Healthcare costs are continuously rising in America, and more and more people are diagnosed with chronic conditions. To improve health outcomes, Renee Cherkezian, co-founder of Epicured, is on a mission to connect the clinical and culinary worlds to harness the natural healing power of food. Epicured heals patients with evidence-based meals prepared by Michelin-star chefs. We sat down with Cherkezian to discuss her journey from managing operating rooms as a registered nurse, to becoming a trained chef and creating a healthcare company.
You began your career as a registered nurse, and today you are the co-founder of Epicured. Tell us about your journey and how it led you to create Epicured.
My greatest passions in life are food, cooking and helping people. I graduated from Georgetown University in 2003 and started working as a nurse. The following year, I attended graduate school for anesthesia and then shifted to managing operating rooms and ambulatory surgery centers. In 2008, a friend was diagnosed with cancer and, during the course of his treatment, was placed on a restrictive diet. He had difficulty finding food that tasted good and met his nutritional needs.
Nutrition is an integral part of the physical recovery, but also has an emotional and psychological impact. It’s part of our social lives and is a fundamental part of our daily routine. I knew that there were other medical conditions that require restrictive diets too. I asked myself, “How can I give people back what was taken from them and liberate them from these restrictions without compromising quality of food or flavor?” And that was the impetus behind Epicured.
I needed to figure out how to put my two passions together. So, I started honing my culinary skills. I’d finish my shift in the ORs at 7PM, go directly to David Burke and work there until midnight – that was a cycle for months. I quit my job and moved to Paris in the middle of the recession, where I attended the Sorbonne and also studied at the Ritz Escoffier. I returned to New York a year later and started managing 20 operating rooms at Weill Cornell Medical Center.
Tell us about that next step and how you connected with your business partner, Rich Bennett.
Rich and I have known each other for over 20 years now. We met freshman year of college, and he’s been one of my best friends since then. My career path was more medicine and food; his career path was tailored toward finance and operations. We were both at a juncture in our careers. I had this passion to create something where we could use food as medicine to treat or to address chronic disease.
Over 27% of the US population suffer from a digestive disorder that is best treated through food. Digestive disorders, like Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS), can be treated with a low FODMAP diet. There’s a huge untapped market opportunity. We were at dinner when I shared this idea with him, and we both were excited about bringing this vision to life. We talked through various business models for months, then signed on the dotted line in December 2015, raised our first dollar in February 2016, and that’s how Epicured was born.