Five years ago Good To-Go debuted its line of dehydrated backpacking meals at Summer Outdoor Retailer. It featured three options: Thai Curry, Three Bean Chili and Herbed Mushroom Risotto. The fledgling brand was run by Jen Scism and her husband David Koorits, who still held his day job as a nurse.
At that OR, Good To-Go won Backpacker Magazine’s editor’s choice award and got picked up by REI, catapulting their growth. At that OR, we also met them — sitting on a bench in an upper hallway — and Good To-Go became Garage Grown Gear’s first backpacking food brand.
Now the Maine company employs 19 people and last year it produced and sold 400,000 meals, spread across 13 different offerings.
“There was a niche that needed to be filled,” Jen said of Good To-Go’s rapid growth.
Good To-Go meals are set apart by their clean, fresh ingredients and international flavorings. Its meals are also all gluten free and primarily vegetarian. And they come in bags — just add water to rehydrate.
“Restaurants have long been farm to table,” Jen said. “I’m just bringing that mentality to another market that relied on ramen noodles and mac and cheese.”
Prior to moving to Maine and starting Good To-Go, Jen owned a restaurant in New York City — and not just any restaurant, but what at the time was considered the Big Apple’s best restaurant, earning the Michelin Star award.
Jen also beat Mario Batali, the Iron Chef, on the TV Food Network’s Iron Chef program.
When Jen decided to escape the hustle and move north to Maine, she had intended to grow her hair long and become a hippie. But her intense, type A personality followed her, and she soon realized she was the same person she had always been, just living in a different place.
Around that time, Jen met David and he took her backpacking. Jen was a complete novice and David had to teach her everything from how to pack a pack to what to carry. Soon they started going on longer trips, and Jen became interested in going ultralight because in her words she didn’t love “lugging around 50 pounds of stuff.”
As part of that evolution, she began making and dehydrating meals for their trips. The meals she made were all ones best eaten out of a bowl, setting the course for what would become Good To-Go’s trajectory.
“I love bowls. It’s just comforting for me, especially when I’m backpacking,” Jen said.
Good To-Go’s offerings are all “bowl” meals, which now range from Bibimbap and Pad Thai to Chicken Gumbo and New England Corn Chowder.
“My favorite part is really the research and development of new meals, for sure,” Jen said. “I love that. I scour my cook books. I’m old school. I can open a cook book and find my favorite recipe because it’s caked with sticky goop.”
When Jen is creating a new meal for Good To-Go, she starts by making it just like she would at home, and then she dehydrates it. Sometimes it works to dehydrate the finished meal, and other times she needs to deconstruct it, dehydrating ingredients separately.
“My whole thought process is how can I make my favorite food and dry it,” Jen said. “I want to make the best food in a bag that you can get. It has to come back close to what you get from a really good cook or restaurant.”
While Jen has a dozen or so new meal ideas up her sleeve, before she can produce any of them, Good To-Go needs more warehousing space. The brand is maxed out in its current HQ — a yellow Cape House that already has had a couple of major additions built onto it.
“In three years, I want to be in a larger facility that can manage the volume we do,” Jen said.
Good To-Go makes all of its food in-house and is USDA certified.
“Everything comes in the door, we cook it, we repackage it, and it goes out,” Jen said. “I don’t foresee that changing. I want to know what’s happening with our meals.”
This allows the brand to maintain and check quality, for example, to control allergens.
“We’re really strict about our allergens,” Jen said.
While figuring out how to get more space will certainly present an array of logistical challenges, the process of going about it won’t be radically different than Jen’s current day-to-day experience running Good To-Go.
“When you’re scaling, you’re never at status quo,” she said. “I’m a good problem solver, but that’s just what you do when you’re growing a business. Nothing that we do is the same as what we did six months ago or a year ago and it’s not going to be the same in nine months, it just isn’t.”
Luckily for Jen, she actually really enjoys working with financial projections and numbers.
“I really feel like I got my MBA as trial by fire,” she said. “I know so much more about assets, cost of goods sold, margins, equity raises — all kinds of things that I had no idea about and that I find fascinating.”
After a day spent combing through spreadsheets and tallying inventory (Good To-Go went through about 200,000 pounds of onions last year), Jen heads home to a beautiful new kitchen. It has barn wood doors with a Scandinavian finish — from wood found on their property — and a Wolf stove — something she’s wanted her entire adult life.
Last year, Jen and David sold their previous home and bought a 110-year-old camp on the Piscataqua River. They then renovated it, doing a great deal of the work themselves, everything from tiling and siding to trim.
There, in her new kitchen, she cranks up the music and digs into ingredients and recipes.
“I’m making this for backpackers, but my passion is food,” she said.