Support Local: Talking with Della Heiman
March 21, 2017
Two years ago, Della Heiman moved to Miami from Boston with a business plan and a desire to change the way we eat. It was no small task, and yet in a few months the Della Test Kitchen and the Wynwood Yard founder would transform a vacant lot into one of Wynwood’s hotspots and tackle the food industry one test kitchen at a time.
Understanding that eating healthy, especially when venturing into vegan cuisine could be daunting, Heiman sought out to simplify the experience in a way that everyone would enjoy in her namesake, Della Test Kitchen. This meant providing globally-inspired, plant-based bowls that are just as delicious as they are healthy, but also creating an atmosphere that embodied the vibrant flavors of the food and the Miami scene. Thus Wynwood Yard–the Miami Woodstock for locals to indulge themselves in live music, cultural activities, and food–was created.
In other words — Heiman is an all-around boss who wastes no time uplifting her community.
What do you do and why?
I’m very passionate about food accessibility, so I wanted to create a concept that would make customers feel welcomed and loved no matter what direction they’re coming from. So providing them with a healthier option and a more accessible, affordable option. That’s with the restaurant. And with the yard, this place is all about creating a launch pad for entrepreneurs. In Miami, often times it’s very hard to launch a startup, especially food, beverage or creative space because of the real estate barrier. So we’re the launch pad for businesses to operate here on a daily basis with access to a really nice community of people who are here every day for our rotating calendar of events. We have between one and five events a day. So we’re about fostering local businesses, promoting entrepreneurship, and building community, diversity, and cross-sectioning the different cultures in Miami.
When did you get started?
It was really contextual. I didn’t move to Miami to launch the Wynwood Yard. I moved here to open a restaurant. The more I got integrated with the city and started meeting people here I got more in touch with the fabric of Miami was all about and what was missing here. The most important thing is I met a lot of amazing people here who inspired me. I think [in] those relationships, working with them and bouncing ideas with them that this was the result of all that.
What was your process of getting started?
Right before this, I was in business school. I did my MBA at Harvard and that’s where I started working on the healthy food concept in my apartment. It was an independent project with this really incredible professor, and just researching the industry and doing focus groups with my friends. I would have dinner and have them provide detailed feedback on it and afterwards, I started doing pop-up restaurants. It kind of morphed into a fast-casual chain.
But it started with just trying to access the market for healthy food concepts in the state and understanding where the market was going and what the needs are. The system here is plagued with problems, systematic problems because 95 percent of chronic healthcare issues could be solved if we changed the way that we ate or the way that we moved our bodies. The problem is very few people are thinking on the preventative level, they’re all thinking of “what do we do once someone is really sick?” I really feel strongly that if we focused on how we prevent people from getting sick then we transform public health in this country in general especially in populations with lower income and at a higher risk because if you live in a food desert then you have less access to healthier food and get sicker and end up paying the price. It’s very sad.
I was really troubled by that and saw how people I have met from all walks of life were interested in healthier food and wanted access to it but they don’t want to cook or don’t understand it. And when I was assessing the industry I noticed that healthy food is often put into a box, in that it has to look a certain way or be a certain way, like a hippie with tattoos or have a lot of money and be super sophisticated and fancy. For me, healthy food should be democratic and open to everyone. You should be loved, welcomed and appreciated. That was the whole emphasis behind this whole concept: how can you make healthy food that is accessible to people in a geographic perspective, accessible at an economical perspective and most importantly, that it is accessible in a cultural perspective.
Would you consider your direction a personal one, or more of a business decision?
My heart and soul are in this place. I’ve never put so much work and effort and so much of myself into anything that I have done. Ever.
Why do you think that is?
I really love people and this project has been such a delight for me because it has brought so many people into my life. I get to make people happy and bring them together here; it’s such a gift. Lots of people come here and have so many special moments. So for us to be able to build such a really strong team that cares about one another and [to] enjoy working here, and to be able to give someone an opportunity, a community and a family they can be a part of…I can’t think of a greater gift than that. The other day, someone tagged me on Facebook about how they found the love of their life here. I hear these stories where people meet significant people in their lives here or had significant moments here. One of my friends from high school is having his wedding rehearsal here. So all my friends from home are going to be here. You know, people have their baby showers here. They get engaged here. They are having life moments and it [has] become this place of connection, community, and celebration. That’s so rewarding to me.
Who or what inspires you?
The biggest things that inspire me are the people around me. There are a lot of creative people that work in this space, so the process of being able to bounce ideas around with them and hear what they’re thinking has been rewarding. People and other projects inspire me. So researching what other people are doing in outdoor spaces, pop-ups, food concepts, even events is where I learn a lot. Most things in the world you’re not going to invent them from scratch, so to see how other people do them and to be able to learn from that is helpful. And personally, I get a lot of inspiration from movement, like yoga is my time to be myself to disconnect and be creative.
So let’s talk about everyone’s favorite topic: food. How did you decide to go with the Mediterranean feel?
For this menu, it’s a globally inspired menu. I lived in Latin America, Europe, and the Middle East for 10 years before I moved to Boston for school. So I was really inspired by food from Latin America and in Spain. And this menu is a pull from influences that I tried everywhere. I love cooking and I love food, and I always felt that vegan food is full ranging. I would go out to eat these really expensive vegan meals and was hungry an hour later. Or it was really bland or not thoughtful and overly processed. They are some phenomenal vegan restaurants but a lot of what I was seeing was stuff I didn’t want to spend my money on. But I knew there was a way to do it right and in a way that is filling and craveable. So that’s what we set out to do here.
So what makes it a test kitchen?
Ultimately there are going to be a lot more of these Della Bowls test kitchen model. The whole idea here is that there is a dialogue with the consumer. We’re not just here to give you the food and this is how it’s suppose to be. We’re giving it to you like, “this is what we were, this is how we’re presenting it but we always want to make it better.” That’s why the truck says, “we love to experiment, we ask questions and learn from your feedback, and iterate tasks and constantly improve.” I think the menu was pretty good when we first opened but based on feedback and conversations amongst the team we have taken items off and changed recipes. So the whole idea is that through the experimentation we get to the best form of what our menu is going to be and we’ll replicate that.
Why is it important to support local businesses and the community?
I think that businesses are the engine that runs any community, and when you look at Miami, there is a lot of heart and soul that goes into running a business here, especially the ones on Support Local. It’s people who have so much integrity, authenticity, so much talent and really love what they do. And if you can’t support that cornerstone of your community and you can’t support the entrepreneurs within your own community that are providing a livelihood to the people who live here then you’re really missing out because it’s the best products and service you can get here.
What would you perfect last meal be?
Based on this menu, I would have the coco berry bliss smoothie, an almond butter cup…it would be a big meal…and then I would build my own bowl that would have to include our sweet potato hummus, kale and forbidden black rice that is black coconut rice and adashah, which is a local lentil based plant protein that’s genius.
This is a piece in our series spotlighting small businesses part of our Support Local initiative.