KITTERY — Jennifer Scism and David Koorits’ relationship had a bit of a rocky start, but eventually they managed to introduce each other to their first loves – respectively food and the outdoors.

“To this day, the best meal I’ve ever had,” he now says of a seven-course tasting menu paired with wines that Scism, an award-winning chef, cooked for him early in their relationship. He’d never had anything like it.

Not long after that Koorits took Scism on her first multi-day hike. After lugging a backpack for the first time and setting up camp in the dark in New Hampshire’s White Mountains, Scism recalled waking up in a pine forest. ” ‘Oh my god, this is beautiful,’ ” she told him.

Now, the business they built together incorporating their shared passions is poised to take off. Scism and Koorits are the cofounders of Good To-Go, a two-year-old company that makes gourmet dehydrated food – including Maine ingredients – for camping. To keep up with demand, the dehydrators run 24 hours a day and the company is expanding its plant.

“We sold 167 meals in April 2014,” Koorits said. “And now we’re selling 10,000 a month.”

David Koorits and Jennifer Scism started Good To-Go in Kittery. Scism is a chef who has cooked at four-star restaurants in New York and once beat New York chef and television personality Mario Batali on "Iron Chef."

David Koorits and Jennifer Scism started Good To-Go in Kittery. Scism is a chef who has cooked at four-star restaurants in New York and once beat New York chef and television personality Mario Batali on “Iron Chef.” Shawn Patrick Ouellette/Staff Photographer

So far, they produce six meals, in single ($6.75) and double ($11.50) serving sizes: Classic Marinara with Penne, Indian Vegetable Korma, Pad Thai, Thai Curry, Smoked Three Bean Chili and Herbed Mushroom Risotto. All are gluten-free, and three are vegan.

The husband-and-wife team had been in business only three months when their Thai Curry won the 2014 Editors’ Choice Award from Backpacker magazine and later that year was named a Top Gear Pick by Gear Junkies.

Good To-Go products are now being sold by EMS and REI stores in 200 locations, and by an additional 200 to 250 independent retailers, including L.L. Bean and Kittery Trading Post.

L.L. Bean started carrying Good To-Go this past spring, according to spokeswoman Carolyn Beem, who added that it’s nice to be able to offer a product from a Maine-based startup. “It has started strong. It’s a unique offering and an upgrade from traditional camp food,” she wrote in an emailed message. “The staff was happy with the product offerings when they conducted taste tests. One of the comments was ‘tastes like camp food you actually want to eat!’ ”

Good To-Go isn’t profitable yet, the couple says, but if all goes according to plan, they hope it will be by the end of this summer.

COOKING BIGGER BATCHES

Koorits and Scism are overseeing an expansion of their bright yellow production facility on Route 1 from 1,800 to 3,000 square feet. When it’s finished in a few weeks, the new equipment will nearly double the number of meal packages they can produce each day to 2,200.

The undersized kettles in the kitchen will also double, from 40 to 80 gallons each to allow big batch cooking, and they’ll get new deyhdrators too, Scism noted on a recent tour of the space as she checked a tray of carrots, parsnips and beans destined for the vegetable korma.

The new facility will also let the couple add meat-based meals to their product line. “It’s the next step,” Scism said.

She adds that the meals will remain gluten-free because customers like it and “it’s not too limiting.” The company is also pursuing non-GMO certification, and they’re adding a small retail space so visitors on their way to enjoy the Maine outdoors can stop and pick up supplies.

Grety Melo packages Good To-Go gourmet dehydrated meals at their production facility in Kittery. Shawn Patrick Ouellette/Staff Photographer

Grety Melo packages Good To-Go gourmet dehydrated meals at the production facility in Kittery. Shawn Patrick Ouellette/Staff Photographer

SUCCESSFUL RESTAURANT CAREER

Scism is a chef and sommelier who has cooked at four-star restaurants in New York and once beat New York chef and television personality Mario Batali on “Iron Chef.” She spent 24 years in New York, including more than a dozen as co-owner and general manager of Annisa in Greenwich Village with chef Anita Lo.

When she left in 2010 and moved to Maine, the New York Times took note, calling Scism “a fixture of the restaurant’s dining room in designer dresses and towering heels.”

By then she had met Koorits and was tired of working double shifts in the city so she could have long weekends at her second home in York. Koorits, a native of Montreal, was planning to go to nursing school when, in 2007, friends set him up with Scism. Scism is nine years older than Koorits, and at first she thought he was too young to pursue.

Their early romance was filled with awkward moments and cold shoulders. Eventually, she invited him to dinner at her house, where she grilled him on his food habits.

“I was like, ‘OK what are your allergies?’ ” Scism recalled in a voice that mimicked the skepticism she felt at the time. He told her he didn’t have any.

It went on: Her: Do you eat fish? Him: I love fish.

Her: Do you eat mushrooms? Him: I love mushrooms.

Things were looking up.

Dinner that night was seared halibut over potato puree with wild mushrooms and ramps. (As she recalled the dish, Koorits remarked: “She remembers our travels by food, and I remember them by adventure.” He remembers the Italian Alps. She remembers the bucatini all’amatriciana.)

Koorits had his own test. He had to be sure Scism was willing to give the outdoors a try. “That was really important to me,” he said. “That’s my passion.”

He asked her: What’s the farthest you’ve ever been from a road? She said something about the top of a ski mountain, and after he picked himself up off the floor, he took her shopping. They bought her $1,200 worth of gear and headed off for Crawford Notch in the White Mountains.

When the couple first started hiking together, Koorits would make food like cornbread, Annie’s mac-n-cheese/tuna combo and oatmeal. They’d bring fresh food for the first day on the trail and shelf-stable ingredients for the rest of the trip.

“It wasn’t until we had a plan to go out for a week that I said ‘I can’t eat Annie’s mac for a week,’ ” Scism recalled. She started to fool around in her kitchen with a dehydrator. “We took (the meals) out there, and they worked. It wasn’t done as a business idea at all.”

By 2013, Scism and Koorits were writing a business plan. A friend’s husband came up with the name Good To-Go.

They got advice from Jonathan King and Jim Stott, the founders of Stonewall Kitchen, who are good friends.

Koorits and Scism are expanding the Good To-Go production facility in Kittery which, among other things, will allow the couple to add meat-based meals to their product line. Shawn Patrick Ouellette/Staff Photographer

Koorits and Scism are expanding the Good To-Go production facility in Kittery. Among other things, that will allow the couple to add meat-based meals to their product line. Shawn Patrick Ouellette/Staff Photographer

STARTING WITH QUALITY

Scism says she gets her best meal ideas when she is hiking and starts getting hungry.

The Good To-Go staff – 13, including herself and her husband – serve as taste testers.

She’d like to do a version of bibimbap someday, and longs to make a pho but can’t figure out how to “get that broth flavor without adding some weird flavor agent.”

Yes, backpackers could buy instant ramen, she acknowledges, “but the fact is what’s in our food is real food,” Scism said. “We start with the highest quality product that we can get.”

That includes parsnips and carrots from Northern Girl in Van Buren. To cut back on sodium in the pad thai, Scism replaces fish sauce with “a really awesome product out of Vietnam called fish salt.” When she needed dehydrated shrimp for the pad thai sauce, she found a Gulf Coast fisherman who catches and dries wild American shrimp, rather than sourcing them from Asia.

She’s working on an oatmeal product, which she has nicknamed “Hippie Oats,” that includes hemp, chia and sunflower seeds; and turmeric, cumin and nutmeg.

She field-tested it on a group of outdoor writers on Mount Washington a couple of weeks ago.

“They said, ‘Wow, this is not your average oatmeal,’ ” Scism said, “but they liked it. And I said, ‘Good, because I don’t want it to be your average oatmeal.’ ”

When they launched Good To-Go, there wasn’t much competition, Scism said. “That was then. Now Patagonia has a line of their own food,” she said. “So people have gotten the memo.”

Samantha Searles, director of market and consumer insights for the Boulder, Colorado-based Outdoor Industry Association, said while the association has no data around the growth of gourmet camping food, “We do know that consumers’ definition of outdoor recreation is changing, and with the rise of such activities like glamping, U.S. outdoor consumers want the ability to have some of the comforts of home with them when they recreate.”

Scism estimates that 80 percent of her customers are backpackers. The rest are people who eat their Good To-Go meal on a park bench during a lunch break – as a friend saw a stranger do recently. Scism and Koorits are thinking about tapping into that market with meals-in-a-cup that can be microwaved to eat at home or work.

Naturally, they dream of hitting the trail again themselves. Maybe a few stolen days in August, before or after the Outdoor Industry Association’s retail show in Utah?

For now, the business comes first. They are booked every weekend with meetings and store appearances.

“In the beginning stage, you can’t say no,” Scism said. “We have to keep pushing.”


Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or to participate in the conversation. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.

filed under: