lot has changed. A menu is created, you choose from the dishes offered every day (with seasonal changes), you enjoy, pay, and leave. When Eric Rivera opened addo incubator, he started shaking things up. Then the pandemic hit and the shaking jumped to new levels.

His experiences (themed, multi-course dinners, food & politics, strategy-based dinner games) are still happening, just not inside addo. Instead, you pick up or have local delivery of the food and heat it up at home. He changes things up constantly, as he always has, but now it's even more critical. "After cooking at home for so long, people get tired of even doing a few extra steps once they get food from us, so we have some things that just need to be thrown in the oven for 20 minutes. Our Meals Ready to Cook menu changes weekly and includes nostalgia traps like tater tot chili cheese casserole and ropa vieja over rice and beans. It can't feel like work. We want to appeal both to people who eat to eat as well as those who live to eat." That's why you'll find a pineapple and pork personal pan pizza for $7 and a $250 black truffle dinner for two. He's also hitting the holidays hard. "For several years, we've done Thanksgiving with turkey and sides. We're really expanding and hitting all the holidays, including offering something nontraditional, like our Puerto Rican Christmas, which is more of a party. We'll do a Friendsgiving since so many people can't travel or be with family. We'll have a Christmas market, the 12 Courses of Christmas, and something super luxurious for New Year's."

Since many customers have been stuck at home, they now deliver. "We were hearing people say they would order if we could get it to them. Sometimes with kids and work and everything else, they just couldn't get out to pick things up. We had purchased a van last year for business catering and that has dried up, so we use the van for delivery now. We charge for delivery up to a certain dollar amount." That information is on the website, which Eric has updated himself. "I'm using tiles like Netflix, so it's very visual and more interactive. About 70% of our users are on mobile devices, so it has to be easy to find details."

Foraged mushrooms

As he always has, he looks at other restaurants and industries to determine how he can do things differently. "Companies continue to exist because they evolve and offer more than one thing. People not wanting to adapt or innovate will be in trouble. I felt I needed to do something totally different that has it all-food types, experiences, prices," says Eric. "Because we change things all the time, people can't mark us off the list and say they did it. If they enjoyed the experience, we hope they'll want to return and try different things." Rather than being known for one thing, Eric wants to be "that guy who does everything."

He particularly watches the tech companies and not only because a lot of his customers work in that industry. "When big tech comes out and says their employees will be working from home through 2021, you know they have information that tells them this pandemic will be with us for a while. We don't intend to offer inside dining for some time. If they won't go into their offices, why should I have them into mine? It makes it harder, but there are options and we're finding them." Since people are home more, one option is Zoom cooking classes. Classes and experiences are more than a meal - they're social interactions. "We have to come up with things that are meaningful. A two-dimension experience is basically 'here's your food, enjoy.' A three dimension experience is food and service and interaction. We have to go beyond the third dimension."

Eric's goal has always been about getting to know his customers and being part of peoples' lives. With Zoom interactions, he and his staff not only have face-to-face connections, they can also tap into their homes. What kind of kitchen do they have? "I can say 'boil this for 7 minutes' and someone at home has a stove top that takes 15 minutes. We can bond over all the lousy stoves we've cooked on. We've moved from me cooking for them to a dinner activity we do together."

Charcuterie plates

Eric's concept allows him to test new things and, if they go well, make them repeatable experiences. If they don't work, he can scrap them or flip them so they do. "I'm Puerto Rican and I've tried doing that cuisine. It doesn't always work. Pasta works. So I bought an extruder and we make our own pasta. And if pasta fades, we'll use the machine for ramen noodles and other things." It's always a pivot. "I can take chances that others can't."

He often cooked with his grandfather growing up, and used every job working for someone else as a broadening experience. Working and tasting food from different cultures in different cities opened him to new ideas and moved him in an entirely different direction. Three years ago, he was feeding guests out of his apartment, two seats at a time.

He sells products and produce online, with more planned. "I want to be accessible on this platform vs. begging for shelf space in a market. I've always been an early adapter of things - 'ooh, bright, shiny, new!' There are just too many ideas out there not to dive deep, plus we're adapting to a changed world. We're the never-ending experience."

Connie Adams/October 2020

addo incubator
6420 24th Ave NW
Seattle, WA 98107

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