By Dorie Cox
Eten is the name of the new food company recently opened by two former yacht crew. It’s pronounced like the vernacular “eatin'” and references eating in both Belgian and English.
And that’s just what yacht crew and locals are doing at Dirk de Cuyper and Allison Morgan’s shop in downtown Fort Lauderdale, which opened at the end of May.
The couple met on M/Y Polar Star about two-and-a-half years ago while he was chef and she was purser and chief stew. Their similar passions became the start of a new life together.
“We never said we were going to leave yachting, we just moved in to something else,” de Cuyper said as he chopped an onion in the kitchen.
“We came up with the Flemish name for our idea one night in St. Maarten,” Morgan said in front of the “grab-n-go” case in their crisp new store on trendy Las Olas Boulevard near up-scale homes with megayachts on the docks.
The couple pooled their skills and interests to come up with the concept of Eten Food Company, a gourmet food store and catering kitchen that serves fresh food available to-go. Along with his six years at a professional cooking school in Belgium, de Cuyper’s background includes a cookbook, “Charting Culinary Courses: A Collection,” which he wrote during his eight years as chef onboard M/Y Cakewalk. Morgan brings expertise in organization and creativity that she honed from her background in journalism, public relations and, of course, yachting.
Modeled after European traiteurs, which are small specialty food shops, the couple just twisted the formula for American diners.
“Belgium is filled with traiteurs,” British-born Morgan said. “There are 10 in the little town where Dirk is from in Belgium. We did things like adding the grab fridge. They wouldn’t have that in Belgium, but Americans like it.”
When they came up with the idea, they told the owners of the yacht what they were planning and then consulted a lawyer. They researched the E-2 investment visa through the U.S. Embassy in Belgium.
“The E-2 investment visa is like a treaty between the countries,” Morgan said. “We had to show that we would hire people in the United States and prove a solid business plan.”
The check list the embassy required included details down to the logo and marketing plan, she said. They officially began by seeing the lawyer in November of 2008 and they received the visa in December 2009.
“Dirk’s cookbook really put us in good stead with the process,” she said.
De Cuyper created the kitchen layout and recipes while Morgan did the business plan and design work for Eten; all done between yacht charters.
The shop is divided into tidy and well-presented areas: the chef’s case of prepared foods, including entrees and side dishes; the pastry case of homemade treats, chocolates and breads; and the grab-n-go refrigerator of pre-packaged cured salmon, pates and comfort foods. De Cuyper efficiently and tastefully makes almost every item in the shop.
“The store is a front for the catering business and ultimately we hope to have a food line,” de Cuyper said.
Eten Food is open to everyone, but the couple have a strong focus on serving the yachting industry. For yacht crew they sell frozen or fresh dishes, can do price quotes, custom orders and prepare foods for a crew or guest’s special needs.
“We can do individual servings, or meals like bangers and mash and cottage pie,” de Cuyper said. “When the boat is hauled, you can have food ready for the crew. When the chef is on holiday, it’s like he is still there.
“Since I worked on yachts, I can make food the crew is used to,” he said. “I cook for you [crew] like I cook for the owner. There is no difference between you two.”
The couple have a sparkle when they talk about their new venture and now their lives are quite different from the one at sea.
“After 12 years in yachting around the world, now we live in a one-square mile area,” Morgan said.
“And it’s like we’re still on charter,” de Cuyper said, “the biggest charter of our lives and the guests don’t leave.”
“But,” Morgan said, “we get to go home and not to a cabin.”
Dorie Cox is a staff reporter and associate editor with The Triton. Comments on this story are welcome below.