Nicole Lee - Director of Store Operations/Operations Manager of Anabel’s Grocery
Devon Rosen - Director of Communications of Anabel’s Grocery
How did you first get involved with Anabel’s grocery?
Nicole: I’ve always really liked food and the idea of food, as I grew up in a family that works for a chocolate company, so food as always been in my life. I wanted to be more involved in the food industry when I came to college, so I literally typed “food organizations Cornell” into Google and found Anabel’s Grocery. It seemed like a great project, and they started hiring people in the Spring of my freshman year so I applied and joined the HR team.
Devon: I first heard about Anabel’s through listserv emails in reference to meal kit builds, so I made sure to go see them at club fest during the Fall of my sophomore year. I was a transfer, so it was my first semester at Cornell, and after volunteering at some of the meal kit builds, I found that I really loved the people and loved the mission so I applied and got involved. Coming from Chicago, food insecurity has always been an issue that’s really important to me, and working for Anabel’s allows me to address this issue in my local community.
What is the most rewarding experience you’ve had working at Anabel’s/what have you learned since joining?
Devon: I think it’s extremely rewarding to advocate for something larger than yourself, and it has been really phenomenal to have the opportunity to do so through Anabel’s. In terms of specific experiences, I’ve felt the most impacted when people are checking out in the store and say things like, “thank you so much for doing this, I don’t know how I’d get my groceries otherwise,” or when people share their stories about what quality, affordable food means to them.
Nicole: Without repeating too much of what Devon said, another rewarding part of working at Anabel’s is the fact that the store is all student run. It still impresses me to this day how students are in charge of buying and in charge of running the store. Of course that comes with a lot of challenges because there are significant time commitments and things like that which we all have to struggle through, but I think it’s really valuable that Anabel;s gives students the opportunity to learn how to run a business and to do so responsibly, whether socially or across any other aspects. Two specific events that I really appreciated and found really rewarding were Pi Day last year, where we gave customers a free treat if they spent over $3.41, and our Halloween event this past week, which utilized the same concept, as these events really showed how people pulled together and came through on planning the whole marketing effort, and this was clearly reflected in our store foot traffic and sales for those few days. In terms of Anabel’s as a lab for learning how to run a business and how to plan and organize things, I think those two events were really fun and it was really rewarding to see all of our hard work pay off.
How does the model of Anabel’s help to address food insecurity on campus?
Devon: To break it down a little bit, we’re really unique in addressing food insecurity on college campuses in that we’re a grocery store model, and we are the only university grocery store model that’s in place to address issues of food insecurity. We chose this model initially because it cuts down on a lot of the stigma that students might experience when going to a food pantry. By offering a place where all student can shop, Anabel’s really levels the playing field for all students. Good food is invaluable because it affects both mental health and physically how you feel, as when you’re only eating sugar and doritos, your blood sugar is going to crash and you’re not going to be able to study as well. I’d say that providing all students with quality food is one of the unique ways we address food insecurity on campus.
Nicole: Our mission runs along the lines of accessibility, affordability, and literacy aspects of food. So if you break it down that way, it might be easier to think about. In terms of the literacy part, recently we tabled at Cornell Minds Matter’s Mental Health Awareness Week, and we asked people to place push- pins to identify food -related stressors relating to food. Something that surprised me and other members of our team was that planning meals was a big stressor for a lot of people. There were as many people that felt just as stressed about planning their meals as people who didn't have quality transportation or affordability of quality food on campus. So, we have quarter cards around the store, we have recipes around the store and on our website, and cooking classes and events to help boost literacy and help students learn and discover that eating healthy on campus isn't necessarily that hard, and we hope to facilitate that.
Devon: One of our core values is equity, and a way that this was explained to me that I really liked is if you have one table that is the same length, then giving people different sized stools to get to the same place. I think that Anabel's really does that. Whether it’s teaching somebody to cook who has no idea how to do so, or just providing healthy ingredients to do so, Anabel’s exists in a multitude of ways, in different ways that students need. It is constantly evolving in order to fit the evolving needs of students.
Given that it is student led, what kinds of opportunities exist for students to get involved with your organization?
Devon: We’re glad you asked! We are hiring right now.We tend to hire at the beginning and end of each semester. We are always looking for people who are really passionate about what we do. You don’t have to know all about marketing to be on the marketing team. You don't have to have bought something before in a professional sense to be a buyer for purchasing . It's about finding people who are excited about the mission and committed to our mission as an organization, and that is what we are looking for. Pretty much always, there are opportunities.
Nicole: I find myself, as an example of the hiring I do. Prior to Anabel’s I didn't do anything HR related, and Anabel’s taking me and having this opportunity made me realize how much I enjoyed business and coordinating things. It’s made me find my passion in food by running a food -related business. So, we totally don’t care if you’ve worked in a grocery store or not before. We just hope that this can be an experience for those who have never done it before and want to contribute.
What are your goals/plans for the future of Anabel’s?
Devon: It’s hard to describe that in a few minutes, or have a concrete example of the future at any given time, as we are always evolving to meet the needs of a changing student population. So, I think the big picture goal is to be like, how Cornell is a football team, Cornell is Anabel's Grocery. We hope for it to really be a staple resource for students, and whatever little tweaks that means as we grow will allow us to adapt in order to meet those needs. And of course, staying close to our mission of affordability, equity and outreach is important moving forward.