Meet Nicole Centeno, Splendid Spoon’s fearless founder and co-CEO who also happens to be a French Culinary Institute-trained chef, former research biologist published in Nutrition and Metabolism, author of Soup Cleanse Cookbook, and mother of three. An alumnus of Boston College, Nicole has been named one of Observer’s 10 Wellness Entrepreneurs to Watch.
Below, we dive into her story to share more about how she started Splendid Spoon, how it evolved over the years, and what she’s learned along the way.
How Splendid Spoon started
The spark for Splendid Spoon came to Nicole in 2012. Working at Condé Nast and pregnant with her first son Grover, she came to realize how unattainable it was to achieve a healthy lifestyle alongside a demanding career and the day-to-day realities of being a working parent. What she wanted was to find a way to make nutritious, and, importantly, delicious plant-based food accessible to everyday Americans.
“My problem was time (or lack thereof) to come up with recipes, finish the food shopping, and make the meals. All the work of making delicious and healthy plant-based meals got in the way of me ever actually enjoying it.” — Nicole Centeno, Founder of Splendid Spoon
While working full time, Nicole began attending culinary school, dabbling in catering (by delivering soups on her lunch break that she’d cooked earlier that morning!), hosting pop-ups, and teaching cooking/nutrition courses at Columbia University. These experiences — coupled with her studies in diet therapies, a penchant for entrepreneurship, and a conviction that there must be a better way to eat well — convinced Nicole to take the leap and leave her corporate career to pursue food full-time.
And Splendid Spoon was born.
Splendid Spoon through the years
Splendid Spoon launched in 2013 with a line of vegan soups that Nicole herself cooked out of a local pizza kitchen in Greenpoint, Brooklyn. With simple ingredients (and a WHOLE lot of veggies), they were always satisfying. Shortly after, she began selling her soups at Brooklyn Flea, Smorgasburg, and local grocer FreshDirect.
The early days were filled with experimenting and learning (and failing!) and experimenting some more. While Nicole didn’t know exactly what Splendid Spoon would become, she believed in the mission and in what she was trying to build. So she put her head down and kept going.
In 2015, after hearing “no” again and again (and again) from grocers who didn’t want to carry an entire line of soups, Splendid pivoted away from large wholesale opportunities and instead into the then-uncharted territory of online ordering. This provided the unique opportunity to connect with and communicate our passion for plant-based food directly with customers.
Nicole’s Soup Cleanse Cookbook was published by Rodale! It presented a modern alternative to quick-fix diets and instead focused on using plant-based soups and mindful eating practices to increase energy and improve health.
Four years later, Splendid Spoon introduced freshly-blended smoothies featuring a wide variety of fruits, veggies, healthy fats, proteins, and superfoods — the perfect on-the-go breakfast or anytime snack, which quickly became one of your all-time favorite products!
Fast forward to 2019 and grain bowls officially made an appearance on the Splendid Spoon menu. From the Vegetable Bolognese Grain Bowl to the Kimchi Fried Rice Grain Bowl with Turmeric and Edamame, these diverse, high-protein, gluten-free bowls were here to stay.
2020 was a busy year in the Splendid Spoon test kitchen as both Wellness Shots and Noodle Bowls were added to the menu. The immune-boosting shots provide a quick and easy dose of nutrients, while the noodle bowls — with their veggies, gluten-free noodles, and fragrant sauces — are perfect for lunch or dinner.
2020 was also the year that Elise Densborn joined Nicole as co-CEO of Splendid Spoon. Fun fact: Elise was first introduced to the company as a customer! From there, she joined the team and worked her way up to become Nicole’s co-pilot.
2021 was the year we launched our long-awaited Chef Collective, which allows us to work with chefs from all walks of life to highlight and amplify diverse voices in food. Our first collaboration was with Chinese American Chef Diana Kuan, who helped bring our Dan Dan Noodles recipe to life. We also partnered with some stellar food brands like Sinto Gourmet (for their UNREAL kimchi) and RightRice (for their fried quinoa we can’t get enough of). Both ingredients made an appearance in our cult-favorite Kimchi Fried Quinoa bowl.
2 principles that have helped Nicole make a habit out of plant-based eating
Eight years immersed in the plant-based world have taught Nicole a thing or two about how to make meaningful changes that stick. Here are her two tidbits of advice for you.
1. Start small
“I am an animal protein lover. Really and truly. I love meat, eggs, and a good cheese plate. Even today, I wrestle with my bacon-loving self when faced with the opportunity to order a BLT. But by starting with small adjustments that I could stick to everyday, I have created a much more plant-based life without it feeling “hard.” I started by swapping out my work-week lunches, then moved onto breakfasts and now I am right alongside many in our community as I try to get more of my dinners to be plant-based too!”
2. Let your taste buds adjust
“Going from meat and potatoes to lentils and kale is NOT an overnight thing. Eight years after starting Splendid Spoon and I can still remember swapping out beef stews for bean stews and wondering if I would be satisfied. Thankfully, we’ve got some amazing, food-obsessed people creating all the meals, and our flavors are alive with the vibrancy and comfort of a home cooked meal. But it does take a minute to adjust to less processed food — not to mention zero meat. I still remind myself of this if I am doing a reset after a few too many nights on the takeout train!”