During her sometimes controversial tenure as the Clinton administration official best known for a campaign to improve school lunches, Ellen Haas made many contacts in the world of food as well as politics.
Now she's using that network of chefs, restaurant owners, nutritionists and others to -- what else? -- start an Internet business.
FoodFit.com, set to launch next month, hopes to show people how to eat better, with advice on recipes, exercise and flavorful cooking.
When she worked in the Agriculture Department, Haas won praise for setting the first new nutritional standards for the school lunch program in 50 years. But she ran into criticism about her management style and about the way she awarded some contracts and promoted her ideas. "It was a lot of political bashing," Haas says now.
For the new project, Haas has signed up about 100 well-known chefs from around the country to contribute columns, tips and features on how they cook at home. She hopes to make money from corporate advertisers and through an "electronic farmer's market" on the site that would eventually offer everything from blenders to bananas.
Launch date: Company was formed December 1998. Site to be launched Jan. 15.
Who's in charge: Ellen Haas, 60, president, chief executive and author ("Great Adventures in Food," St. Martin's Press, 1999).
Previous job: Undersecretary of agriculture in charge of food, nutrition and consumer services, 1993 to 1997.
Big idea: A comprehensive food and health Web site that advises consumers on nutrition, cooking and exercise and sells related products.
Where idea was hatched: Over lunches at Cafe Deluxe in Northwest with partner Patricia Kelly, executive vice president.
Company base: Above the Asia Nora restaurant on M Street (chef Nora Pouillon is part of the network and the company's landlord).
Funding: $2 million from friends, family and angel investors
Number of employees: 13
First employee: Executive chef Bonnie Moore, former sous chef at the Inn at Little Washington and instructor at L'Academie de Cuisine
Target market: Mostly women, around 35 years old, active, educated and with $50,000 or more annual income.
Origin of company name: "The Healthy Diner" was already taken. "The Ultimate Food Site" didn't sing. Their final choice was one of "millions" considered, says Haas.
Founder's favorite dish: Poached halibut in a warm vinaigrette.
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