A lot has changed over the past two years at Double Comfort Foods. Gone is the Short North restaurant that once occupied 505 N. High St. in Columbus. Gone is the staff who worked the front and back of house. And gone is the fried chicken and comfort food that made the restaurant a Columbus staple and fan favorite.
But now that Double Comfort has fully embraced its transition from restaurant to consumer packaged goods and purveyor of retail sauces, one thing has remained absolutely the same: their mission.
Double Comfort continues to donate 100% of its net profits to help hunger-relief organizations and food pantries, says founder and CEO Mary Lyski. And those donations are no longer limited to just food pantries in Ohio.
“We’ve expanded into the market in Virginia,” says Lyski, who adds that Double Comfort is the only social enterprise in the state to donate 100% of its profits to nonprofit organizations.
In Virginia, Double Comfort is partnering with food pantry Feed More, one of the state’s food banks. The market opportunity in Virginia is exciting to Lyski because, she explains, Double Comfort’s products and flavors are Southern-based and rooted in the comfort-food realm. She’s hoping—expecting really—for Double Comfort to be popular in the region.
Despite the company’s successful pivot from restaurant to purveyor of hot sauces, there’s always a pull to return to the restaurant business. Lyski says she gets offers regularly to reopen a restaurant, but she suspects they’ll never return to their old business model.
“We’re on such a good track,” she said. “We’re meeting customer demands and donating profits back.”
Not only is Double Comfort meeting its business goals, Lyski says profits are steadier these days, as restaurants are typically heavily reliant on the labor force, while Double Comfort’s current iteration operates with just four employees, including Lyski.
Although the halcyon days of the restaurant business are squarely in the rearview mirror, Lyski says Double Comfort Foods stays true to the things that made the restaurant successful. Every product was used in the restaurant’s menu at some point, whether the sauces are long-term products or short-run offerings.
Back home in Ohio, Neighborhood Services Inc. in the University District has been the 2019 recipient of Double Comfort’s profit donations. That partnership, as well as the many food pantry partnerships that have come before, mean that Double Comfort has now funded more than 100,000 meals at local pantries through its donations.
And the company continues to look to grow. In addition to the market expansion in Virginia, Double Comfort is preparing to roll out a special holiday Fiery Chipotle Bourbon sauce that was popular in the restaurant (anything bourbon-infused was big, Lyski recalls). The new holiday offering will mark the sixth offering in the Double Comfort product line.
Lyski also says a new market opportunity is on the horizon here in central Ohio. Double Comfort’s products will soon be on the shelves of a “big chain” in the market, providing greater exposure for Double Comfort’s product line than ever before.
But for all the changes Double Comfort has experienced in the past two years, there’s a constant that only seems to be increasing: The need.
Lyski says the long line of people needing help from pantries is growing.
“All of the food pantries that we speak with tell us how much bigger the numbers are that are coming in their doors,” Lyski explains. “A lot more working poor than 20 years ago, perhaps. Now, it’s people who are working but simply not making enough to afford their bills. If they come to the pantry, it’s going to alleviate the need to spend on food. More and more people are seeing their SNAP benefits get cut, and when people are no longer able to get benefits, hunger relief agencies are getting tapped to fill that need. Lower- and middle-income folks are making less and less, and until that problem’s solved, the problem is going to keep increasing. Wages just haven’t kept up with the demand.”
It’s that demand that drives Double Comfort’s growth and Lyski’s passion to continue pursuing new products and profitability. And it’s also a reminder of what drew her to social enterprise and the business of serving the hungry in the first place.
When Lyski was a young girl, her father was an inner-city school teacher in Indianapolis. He taught in a poor area of the city, and on holidays, it was routine for him to drop off a turkey at someone’s house. It wasn’t like Lyski’s family was dining on lobster, either. No, her dad was just trying to model the notion that if you have a little extra, you do something for people who have nothing. And Lyski’s been doing something for those with nothing ever since. From answering phones on Thanksgiving at food pantries, to serving in soup kitchens in Memphis, Lyski’s been serving the hungry for more than 30 years now.
It’s probably fair to say it’s where she’s most comfortable.
2020 Food Pantry Grant
Double Comfort’s Charitable Advisory Board selects one Central Ohio food pantry each year to be the recipient of Double Comfort’s profit donations. Grant applications for 2020 are due by Dec., 31, 2019. For more information on the grant application process, email [email protected].
For more information, visit doublecomfortfoods.com.
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