Matt Tortora '15: Connecting Farms + Chefs


 

Oprah would call it an “Aha!” moment. While working as kitchen manager at an Ocean State restaurant, Matt Tortora ’15 opened a box of locally-caught squid with a “processed in China” label.

A veteran naval nuclear missile technician who has seen combat, Tortora relishes a challenge. After investigating, he discovered that it is cheaper for the distributer to have the squid processed in Asia than somewhere closer.

Tortora knew the time it took searching for ingredients added significantly to a restaurant’s cost and thought technology could whittle both time and expense, as well as help producers market their goods. “I knew I could save the restaurant $15,000 a year with a platform like this so I ran with it,” he says.

I knew I could save the restaurant $15,000 a year with a platform like this. MATT TORTORA, WHAT’S GOOD

After incorporating Crave Food Services as a technology and consulting company, Tortora brought his idea to Johnson & Wales University’s Larry Friedman International Center for Entrepreneurship, where he sought the advice of Executive-in-Residence John Robitaille.

“He encouraged me to move forward with the initial idea and later helped me to understand which pivots I was making were the right ones. He confirmed that where I was wanting to take things made sense to him.”

At SharkFest, 2016

“We’re looking to repair a food system issue and make a change. Getting local food [on plates] is important.”

At JWU’s SharkFest competition in spring 2015, Tortora and his team launched Whats Good, their free online platform that brings local ingredients to restaurants, schools, hospitals and businesses by connecting food service workers and chefs directly to local producers.

With more than $1 million in seed financing, the app now connects 600 chefs and other buyers (including nearly 3,000 public schools and 50 hospitals) with about 500 local producers in 27 states.

The company has also started writing grants for public schools to win funding for federal USDA grants or private grants for farm-to-school endeavors that would improve the quality of school food.

“Before this venture, my life had taken unexpected 90-degree turns following where I saw opportunity or danger, so that became what I was used to,” says Tortora. “When I was looking at whether I should move forward on this concept, I thought ‘Why not?’”

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Ray McCue, associate professor in the Johnson & Wales University College of Culinary Arts, has earned certification as a Worldchefs Certified Master Chef. The credential, one of the highest within the culinary arts profession, is issued by the World Association of Chefs Society.

JWU has completed a purchase and sales agreement for its hotel property located at 2081 Post Road, Warwick, R.I., including the land and building that houses Legal Sea Foods, to Pinnacle Hotel Management, a Florida-based developer, for $7.5 million.

A team of JWU students secured first place at the 2018 US Pastry Competition’s Junior Pastry Chef Challenge with their motorcycle-themed showpiece titled “The Race of Gentlemen.”