If you’ve ever scrolled Instagram looking for a delicious, nourishing, family-friendly recipe, you may have come across the work of Olivia Mack McCool, our NJMOMpreneur of the week. As an accomplished food stylist and recipe developer, Olivia’s creative culinary talent has appeared in cookbooks, magazines, and ad campaigns with major clients like Pepsi, Sakara, and Entenmann’s. And currently, she’s adding a chef to her accomplishments—this Maplewood mom of two is using her impressive background to bring high-quality, home-cooked, ready-to-eat meals to fellow busy mamas looking to get good food on their tables fast. She recently opened Olivia’s, where she cooks up delish dishes like Thai Basil Beef with Peppers and kid-friendly healthy choices like Chicken and Broccoli Quesadillas and delivers them locally to families, making mealtime a whole lot easier. We caught up with Olivia to chat about getting the courage to start her new venture, the recipe her kids continually ask for, and her hidden gem spot for the best Jersey-fresh produce.
Tell us about your career journey. How did you initially get into food styling, and how did it lead you to your new venture, Olivia’s?
I was and still am a food stylist and recipe developer. For the past 15 years, I’ve been working on photo shoots, television commercials, and developing recipes for brands. It began when I was in college and was an assistant to a set designer. We’d be on shoots for Tiffany & Co and Bon Appetit, where I witnessed firsthand what a food stylist was. I went to culinary school at Le Cordon Bleu in Paris, and when I returned, I cold-emailed every food stylist I’d met on set and asked if I could work for them. I had to work for free for a bit, but eventually, I proved myself and fell into the fold with a few great food stylists. After a few years, it was time to go out on my own. Fast forward to a little over two years ago, I moved to Maplewood with my husband and 18-month-old, and one on the way. A customer-facing food business of my own has always been in my mind and heart, but when I saw a big void in the market here, I knew it was the time and place to launch.
Olivia’s targets busy moms who want nourishing and delicious food ready for their families. How did you come up with that concept, and how does it work?
Right away, when I moved to the area, I made tons of friends who, just like me, had little kids and were extremely busy. With what I do for a living and my skill set, I cook every day. Often, just as a nice gesture, I would drop homemade food off for all of these women in my life, but I had a deep desire to help in a more significant way. I knew it was almost impossible to cook good food every night for your family and that I could do better than a takeout place for busy moms. At Olivia’s, the new menu goes live every Thursday at 9 AM sharp. You have until Saturday at noon to place your order. But truthfully, we typically sell out within 30 minutes, if not less. Then my team and I prep Monday and then cook everything Tuesday. Deliveries go out on Tuesday afternoon. Currently, we are only delivering to Maplewood, South Orange, and West Orange, but we plan to add more zip codes. The menu typically consists of 2-3 main dishes that are family style and then a variety of sides, fridge stockers, and a dessert. The idea is that you won’t have to cook for at least 2-3 days. We work out of a rental kitchen called Garden State Kitchen in Orange, a wonderful women-owned business that has been a big part of our success.
It’s very evident to anyone who follows you on social the innate passion you have for food and cooking. Was this a passion of yours from childhood?
My family is Italian, and my stepfather owned Italian restaurants in downtown Manhattan my whole childhood. We are also the family that cooks together, then sits down at the table, and all we talk about is the food we’re eating, how we’ll make it next time, and what we plan to make tomorrow. Food runs deep in my blood. My dad raised me as a single dad, and although he’s a fabulous cook, he was really busy when I was young, so part of it came out of necessity. I also watched A LOT of Food Network as a child and learned how to cook from Ina (Garten), Giada (De Laurentiis), and Rachael (Ray).
Where do you get inspiration for your recipes, and how do you decide on the weekly menu?
This is one of the best parts about owning my own food business. The dishes that appear on my menu each week are things I make for my family. Sometimes, I get an idea in my head from something I read or ate or something I saw on television. I’m also very inspired by my customers. Often, I’ll ask on social media what people want. For instance, multiple people answered that question with eggplant parmigiana, which was on our menu last week.
What is your favorite food styling project, and what do you love about that part of your career?
Last year, I had the honor of being part of the team tasked with shooting all new advertising for the beloved brand Entenmann’s. The company rebranded, and I felt honored they chose me as the food stylist. It was a blast and felt super iconic. I love the connections I’ve made with people on set. Since every job is different and you’re working with a new crew, you meet so many people.
What have you learned about yourself through becoming an NJMOMpreneur?
I’ve learned how tough I actually am. I’ve always known that I’m strong—my life has had a lot of ups and downs. But having two toddlers, starting a new business from scratch all by myself, and still working as a food stylist has seriously tested me. I’m really tired, but I’m also really fulfilled and extremely proud of myself. Whenever I’m scared, I call my dad, who tells me, “Well, at least you won’t look back in 10 years and say you didn’t try it.” It’s so true, and I knew in my bones I needed to try.
What are your signature dishes that your boys love the most?
My boys have two current favorites. They love my eggplant parmigiana and will always eat a bowl of my Miso Mashed Sweet Potatoes. Lucky for me, they are both loaded with veggies!
Tell us about your favorite local NJ businesses and what you love most about them. Bonus for any insider tips on the best Jersey fresh seasonal produce.
There’s an awesome business called Harvest Drop that we get a lot of our produce and meat from. They are a wholesale food purveyor that sources their goods from local NJ farms. It’s like the farmers’ market but in bulk. You can order their fantastic produce and meat and send it to your home. The guys running it are also lovely and give the best customer service.
I recently partnered with my favorite local florist, Wildly Floral Co. We did a collab where I sold her bouquets on my menu. My customers loved it. The owner is also a mom, and the shop sells unique giftable items like candles, room sprays, and hand-dyed socks. When it’s seasonally possible, she sources many of her flowers from NJ farms, which we love. She also offers a flower bouquet subscription, which is very cool.
What piece of advice do you have for another aspiring NJMOMpreneur?
I may have heard this from one of my favorite Peleton instructors, but “Why not you? Why not now?” and “You want this more than you fear it.” Fear was my main hurdle to get over when launching Olivia’s. My advice would be that if you believe in your business so much that you would work your tail off for it, then it’s likely worth pursuing. Of course, many more factors go into taking a big risk, but as my dad says, I didn’t want to go through life without trying.