This is part of a series on West Chester entrepreneurs. Know someone that’s taking an innovative approach to the mantra, “Follow your dream?” I’d love to share their story. Thank you to Benchmark Federal Credit Union for making this expanded content possible.
Each summer for the last seven years, West Chester-native and local chef TJ Mchugh has quietly gathered the area’s freshest produce and chopped his way to one of the genuinely great tributes to summer’s bounty. Juicy vine-ripened tomatoes, a bite of onion, chewy balls of – get this – gnocchi. I won’t go further. My lack of culinary training precludes me from doing it justice in a description but let me just say, it was delicious. So good in fact the kids devoured it. Like little vultures they hovered over the dip; piling it high onto the little crostinis I made for serving. Not one complaint of vegetables touching each other. No little piles of onions found on the side of discarded plates. Just completely gone. But if you’ve not yet heard of this summer masterpiece, I would not be surprised. It’s the kind of delight that requires you to know a guy.
“Everyone in my circle is a friend,” said TJ who sells his bruschetta exclusively through word of mouth and his Instagram page @GoodVibesChef.
I met TJ at Turks Head Cafe to chat marketing strategies and finding work-life balance doing what you love. We were there in part because he is friends with the owners. They played hockey together. As we head to a table he stops to chat with a guy on the couch, a photographer he knows. He is helping out with product imagery. The circle also includes most of the area’s chefs and servers. TJ relies on these connections to help get word out when a batch is ready.
All in on bruschetta
“You can’t get a good bruschetta from the store,” said TJ.
So a few years ago when the tomatoes were particularly plentiful he gathered a couple of cases of locally-grown varieties and got to chopping. When he was done he filled plastic containers with the concoction and sent word out to friends and family – fresh bruschetta by the quart available on Friday. The requests came rolling in. “Put me down for one.” “I’ll take two.” Until all 40 quarts were spoken for – a pickup time and place were named and TJ with a cooler stuffed with freshly packed vegetables (and fruit, you tomato purists) set up and waited to hand out orders.
Before the summer was out Good Vibes Culinary was born.
“We are now up to 160 quarts a week and that will sell out in three days,” says TJ who still focuses solely on bruschetta. He has expanded beyond friends but continues to keep a low profile. There is no storefront. There is no website or online ordering. You can’t get it at a farmers’ market. The process is very much the same as it was in the beginning but now that announcement goes out via Instagram. You want to give it a try? You just have to wait for the post, then stake your claim and be ready to pick up at the designated spot.
This didn’t just happen. Getting here took years of hard work and long days. Just 36, TJ’s already spent 23 years in the industry; 12 learning the ropes, 11 as an executive chef. He worked at La Cabra Brewing in Berwyn and as a chef at Amis Trattoria in Philadelphia under the tutelage of Jame Beard winner Mark Vetri. It was an enviable position but the hours were brutal – 72 hours a week.
So after his daughter was born, TJ accepted a job as executive chef with Sodexo in charge of the kitchen at Saint Gobain North America in Malvern – trading 1 a.m. closes for 5 a.m. starts; seven-day weeks for five-day weeks. Even with the full-time job and the seasonal side hustle (in the winter he switches to soups), he’s found the balance much more reasonable. After a batch is packaged and the post sent. TJ’s got time for family.
“It’s been a big life change for my family,” he said. “I’ve got two days to do nothing. Go to the park. Then I start again.”
Bruschetta is $13/quart. Get it with a 1-gallon bag of parmesan crostinis for an even $20. Expect drops through late September, maybe October. It just depends on how long tomato season lasts this year. If you want to give it a try, follow @goodvibeschef on Instagram and wait for that next announcement.
- That first batch made 40 quarts. Good Vibes Culinary now puts out 160 quarts at a time.
- A batch of bruschetta can take upwards of nine hours to make – and that’s mostly just chopping.
- Bruschetta has a 7-day shelf life. Some swear it is best on day four. We ate it on day two with absolutely no complaints.
- Not sure what to do with a quart? TJ will give you ideas. He just asks that you post a picture of the final product to Instagram and tag him.
- Grammy-winning producer and reggae artist DENM is a bruschetta fan and somehow he got word of this West Chester-find before I did.
A big thank you to Benchmark Federal Credit Union for their support of Hello West Chester and for making this series on entrepreneurship in West Chester possible.
The only federal credit union to exclusively serve Chester County, Benchmark FCU provides commercial lending products for local businesses. Clients can count on personalized service, local decision-making, and quick loan turnaround time. Benchmark FCU not only understands your business, but also has the ability to provide a wide range of financial solutions, including term loans and commercial real estate secured lines of credit. We’re ready to be your trusted business banking partner. To learn more about our business banking solutions, visit www.benchmarkfcu.org.
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