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Project lunch kitchen

Sarah Moyer makes up a salad at her Project Lunch near Huntley.

Sarah Moyer has a genuine hit on her hands. 

In March she launched Project Lunch, a business delivering homemade salads and wraps in returnable containers to people and business in Billings and the Huntley Project area. 

Over the course of 10 months she's gone from preparing a dozen or so lunches a week to an average of 80. She's to the point where she needs to hire help. 

"It's all grown by word of mouth," she said. "Last month was insane."

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Project lunch meal

Sarah Moyer finishes a salad with a note at her Project Lunch near Huntley.

Project Lunch began as an afterthought. Moyer and her husband, Nate, a nurse, live in Huntley off a small dirt road on a hill overlooking the Yellowstone River. She has three small children; one at Huntley Project Elementary School, one at Head Start and one still at home.

One morning a few years ago a friend of Moyer's who teaches at the elementary school put out a call on Facebook for someone to deliver coffee to the teachers. The small community has a gas station, a grocery store and a coffee hut, but certainly no one that delivers.

Moyer, who lived in Missouri and Kansas before she and her husband arrived in Montana, had worked for Starbucks Coffee for a decade, managing different stores before her move. She knew coffee. 

"I thought, 'I can do that,'" she said. 

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Project Moyer

Sarah Moyer at her Project Lunch near Huntley.

She dreamed it up as a small business, making coffee at her home, putting it hot into Hydro Flasks and delivering it around the Huntley Project area. She and her husband had an exercise room in her basement that neither used and so they converted into a small, professional kitchen. 

When the health inspector came, he told her she'd have to do more than coffee if she wanted to turn a profit. 

"What do we need here," she asked. "What is this community dying for?"

The answer, she said, was pretty simple: fresh, nutritious and tasty meals.

"We don't have any healthy options (in Huntley)," she said. "It's all bar food."

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Project lunch salad

A zesty cranberry salad is the daily special at Project Lunch near Huntley.

Salads and wraps require no cooking — which means they can be prepared relatively quickly and uniformly — and they allow Moyer to be creative with flavors and ingredients. Plus, she loves salads; she's been creating her own salads since she was a kid. 

She has a handful of regular salads that always appear on her menu, and then every week she introduces a special, a new salad she's created that's available just for the week. 

"I make my dressings from scratch," she said. "Sunday I prep 'em; by Friday they're gone."

Moyer buys her meat from Lucky's Market, and for her wraps she uses Billings-based Trevino's whole wheat flour tortillas. She started by serving just the Huntley Project area, and as word spread about the business she expanded into Billings.

The niche Moyer has filled is one that traditionally may have been served by a food or grocery co-op. In Billings, Good Earth Market, the long-running co-op that served the city, closed last fall. 

In its place have sprung up small businesses to serve a demand that's still out there. Swift Microgreens, a Billings company that sells specially grown miniature vegetables, offers weekly deliveries to Billings and Laurel.

The product is unique. Vegetables grown on a micro scale "contain as much as 40 times the nutrient density of their adult siblings," according to the company. 

"We've been purposefully growing very slowly," said Jessica Hart, who, along with Reed Youngbar, started the company. "We've wanted to grow at a pace we can keep up with." 

Swift Microgreens, like Project Lunch, was born out of desire to provide a service that didn't previously exist, something Hart said is "very tricky."

But it's been a positive experience. Swift Microgreens recently joined with Yellowstone Valley Food Hub, a collective of vendors who sell home-grown vegetables and locally produced meat. 

Going forward, the group hopes eventually to launch a new co-op, but Hart acknowledges that could be years down the road. In the meantime, she and Youngbar are eager to introduce people to microgreens.

Moyer acknowledges she has customers who certainly would have used the co-op for a fresh lunch if it were an option. But a lot of her customers are not "traditional co-op folks," she said. 

Most of them are people who live in an area where they've simply never had access to fresh foods or creative meals before. The example she likes to use is the clinic where her husband works in Lame Deer. 

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Project lunch menu

The daily menu and a clock share counter space as Sarah Moyer makes up lunches at her Project Lunch near Huntley.

When Moyer first started selling her lunches she asked Nate to talk to his co-workers to see if they'd be interested. He was a little resistant, he says with a smile. But he asked around, and by day two he had come home with 12 orders. 

These days, Moyer does a bustling business in Lame Deer, and many of her customers would probably never think to shop at a co-op, she said. That they now have access to fresh, creative foods — and that they enjoy them — has been immensely gratifying to Moyer.

As Project Lunch grows, Moyer has found smart, successful women in the community to work with. 

Tiffany Miller, a Billings artist and tailor who runs her own business selling handmade clothes and silk-screened T-shirts, designed the logo for Moyer's business and has printed it up on shirts, aprons and the canvas bags in which Moyer delivers her lunches. 

Lisa Harmon, who was executive director of the Downtown Billings Alliance for 13 years and is now a minister at First Congregational Church in downtown Billings where the Moyers attend, is Sarah's mentor.

Together, the two have made plans to expand Project Lunch, moving the business to downtown Billings where Moyer will be more centrally located; the majority of her deliveries are now in the Billings area. They've also toyed with the idea of getting bicycles with baskets that can make lunch deliveries during fair weather. 

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Project lunch tins

Stainless steel salad tins wait to be filled and delivered as Sarah Moyer makes up meals at her Project Lunch near Huntley.

As the Moyers look forward they know they need to be strategic about the company. 

"We've thought about how do we do growth," she said. 

It's one of the reasons she's connected with Harmon. She knows she wants Project Lunch to be responsible and ethical in the way it operates and employs people. She doesn't want the headaches of franchising. In short, she wants to carefully manage the company's trajectory and keep from burning herself out — because she knows the company is going to be huge.

"I get it," she said. 

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Business Reporter

Business Reporter for the Billings Gazette.