No matter what country you were born in or what holidays you celebrate, food can be used as a language of love. In a time where big gatherings for certain holidays—such as Passover—is still not fully safe, there are some unique ways to get creative with food and still find a way to be together, even miles apart. Just ask Lee Wallach.
“Food was always big in my family, like many families. My mom is Israeli and the Israeli culture was always very much in our home. My friends would come over and everything would come out of the fridge basically….Everybody had to eat and they had to eat a lot,” says Wallach, who now owns Home Appétit, a weekly meal delivery service for busy professionals, families on-the-go, and anyone who they say “craves a simpler and more flavorful quality of life.”
The young entrepreneur started the service in 2014 after getting his start young in the professional restaurant business as a bus boy on the beach in Delaware. From there, the now 34-year old went on to work for a group called Hillstone Restaurant Group, which owns 50 well established eateries across the U.S., plus Wallach also worked in the hospitality industry in Napa and restaurants in South Florida and New York City.
“I was hooked on the kitchen. I love the energy of it and the camaraderie. I was always into team sports and it just really spoke to me,” he explains.
Home Appétit was then created from the George Washington University grad after landing a job in the Philly suburbs as a personal chef.
“It started as a personal chef service, I was cooking in clients’ homes and cooking their meals for the weeks. The type of clients that I had really covered a pretty wide spectrum. It was families, it was older individuals at home who needed help and professional athletes… really anyone,” Wallach continues. “I realized quickly that I can only do so much in a day with this type of business and I just wanted to do more—that’s where the Home Appétit meal delivery came about.”
Wallach then started cooking for an array of clients, including a group at Penn Medicine, out of his apartment in Center City. He then started a website which allowed him to collect payment, and with his financial success with the personal chef service, the young entrepreneur was able to fund the whole new operation himself.
Then, COVID-19 hit.
“Here we are….We never could have predicted the pandemic, but, we’re just really grateful to be one of the few businesses that has been in a position, a really fortunate position, to grow significantly since it started. We changed a lot of what we do just to provide more to our clients because that was what they needed,” says Wallach.
Lee took the time to help clients, but also restaurants that were struggling as well. At the beginning of the pandemic, Home Appétit began partnering with a few local restaurants such as a.kitchen and High Street On Market who provided an array of items spanning from baked goods to pastries to salads, to full entrees, while Vanilya Bakery on Passyunk baked fresh bagels for them every week. This also added a day of business to the bakery amidst shutdowns. Center City’s Baology is now the most recent partner through the service.
“Our customers absolutely love it, it’s been great. It’s kind of funny to think about it that way. It was sort of opportunity born out of the crisis,” he continues.
Something Home Appétit did even before the pandemic was to partner with restaurants working to benefit local nonprofits.
“With one of Starr Restaurants, [we] brought on a couple of their recipes and sold them on our menu. Then the proceeds of that went to their choice of a nonprofit that they support throughout the year. We also did the same with Nick Elmi and Royal Boucherie and even helped to support his staff early in the pandemic. Overall, we contributed thousands of dollars to their employee fund.”
The home delivery service has always had a charitable desire. Home Appétit aimed to give back any way they could even providing their kitchen as a test center for the mentally disabled looking for work.
“We’ve kind of gotten these opportunities that maybe wouldn’t have existed before. We, as well as our partners have learned that when we work together, it just works really nicely for all of us. It’s brought all of us closer.”
For Passover, Wallach also has tips, as both an entrepreneur who needs to get creative, and a cook who needs to be inventive… And he knows how to spice things up past a traditional feast.
“Passover in my house was never really like a traditional Passover,” he says.
Wallach’s father was from upstate New York and leaned more traditionally, but his mother, on the other hand, was Israeli and liked to switch up their family’s Passover meal traditions.
“We would learn about a different nationality and how they celebrate Passover, then we would have that cuisine in our house, whether it was Spanish or, Moroccan or whatever it was. So, I’ve kind of brought that into my house with my two kids and my wife,” explains Wallach. “Something we do with Home Appétit is using a lot less salt, using a lot less fats and really enhancing flavor with cooking techniques.”
Cutting out those certain ingredients helps, but so does adding some essential ingredients when cooking for the holiday at home. Wallach says his go-to ingredients to have in his cabinets and kitchen are certain spice blends like shawarma, and sauces such as Tahini. Lamb shawarma is also a dish he regularly prepares for Passover.
“If I’m gonna cook, it’s sort of like whimsical. I generally lean in this middle Eastern flavor profile, so Israeli salad is always on our table [and] whatever veggies are around the house. You know, [add] lemon juice, olive oil, salt, and then whatever veggies we have, just some crunchy stuff. Also shawarma fish or lamb… That’s probably, what’s going to find its way to our table,” says Wallach.
The chef knows how to get a sense of family on the menu as well. Home Appétit will be offering Zoom cooking demonstrations for local temples and beyond for Passover, and the service makes it easy by providing recipes, ingredients and everything else you need to participate. Wallach also says this is something that can be done for families who are still trying to figure out a way to spend the holidays together while miles apart.
“It feels more together. I think by doing that, it gives this sort of enhanced personal touch,” he says. “Passover was always a quote unquote major holiday in Judaism. It’s interesting at this time last year everybody was sort of contemplating are we going to be with our family? Everybody has had their own set of challenges throughout this and no one’s is more difficult than anyone else’s. It all just comes back to the community—as long as we can, at the end of this time, come together and be close and help each other then we’re all going to be okay. And we all are—even with our challenges—we’re going to be all right.”
To learn more about Home Appétit and Lee Wallach, visit homeappetitphilly.com