Marissa Lippert is a dietician, author—her book, The Cheater’s Diet, came out in 2010— and the owner of Nourish, one of the cutest places to eat in the West Village. Cuteness aside, the food is delicious and fresh and healthy (think green juices, exciting salads, and scones with rye flour). We bonded over our mutual love for fashion blogger Garance Dore, talked about what it means to eat well, and discussed the challenges and joys of running your own business. Want more details? Read on!
What is it that you do? What were you doing before and what prompted the change?
I’m a registered dietician. I started off after college working for Saks Fifth Avenue as an assistant buyer and found the industry interesting but not necessarily what I wanted to do long-term. I wanted to figure out a way to meld my interests and passions into something that was a viable career path, and at the time it wasn’t necessarily sitting in front of an Excel spreadsheet all day looking at budgets. Of course now I do that a lot, so it was really good training. I’d always written as well, and I wanted to find a way to either go into editorial in fashion or explore my interest in food.
And have you always been interested in food? Have you always cooked and things like that?
I’ve cooked although I’m not professionally trained. I grew up in a family where we always had home-cooked meals.
I love this scone by the way. I needed bread today.
Even with that scone, the majority of the flour is rye flour. It’s a lower-gluten flour.
And there’s no sugar in it.
Exactly. We try to do more interesting things, either by offering stuff people have never had before, or by doing familiar things in a different way, from something as small as a spice or herb.
Do you have any pet flavors that you like?
We use a lot of Middle Eastern flavors. We do a fish right now with this Egyptian spice blend called duka. Just things that are very common in that part of the world, but not so much here. I don’t really know where that penchant came from, but it’s there. I’ve traveled to Turkey, I’ve traveled to Morocco, I’ve traveled to Europe a number of times. I definitely have sensibilities. We’re always looking to expand and look at other things and interesting flavors. Right now we have a salad with kaffir lime leaves. They’re awesome, they’re super aromatic, and they’re not very common. They can be a high-cost item if you don’t use them strategically, which we are.
It’s so interesting to think of using food strategically.
I think you have to. Aside from a business standpoint, I use that word all the time with my personal clients, looking at nutrition and figuring out what foods and what portions strategically work for you. Let’s say you eat oatmeal in the morning because you think it’s healthy, or because you think you’re supposed to. And then an hour later you’re asleep or you’re starving again. It doesn’t work for you, so you end up eating a larger quantity or more food or whatever, instead of figuring out a breakfast that works more strategically for you. For example, if you know you can have a little ricotta with some fruit, honey and a few nuts and that’s awesome, that’s using strategy for health, weight management, and feeling good about yourself because you know what works for you.
What would you tell someone who feels like their diet is a disaster but doesn’t feel like they can take radical steps to change it? How do you get started? What’s one basic rule that everyone can apply?
Water. Fruits and vegetables. Portions. And keeping your interest—being allowed to have the fun stuff. It’s more important to be intrigued and satisfied by something and have a smaller portion versus downing a huge quantity and not being satisfied.
This coffee is awesome, by the way.
There’s a really great story behind it. One of my best friends moved to Asheville with her kids. She’s this amazing food photographer. She took me to this super-cool place called Dripolater, and I thought the coffee was amazing. So then I emailed Dripolater as I was building out the concept for [Nourish] and choosing the purveyors that I wanted to source. Everything we try to do here has a series of connections.
What do you mean?
A lot of things. It’s that our housemade pimento cheese only runs on our egg sandwich on Friday, Saturday and Sunday. I’m from the South, but I had never had pimento cheese until I made for a Kentucky Derby party a couple of years ago. I thought, “This is awesome,” but I didn’t really know what I had found. I found one particular recipe and did a riff off of it, using what sounded particularly good to me. And people love it. A lot of the retail stuff also has a story behind it. The drinking glasses above you are vintage. The pottery is made by a ceramicist who has a studio in Chelsea. The plates and bowls are made in England, and nobody knows who they are here.
There’s gold leaf in the bowl.
Exactly. And each plate is its own craft plate. We’ve been able to establish a really good relationship with the company, and they’re sending us stuff to use at our counter so we can create more brand synergy. So it’s great establishing relationships like that. We try to focus artisanal everything because it’s much more interesting to me. That way you’re building this awesome community.
So when did you start this business?
We opened just over eight months ago.
That’s it? Wow. Were you working in food before, or were you in school?
Well, I had my nutrition counseling practice for a few years. I still do it, but not nearly on such a robust basis. I physically can’t, but I do still see clients, and I do contribute to the media a good bit, articles and stories and recipes.
I’m feeling overwhelmed and exhausted just hearing about it. It sounds crazy, but in a great way.
Everybody warned me about getting into the restaurant industry. It’s hard to make money, and it’s literally every day. Seven days a week. I look at somebody like Garance, who has done so much and who is an inspiration, and I look at my day-to-day schedule and I think, why can’t I move myself further along? I’m very hard on myself.
You are. You’ve been at it for eight months and she’s been at it for six years.
And because like you said before, when you have so much on your plate, I don’t feel like I can distill down and check things off because I’m putting out fires all the time. Sometimes I forget about that. It’s a challenge. I think I’m not averse to risk.
It sounds like not.
For better or worse. I wouldn’t necessarily say it’s the smartest decision, but it was a conscious and strategic decision. I knew that there was a void in the market for the type of product and the experience that we provide. It just takes time to figure out what the right equation is in terms of building a brand and building a profitable business. We’re moving in that direction, which is great. I would never have imagined that we’d be doing the things that we are, having the opportunities we’ve had to partner with amazing brands.
What are some of the partnerships that you’re excited about?
Some of our products have been in Steven Alan, and we’re trying to find a way to broaden that a bit. What I love about the city is that it is so small, and when you have relationships and you know that you’re inherently doing good things, good things come back to you. So we’ve been able to build this web of great people and great connections, and everyone is excited about what’s happening and brewing here, even in our stages of infancy. There are huge challenges every day—I’m knocking my head against the wall half the time—even if it’s just figuring out how to make things less stressful every day.
What is the thing that you are the proudest of in terms of developing this business? At the end of the day, eight months is not a long time.
That’s a really tough question.
Because you’re so hard on yourself.
Yes. I am proud of our team and the energy that comes through here every day. Some of these guys came from customer service or with coffee knowledge, but now they’re psyched about kale. They want to learn about gluten-free grains. They’re excited to be here for really good reasons. Hopefully that means I’m doing something right.
I’m proud of having the space come together aesthetically and with the intention I had for the neighborhood. I wanted it to be a kitchen away from home. I wanted people to be able to ask questions and to feel nourished. We hit that a lot. We’re doing it. We hear it a lot, and I just have to be able to hear it.