Clover Food Lab

This coffee is awesome.

photo-49 - Version 2

That was what I said this morning while sipping this coffee at Harvard Square. We’ve admired Colectivo from afar for a while, back when their name was Alterra. Ayr visited Alterra back during the “Custard or Bust” tour of Milwaukee, and loved them. But we could never serve their coffee here. There was a licensing agreement that prevented them from selling to the East Coast.

This is the second coffee of theirs that we’ve featured. It’s a Colombian coffee, from hundreds of small farmers in the southwestern part of the country. Sweet, mild, round. I really love it.

We’re working on setting up a coffee tasting with these folks next time they’re on the East Coast. Stay tuned.


Sharper Clover


Everybody who knows me knows I love things that are sharp and things that are fast. Knives can be both. And they’re just beautiful. I find myself dreaming about them.

I picked a picture of a Dexter knife for this post. This is the utilitarian workhorse we use at Clover. Dexter is a MA-based knife company. Historically many knife companies are MA-based. Today we still have Lamson Sharp (back near where I grew up) and Dexter (Central MA). A while back I remember reading in the history of my home town about a knife factory. Bernardston is a town of 1200 people today, I’m sure it was smaller back then. But they made beautiful sharp things. And we have our very own knife maker here in Cambridge: Adam Simha of MKS Knives.

Over the years I’ve come to the view that there isn’t anything I could do as an employer that would help my employees eat better than teaching them how to use knives. In my own life it’s been a radical transformation. I’ve always loved food and cooking, but since I’ve learned how to use a knife efficiently I cook a ton more, and I’m much more likely to use fresh fruit and vegetables, and I’m much more likely to cook from scratch.

So here’s what we’re doing:

  • Knife Skills 101 is being taught once/ week, Knife Skills 102 once/ month
  • Both are open to the public, pre-registration required, see website
  • The class is free for Clover employees, small charge for general public (who is also invited)
  • At end end of the 101 class you get a paring knife (if you’re a Clover employee you have to pass the test for this)
  • At the end of the 102 class you’ll get a Clover Chef’s knife (if you’re a Clover employee you have to pass the test)

We’ve taught these in the past, but never with this frequency. We’re going to push to get all Clover employees trained up. I have some other knife-related projects in the works, stay tuned.


Goodbye Maine tomatoes, hello Mass field tomatoes


The Massachusetts tomato season is a short one. So from September to June, we rely on an amazing group of people up at Backyard Farms in Maine, who grow tomatoes under a giant glass box, in a greenhouse whose heat is powered by melting snow.

But from July to September, we get to taste field tomatoes right from our own state. Chris got the word from our farmers that Massachusetts field tomatoes are about to be ready.

Get ready for Tomato sandwiches, fried green tomatoes, tomato salads, and gazpacho!




Welcome MA blueberries!


Blueberries are everywhere. Blueberry soda. Blueberries on the Yogurt, Granola, Fruit. Blueberries on oatmeal. I heard a rumor that Kimlee is making blueberry whoopie pies tonight at CloverHSQ.

We’re getting our blueberries from Czajkowski farm in Hadley, MA.


This is 24 hours Cambridge

HFI Historic Image

This happened Tuesday night. After our delayed hearing our application for a 24 hour license was heard and approved. That’s right. We’re going to open the first 24 hour Clover, and it will be the only 24 restaurant in Cambridge. We’re really excited. We’re used to unanimous support. Every hearing we’ve had since I started Clover and asked for a license to operate our truck at 20 Carleton St. has been decided unanimously. From truck permits, to zoning changes, restaurants, sign approvals, etc. But this one was a bit more contentious. The Police Commissioner, Mr. Haas, abstained from the vote after expressing concerns. He thinks we don’t know what we’re doing and are making a mistake.

He could be right. But I don’t think he is. I see a different future. I think folks of Cambridge and Boston are going to love having a clean bright and positive place to grab delicious food in the middle of the night. I think Central Square is approaching a beautiful future. As one a member of the community who spoke in support of our application put it at the hearing: “Why should we be denied this amenity [Clover brings] just because of fears that night club down the street is dangerous.” As much as I love Boston sometimes it feels like this City is trying to hold you down. I felt that as a student. Why on earth does everything shut down so early when we were all up late? It’s not like this is some big crazy idea. Cities all over the country operate at all hours. We’re the strange ones in Boston. I remember visiting Austin a couple of years ago and just being shocked at how free and vibrant it felt. Given these feelings I wasn’t optimistic that we’d be granted the 24 hour license. But here we are! It’s a bright day. I’m thrilled that Clover has been allowed the opportunity to be a part of moving our city forward.

And yeah, I know that Cambridge and Boston are different things. If you’re that person please don’t bother writing that email. When I say “Boston” I mean “Boston Area.”


Spelling rosemary in Chinese


Shanshan is my communications intern. She’s originally from China. We were writing up the menu one day at Harvard Square. In the summer, as you may know, tourists flood Harvard Square.

We’ve never been quite able to get as many tourists in the door as we’d like. I think we just don’t feel as “safe” as some of the chain restaurants in the square. But I know that people would love our food if they tried it. And we have dreams of introducing hoardes of international folks to Clover.

We tried a little experiment Monday. I wrote up a little welcome message: “Hi, we’re Clover. We make sandwiches, platters, and French Fries w/Rosemary.” Then to the right of that message, Shanshan translated into Chinese. I can’t attribute this entirely to the message, but we did welcome in a bunch of Chinese students that day. Maybe something to consider for Clover locations with lots of international folks? What do you think we should do to appear more welcoming to travelers?


Clover July Survey


You’re probably here because we asked you to help us out with a little survey we’re running. Would you take a few minutes to help us out? Here’s the link to take the survey. 

I saw this yesterday on the wall at CloverHSQ. I think a customer drew it, or maybe an employee. Anybody know this artist?


You’ll never taste this salad, and that’s a good thing


It’s heading to the grave of good ideas that just don’t scale up.

I made this amazing salad with ingredients from the Union Square Farmers Market. I wanted to build the salad around Fiore di Nonno string cheese. They make this unbelievable braided string cheese studded with nigella. It’s nothing like the string cheese from the supermarket. I cut cucumbers from Kimballs Farm and cilantro from my friend Steve Parker of Parker Farms. I dressed it simply with olive oil and cider vinegar.

Everyone loved it at the food development meeting, but when we put it into production and scaled it up, something just didn’t work. The cucumbers held up really poorly, and got all limp and tasteless. It tasted like one of these Greek salads you get at pizza places. But I’m not giving up on a salad that features this amazing cheese. My next version is going to have matchsticks of summer squash, which we’re thinking may hold up better than the cucumbers. Stay tuned!


Mayo Tasting


Ali’s the only vegan in our Food Development meetings, but she never makes a big deal out of it. However, I think this moment had to be a proud one for her.

You may remember we’ve been opposed to veganaise for a long time. Ayr and Rolando tried it back in the beginning, along with vegan cheese. And there was never a vegan mayo that could hold up taste-wise to regular mayo.

Fast forward to 2014, and there might be something on the horizon to change our point of view. At our last Food Development meeting, we did a side-by-side tasting. Chris made 2 Clover potato salads, one with Hellman’s and one with Just Mayo, a new product Whole Foods has been using. Since Ayr was leading the tasting, we did this totally scientifically. 6 tiny portions of potato salad, Hellman’s and Just Mayo, mixed up on a tray. Megan and I each randomly grabbed 6 of each and had to place them in 2 columns: Hellman’s and Just Mayo.

We each got 3 right and 3 wrong. We had no ability to distinguish a difference. And I am a proud lover of mayo. What does this mean? We may consider using Just Mayo for items in which there is no distinguishable difference.


Best and worst sandwich we’ve ever served


The first Panella sandwich I had at the PRK truck made me sit down and write a post asking if it would be the next Chickpea Fritter. It was just knock-dead awesome. So so good. The panella was warm and comforting, mild but flavorful, very satisfying. The lemon was awesome, and the fennel was subtle and olives and olive oil were just perfect. (We just upgraded our olive oil to some serious stuff, and this sandwich was in part a way to feature that change.)

But this post is about something we screwed up. A bit intimidating to write right now as I’m working to raise money for Clover’s expansion. It’s tempting to stay quiet about our challenges and talk about how great that sandwich was. But if you’ve been around for a while you know that’s not our way.

I had my second Panella and it was almost inedible. One of the worst sandwich experiences I’ve had at Clover. And the third was as bad.

This sandwich has been humbling. Chris did an awesome rollout of this sandwich, training videos were on point, it’s inventive, the ingredients are great, the recipe is awesome. But we had a scaling issue in production that was causing variability in the panella itself. We also had issues with the fennel salad not being made to spec. I leaned on some materials processing knowledge (thanks Professor Cima!) and we were able to move to a method that made silky smooth panella in large batch sizes. We worked out the fennel with some revised training.

I just read this note today from a customer:

I had this yesterday. One of the best sandwiches I’ve had at the Clover Food truck. I loved the fennel and the consistency of the chickpea fritter. Will go back again!

That’s awesome. But the question I’m working on with the kitchen is how to we avoid the not-so-impressive sandwiches that were served in the time between the first awesome one and the most recent batches? We’re working on new systems of testing scale before we go into full production. If we do our job right we will not face this again. In the meantime, if you had a Panelle you didn’t love PLEASE EMAIL or mention to your favorite order taker. We’d love the chance to make it up to you.