You can’t have love before food: Meet Casandra Rosario

 Casandra Rosario

Casandra Rosario

There are two types of people - those who love food, and those who really love food. Don’t trust anyone who says they don’t love to eat, because they are liars and they are not your friends.

Food connects us, keeps stretch/sweat pants in market when we get too much of it, and is the center of every major celebration and milestone of most human beings on this planet.

Casandra Rosario reigns supreme in the love of food realm. Founder of brand Food Before Love Cas set her career on being a down to earth foodie on a budget, and is sharing that love of good grub through her platform and events. I was amped to meet her, mostly because I was hoping she would cook me something (don't all foodies know how to throw down in the kitchen?) but instead we camped out at a crowded Soho cafe to chat about her food adventures, how she jumped ship from a corporate job, her hatred of waffles and life as a young entrepreneur:

Where were you raised and how did you get into the food industry?

I'm the oldest of seven and I live in Spanish Harlem. I went RIT (Rochester Institute of Technology) and studied Hospitality and Service Management. I want to own my own restaurant someday.

What the hell! That’s so many siblings, no wonder you love food so much! Were you cooking a lot to feed all your siblings?

No actually, my godmother was the one who raised me, I wasn't raised with any of my siblings; however, I feel like my family doesn't know what to eat besides what they eat regularly. That shapes a lot of what I do. I took my mom to brunch for the first time in her life last year.

Why were you drawn towards studying hospitality?

I love to do events. I love to work with people. When I was in High school I had an interest in interior design. I was like, “What could I do and what could I pursue that encompasses all the things I'm interested in?” I figured if I own a restaurant I could do all of those things. I really love food, so it all works out.

Is there a moment where your love of food was really sparked?

I think it was a natural thing. I have a Puerto Rican background. Food was a big part of my household. My mother's a great cook. Everyone probably says that about their mom but my mom was really, really, good. It's always been a big part of my life. It was about the importance of food and how it connects people. My first foodie experience I remember was when I was in the second grade when one of the teachers brought seaweed for us to try. I was enamored with trying that seaweed; it was something I never had before.

You were meant to be in food. Most kids at that age would be like, "Eww I don't like this unless it's macaroni and cheese”, but you ate seaweed in second grade like a champ. You were way ahead of the curve of most people. What was your first job after graduating from RIT?

After RIT I was doing event planning for a caterer in the Bronx. I was doing events, I was working with food, but they started doing messy stuff with their business practices and people's money.

That's a nice way of saying they were fucking up, "messy stuff."

Ha! Yesss. So I was like, “You know what, I'm just not going to do this anymore.”, and an opportunity came up at JP Morgan, at the time I was like, “I need to get paid.” That's what I was thinking about.

Were you doing anything food related when you made the switch?

Hell no. I was working on like mortgages, foreclosures and things like that. Totally not related to what I wanted to do. But that's where the blog came from.

Because you were in what I call “corporate hell”, were you pushed to have this creative outlet to start the blog because of that?

Yes, it just got to the point where I started thinking, "What the hell am I doing here?" I was there way longer than I anticipated. I was making good money and going out to eat. People were always asking me where to go to eat. From there, it did push me to say to myself - “I need to do something, I need to get back in line with what Cas wants to do, and my love of food needs to flourish some kind of way.”

When you first started the blog, what was your intention with it? Did you want it to be a documentation of food adventures or was there something more?

A little bit of me documenting...I just felt really underrepresented on TV too. I figured, if they can do it, why can't I? I watched Food Network and food channels a lot.

Were you like, where's the Puerto Rican food and Puerto Rican ladies on these networks?

Yes! I just didn't see anyone of color period. And the ones I did see I couldn't relate to them. People were always asking me where to go to eat what I was posting online. I felt the need to create my site. I get to share my voice and I feel like I'm using my food knowledge and people are learning from it. I just feel like I’m filling a void.

How would you sum up what Food Before Love is?

It's a platform to help people find love on the menu - in any way that they want to. We have a restaurant list that people can visit to see where we've been and go where we go, and eat what we eat. We also do events as well, where we provide the food experience for others, and bring them together through food, and bring it to your doorstep. It's just a big huge food platform, to enhance your palate, introduce you to new menus, and build on your experience of enjoying food.

What type of events are you hosting?

It's all over the place. This year I want to focus more on the love aspect of Food Before Love. We have this event called "Singles Bite Out" where we teamed up with a relationship coach and matchmaker and had a discussion about the dos and don'ts of dating. We also showed a short screening of a film called "Love Escapes Us." It was just interacting, enjoying good food, and good company. We also host "Power Couple Brunch" which is a five-course brunch

 Power Couple Brunch

Power Couple Brunch

Whoa, five whole courses?!

Yes, child! We bring in three very respectable couples, that are successful in their relationships and professions, and we discuss the balance between them - what it takes to maintain healthy relationships. That's going on tour soon.

Another one of our popular love and food related events is our speed-dating event. The parties are blinded, and they get a dessert tasting. They're all meeting someone new for the first time and trying something new for the first time as well.

That's so cool. I haven't been in NY that long, but I've been to a fair amount of events. I don't think I've heard of events with those sorts of themes, so you definitely have something there.

Thank you! We have more fun events, we had an event in January called BYOBatter. The idea came from an argument on Twitter with our followers. I'm not a big waffle person. I like French toast, and next to French toast comes pancakes, and waffles come last. The followers insisted that waffles were great, so I was like if waffles are so great come prove it. So we had an event. We had old school games in a candy shop, played old school cartoons, and people came with their own batter and we made waffles all day.

So much fun I love that. So are you working solo?

Yeah, that's pretty much it, just me.

So you're the Webmaster, the restaurant taster, the writer, and the event planner...

All of those things.

That is a full time job.

Oh yes. I recently found three freelance writers and a social media intern to help with the site. We work remotely with one another.

Because you're young, do you get people who are like you need to stop this and go get a "real job?"

Not really. Maybe when I first graduated college. My mom was a little confused as to what the hell I was doing, but she's not like that anymore. Now she's very supportive of what I’m doing and she understands. In the beginning she just didn't understand what I was doing, she was getting frustrated. She didn't understand why I didn't become a police officer (my brother's a cop), and at one point early in my career I thought I was going to be a teacher, so my mom was like, "Why aren't you a teacher?" But aside from that, I haven't really gotten a lot of push back, and that was early on in the company as well. Now everyone I meet is really supportive of what I'm doing.

Are any of your event clients older than you?

It depends, but a lot of the times they are. I think people are surprised when they meet me, and they're like, “Oh my god, I thought you were 45 like me.” Not that that's old but I'm just like, "No, I could be your daughter, but welcome to the event and hope you have a good time."

Haha, that's pretty great though.

It's definitely exciting especially when we have a mixed crowd, it's definitely fun. I feel like people get to learn from one another. Especially with some of our events where we have actual discussions. That's really good because it opens their mind to other ideas.

If you had advice for anybody trying to follow a similar path, or how to make a break from JP Morgan Chase, what would that be?

My advice would be what are you really waiting for? That's what it all really comes down to. Just do it. I'm 24. Do you really want to wait until you're 50? A lot of successful entrepreneurs are older, however, I just feel like it is so much more of an advantage starting now and learning along the way. So don't wait, just do it.

Has there been a really great ‘this is fucking awesome’ moment, and a ‘holy shit this is awful moment’ since you started working full time for yourself?

A bad moment where I was like this is not gonna work - maybe was in Novemberish, I felt like things were just going bad. I was trying to accomplish my business plan, and it's really, really hard to do a business plan. I was still having events during that time and I felt like I was getting stretched thin. This stuff gets expensive. I front the costs for my events, I self host my site, advertising materials, all of that stuff adds up. I was losing so much money, and I'm trying to do this stupid business plan and I was just getting frustrated like what the hell, is this really worth it anymore? At the time, I felt like I was moving away from why I started this, and I just kind of felt lost. So it took a second for me to come out of that, it took me like two weeks. Luckily now, everything is good and it's moving but you have to stay motivated which is tough.

I just got my oh-wow-this-is-really-great-moment this past Valentine’s Day weekend. I did three events back to back and all the attendees were new at all three of the events. The fact I accomplished the three events over the weekend was amazing. If anybody who works events knows, something always goes wrong at the last minute, and things went so well that entire weekend. I just planned that whole weekend so well, I was so stressed, that when Monday came I just said, “Holy shit, I've got something here." That was my aha moment, this is worth it, this is what I want to do. I felt good and people were giving us good feedback. People felt so enlightened and that's what I want. They had some really amazing food, and I got to introduce them to new caterers and chefs. And that makes me happy.