For Buffalo native Sharon Cryan, the epiphany came after she’d obtained her law degree from Touro College’s Jacob D. Fuchsberg Law Center and while she was practicing commercial real estate law on Long Island. Constantly stressed and tired, with little energy, Cryan decided to try improving her daily life by changing her diet.
“Personal health and healthy eating were always my passion,” says the 27-year-old, who worked as a personal chef while obtaining her undergraduate degree from Chatham University in Pittsburgh. “I finally had the time and money to focus on food science, research how food breaks down in your body, and understand what’s most compatible for healthy digestion. I did a lot of research–reading books, research studies, watching food shows, etc.–and began making changes to my diet.”
Friends noticed she had more energy and was more active, and asked what she’d changed. Before long, Cryan was assisting others in planning and preparing healthier meals. And that’s when it hit her. “I was talking and reading more about nutrition than law, and I realized that’s the career I wanted.” So, she did what anyone who is passionate about something would do; she quit her job, moved back to Buffalo, and became an entrepreneur. In 2018, she launched Food Nerd LLC, a 100 percent plant-based meal preparation company that provides nutrient-dense foods at an affordable cost.
Why “Food Nerd”?
“My friends have called me that for years because of my obsession with food and nutrition,” said Cryan. “It seemed perfect.”
She chose Buffalo to be close to family, but also because it’s a known “foodie” town. And while she readily admits that Buffalonians love their comfort food, she’s also encouraged that there is a rising awareness of nutrition and healthier eating here.
“I worked in restaurants for years, and I know they often put taste over quality,” said Cryan. “That’s OK for a splurge, but not as an everyday diet. I have found more people in Western New York are demanding higher quality or plant-based food, and I want to be a leader in responding to that demand. I provide meals that offer foods and flavors people love while providing the nutrition their bodies need.
“Plant-based diets are the easiest way to heal the body,” she added. “I provide my customers with a philosophy sheet that includes ingredients breakdown benefits, as well as ‘how-to’ instructions.”
Early on, Cryan sought assistance from Start-Up NY, a New York state program designed to incentivize new and expanding businesses to create jobs through public and private colleges and universities that serve as sponsors of the program; in Cryan’s case, the University at Buffalo. She expects to create internships for UB students and recruit UB graduates, as well as partner with UB in health and wellness research.
“Food Nerd is a promising young company with a novel product offering and a passionate founder working extremely hard to grow her young business,” said Christina Orsi, associate vice president for economic development at UB. “UB’s faculty expertise, business development guidance, and a pipeline to interns and graduates is helping to nurture companies like Food Nerd and grow our entrepreneurial ecosystem in WNY.”
As an attorney, Cryan was able to handle the legal formations of setting up her business, such as registering the name, interpreting and complying with state laws, obtaining a trademark on her brand, and navigating the guidelines for food manufacturers, inspections, permits. Cryan also works with the Buffalo District office of the Small Business Association, which she finds to be a great resource. "Buffalo has great resources for entrepreneurs," said Cryan. “UB has many programs, Launch NY offers advisors and mentors, and many of these resources are free.”
Cryan stresses that Food Nerd is not a meal kit company. While those meals are often shipped frozen and must be cooked or heated, Food Nerd’s fresh meals come prepared and ready to eat, shipped on ice in eco-friendly materials.
Customers can choose from several subscription options and dishes (or leave it up to “chef’s choice”). Cryan changes the menu every two weeks, and routinely rotates in ethnic dishes and seasonal foods “to keep everyone thrilled” with the service.
Alan Pawlowski, a local consultant, has been a regular customer for several months, and finds Food Nerd to be a great value. He subscribes to the four-day package, which includes breakfast, lunch and dinner options, snacks, and multivitamins.
“I feel so much better since finding Food Nerd,” he said. “My cravings have completely changed–for the better. I’ve lost weight, I have more energy, and I’m much less lethargic.”
Pawlowski says it takes less than a minute or two to “assemble” his meals, which are delivered to his house each week. Everything is numbered, the meals are well thought out and balanced, and they’re vacuum-sealed, so they stay fresh. “Sharon truly cares about people’s health and well being,” he said.
“She keeps her prices affordable because she truly wants everyone to enjoy good health in their lives. I find that extremely admirable. And the food is delicious!”
Cryan said her business is on target and growing rapidly–she figures she’ll break even much sooner than the typical new business does–but there have been struggles along the way. “Buffalo can be a food desert,” she said. “Getting organic produce in large quantities locally has been a huge challenge.”
Shipping fresh raw food nationwide has been tricky as well, but she’s perfected a system through national delivery services, such as FedEx.
Her plans for the future include growing Food Nerd into the most trusted, healthiest food company in the country “that is located right here in Buffalo, NY!”
“I believe this country deserves a higher quality food company, and that’s going to be Food Nerd,” said Cryan.