Worth a Taste Test

It’s no bologna to say that second-year MBAs Nicole Marie Capp and Justin Matthew Sapolsky, W’08, are in the midst of a dream: starting their own food business.

Capp comes from a food family that operates high-end delis in Brooklyn, N.Y. Sapolsky, an investor before returning to Wharton, wrote his Wharton MBA entrance essay about getting into the food business.

“Being at Wharton definitely put the gas on that,” he told me, related how he has been able to realize his dream and passion while at School: With the food startup Matt & Marie’s Modern Italian Sandwiches.

Second-year Wharton MBAs Justin Matthew Sapolsky, W'08, and Nicole Marie Capp earn Twitter praise after they catered an event this past fall for Wharton entrepreneurs.

Second-year Wharton MBAs Justin Matthew Sapolsky, W’08, and Nicole Marie Capp earned Twitter praise after they catered an event this past fall for Wharton entrepreneurs.

As the story goes, the pair met as vice presidents of the Wharton Entrepreneurship Club in November 2012. By January 2013, they were launching Matt & Marie’s as a catering operation. They worked during the summer out of the Wharton MBA space at 2401 Walnut St. (open as free office space to MBA entrepreneurs) and tapped into Wharton Entrepreneurship resources as part of the Venture Initiation Program (VIP). Through fall 2013, they had catered as many as 25 events around campus. For cooking, they were sharing kitchen space at Enterprise Center at West Philly, a health-grade commercial kitchen that allows operations to rent by the hour.

I initially reached out to Matt & Marie’s during research for a food truck article (still ongoing), and couldn’t resist learning more about delicious sandwiches even after Sapolsky told me they decided against a food truck because they’ve tested their concept already through catering.

Their plan instead, reported Sapolsky, is to have a lease signed on a Center City brick-and-mortar location by the time this article is posted. And by the end of the school year, Capp and Sapolsky may be ready to open the storefront. In the meantime, Sapolsky will do an independent study with OPIM (Operations and Information Management) Professor Eric K. Clemons, who has served as an advisor to Matt & Marie’s. That way, Sapolsky and Capp will also get academic credit as they tend to their kitchen, literally.

The dream is all boot-strapped at the moment, but also scalable. And that gets to why Sapolsky and Capp may have chosen the food business (besides being passionate foodies). Sapolsky noted how Matt & Marie’s menu is simple, much like many of the other restaurants that have exploded on the scene in recent years—the likes of Chipotle, Five Guys Burger and Fries, and Potbelly. Though they chose to open Matt & Marie’s first store in Philadelphia, a town with a lot of authentic Italian eateries, a lot of places don’t, Sapolsky was quick to note.

Fascinating, too, was Sapolsky’s perspective on the startup scene in general. There is a veritable buffet of Internet and tech startups on campus, and beyond.

“There’s room for people to still focus on brick and mortar,” he said.

Particularly, if they also focus on bread, meats and toppings.

It sounds like they are. Sapolsky’s favorite item on the Matt & Marie’s menu is the Roman Cavalry.

“Our chef designed all the sandwiches to balance the five flavor profiles: sweet, salty, sour, bitter and umami. This one does it really well. It has cured coppa, fennel salami, genoa, aged provolone cheese, house-made sweet pickled peppers and a spicy peperoncini aioli on our seeded Italian bread.”

Expect a taste testing of this startup as soon as possible …

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