Couples serve up family friendly fare at Nate's Plates in Milford

MILFORD — A new restaurant in Downtown Milford offers a menu that supports a busy lifestyle for working adults and parents.

“When you walk into the establishment, you will see a refrigerator. In there, we have ready-to-eat meals for individuals and family sizes of all the options,” Rachel Lysak, owner of Nate’s Plates on Schooner Lane. “I also have a deli case which we always keep full with our summer menu, and we have a sandwich menu with five or six items on there.”

Lysak said if patrons need anything off the menu, the chef can get it ready for them quickly.

“My idea in the future when I have enough staff is to make sure the refrigerators are full with family size and individual size portions,” she said. “In a separate refrigerator, I’m going to have ready-to-go kids meals that you can take to camp or school, and everything will be nut-free, and I am working to get certified to serve for allergies. It is a really involved process, and rightfully so, but I am working on it.”

Nate’s Plates gets its name from co-founder Caitlin Rissman’s 4-year-old son Nathan.

“I always wanted to name my business after my son, who gets his name from my great grandfather,” said Rissman.

Lysak said the idea of Nate’s Plates began when she invited Rissman over for their sons to have a play date. In their discussion, Rissman mentioned that she was a chef, and Lysak said she needed a caterer for her son’s birthday.

“She did the food, and I was absolutely floored by the quality and variety of what she provided,” said Lysak.

Lysak said a little time went by, and she decided she wanted to invest in Rissman. Lysak had a little business acumen, and Rissman needed a space to showcase what she could do.

“I consider her my full partner,” she said.

Rissman is the head chef of Nate’s Place and works alongside her husband, who is the sous chef. She said she didn’t go to school to be a chef, but she always knew she wanted to work in the restaurant industry.

“I have Crohn’s disease, so I was sick as a kid, and daytime TV is terrible, and my only good option was the Food Network,” said Rissman. “My mom would joke how she would go to Costco and get the 10-pound bag of chicken, and I would cook all of it different ways with things I saw on TV.”

When Lysak and Rissman were first starting to brainstorm their idea of Nate’s Plates, one of the things they didn’t want to sacrifice was their family time or time with their children.

“Our kids are going to be transitioning into kindergarten this year, but for right now, what we’ve had to do was to bring our sons to work with us in the morning and then we trade off bringing our kids to school so we can all work together,” said Lysak. “Her husband is assisting her in the kitchen, and my husband is assisting me with front of house. I’m doing all the logistics, getting the place up and running. I’m getting my husband to do background and payroll. So we’re just two families working together.”

Christine Matthews, president of the Milford Regional Chamber of Commerce, said she is impressed by Lysak and Rissman and their decision to include their children in their daily work life.

“As a working mother, I know how difficult this is, and I applaud them,” said Matthews. “They are an inspiration and a great example to many young parents.”

One of the key things that both Lysak and Rissman wanted to do was to make sure they could get locally sourced products and ingredients.

“When you go local, you get fresh produce, but also there is less of a carbon footprint because deliveries are coming local,” said Rissman. “We’ve also been able to develop a relationship with these farmers, and they call to let us know what they have coming up during the week.”

Rissman said creating relationships with farmers helps them keep the prices down and keeps the kitchen fun.

“I’m able to bring new stuff for us to play with and make special items,” she said. “Like we got beautiful melon in this week, so we did a basil and watermelon salad.”

With the fresh produce/ingredients they get from locally sourced areas, Rissman said they are planning to provide meal prepping for people as a subscription service that can be specified to the person’s needs.

“Going back to me having Crohn’s disease, part of getting better was being on these diets of gluten-free (and) dairy-free, and I’ve grown with that, and I’ve been able to grow as a chef because of that,” said Rissman.

Nate’s Plates officially opened on July 22 after a soft opening during the second weekend of July. Lysak said the COVID-19 pandemic made the process a little faster, but also more challenging.

“We started the paperwork to get the loan around Christmas time, and once we were approved and got the money, we kind of just scooted right in at the right moment,” said Lysak. “It took us from January to the beginning of July to be able to open the doors. We had to find a space, we had to find a lease contract, we had to figure out budgets, so we really were taking advantage of the COVID downtime to get up and running.”

Rissman said her husband was laid off because of the pandemic, and that allowed the couple to focus all of their attention to get the business up and running.

“We were researching on things like where are we going to get our bread, how can we get our cucumbers locally and what about cheese,” she said. “I don’t think we would have been able to do that without COVID either.”

Lysak said when they opened they didn’t have to put the acrylic shields up, they didn’t have to ask people to put masks on and a lot of people were already vaccinated. She said it would have been different if they would have opened Nate’s Plates last year during the middle of the pandemic.

“How much of my budget would have taken up with COVID preparations,” she said. “I’m a new business owner, and I can’t imagine what other businesses had to go through. The fear of how am I going to be able to pay my employees, how am I going to be able to pay rent or taxes? I can’t imagine the stress. I really just can’t.”

As the business grows, Lysak said their goal is to make sure they are at the forefront of business practices. For starters, the group plans to run the business to maximize potential, not profits.

“I’ve worked for some good people and some not great people,” said Rissman. “That really helped us come up with the goals for Nate’s Place. The restaurant industry is notorious for not being family-friendly or women-friendly, and that was something too important to all of us. That we created a place for the mom, who is a great chef at home who needs a break in the industry and needs an opportunity or a teenager who maybe isn’t taken seriously at the restaurants here.”

Since it was just the four of them working, Lysak said the restaurant has limited hours at the present time.

“We are just serving breakfast and lunch until I can hire more people,” said Lysak. “I just posted two jobs on Indeed, and I have somebody helping me at the front, but he’s going away to college, so I’m going to lose him. So I need people.”

Lysak said she has gotten few responses to the job postings.

“It’s really hard, and I find that even though I’m offering a little better pay, it doesn’t seem to be enough,” she said. “I did get a couple of responses, and when I asked for references, I didn’t get a call back. It’s been tough.”

Lysak said she wants the community to know that they are there for them, and they understand what it is to struggle to balance family and work life.

“I’m proud of what we are doing, and I hope the community is proud to have us,” said Rissman.