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Gourmondo, part 2

Fine food for all

Last month, we shared how Gourmondo began and led up to the beginning of the pandemic in 2020.

As a single mother and the founder/sole owner of Gourmondo, Alissa knew how critical jobs were to each of her employees and their families. "Gourmondo was my life's work, and I knew all my employees and their kids. As an owner, you'll take a bullet for your company. COVID was a firing squad. I checked into the Inn at the Market, where it had all started, and began the process of figuring out what I was going to do. I decided I couldn't bet against the team. I knew there was going to be a great need for the community to be fed. My entire life savings went to payroll for three weeks for 253 staff members. The team had a parking lot meeting where I said this was going to be complex and very challenging. There was unemployment and other assistance coming if anyone felt they couldn't stay on. I asked them to take a gut check to decide what was right for them. Stay or go? We kept a large team of 143 throughout the pandemic. We called our clients to tell them we'd do community projects at cost.

Alissa Leinonen

"We had nine cafes on Amazon campuses, a blip on their radar. But they called us to make sure we were okay and offered to help our crew that worked at Amazon cafes. Amazon was amazing. They coordinated and supported a partnership with the Seattle and King County Housing Authorities who had 3,000 elderly people who couldn't get to food banks, could we make meals for them? We partnered with places like Borracchini's Bakery, Pacific Seafood, and Mondo's Meats who had meats and salmon. We prepared 150,000 meals in three months.

"The next project came when Amazon called and said that FareStart couldn't meet the increasing need for meals. We were happy to help. They were making meals for kids on school assistance and their families, and getting food to food banks. I had known the FareStart CEO, Angela Dunleavy, for years and always respected her. I was excited to talk with her and combine forces to help the city. We made almost a million meals together. FareStart had donations coming in all the time, so we didn't always know what we'd be making until the ingredients arrived! We heard of farmers who had produce that would just rot in the fields, would we take it? Yes, I said. My chef came to me and was like, 'what did you do?' We had truckloads of onions, apples, potatoes. There was so much; farmers knew people needed to be fed."

Donated produce from local farms

As the pandemic waned, Gourmondo got back to 'normal.' Growth came quickly, and Alissa wanted to keep the team together. "A leader needs to have humility. I know that I'm good at branding, business strategy, innovation, business development, and culture. I have never been a good operator or business executive. I knew we needed extraordinary leadership. I'd committed to big things and wanted to keep those commitments to my team. But my life has changed. I recently got married and my two kids are in college and on their own. I was ready to step back just as the company was ready to leap forward. I knew who I wanted to bring in: Angela Dunleavy of FareStart and, before that, Ethan Stowell Restaurants. She is fierce, smart, and compassionate. I've been in the industry for a long time and know all the players. I was going to make one call, and if she said no, I was not growing the company."

Angela and Alissa met and talked; it felt right to both of them. "Together we're putting our leadership team together: Alecia Craft as Chief Operating Officer, and Val Dixon as Chief Financial Officer and Controller. I love having these heavy hitters here - it's all women in the C Suite. I'll be here as Chief Creative Officer and will be on the Board of Directors. We communicated while Alecia and Val were on board and Angela was in between Gourmondo and FareStart; the team was up and running when she got here." Both Angela and Alissa believe in servant leadership: the goal of the leader is to serve, both customers and employees. It's important to both to keep FareStart and Gourmondo ties strong. "FareStart helped us keep our doors open," says Alissa. "That partnership is one of the benefits of COVID." Gourmondo will continue their giving boxes: six different lunch boxes, each of which provides a donation to a local organization.

CEO Angela Dunleavy

Gourmondo has always had great chefs on board. "Like everyone else, it's great for chefs to get their lives back. They don't work evenings or weekends. Like the C Suite, I don't want anything but the best in the kitchen. These are chefs I've followed and have loved their food. Our company is only as exceptional as the food. Chef Bill Morris (Rainier Club) was here before the pandemic, but when we had no work, there was no job. As soon as we could, we brought him back as Executive Chef. He's an amazing mentor for everyone in the kitchen. It's like having the family back together. Chef Tyler Hefford-Anderson (Salish Lodge, Columbia Tower Club) has been the production chef the whole time."

Each day, their team of chefs make everything in house: dressings, sauces, marinades. They have a full bakery where desserts and cookies are made. Their spice rubs are custom blended by World Spice in the Pike Place Market. You can taste the freshness and care that goes into each meal/box/platter.

As for the future, Alissa sees a stronger investment in their café program, and continued boxed lunches and catering. "We have a strong corporate business, and we'll continue to scale. It's ironic that one of my biggest mistakes, going into corporate cafes too fast without enough thought to demographics and cash flow, is now one of the most successful parts of our business. We'll continue with large campus partnerships-we have a great model for these, we're a great one-stop-shop. Our culture is strong; we have employees who are focused on customers, respect each other, and treat each other like family. We take a break mid-morning where we have a family meal together, provided by Gourmondo. We've worked hard to get where we are, we call it Gourmondoit. We'll continue to build on that."

Team Gourmondo

Connie Adams/March 2023

Click here to read Part 1


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