One night while waiting at a restaurant for her charcuterie board, Nai Zhao had a realization. She wasn’t the only person passionate about charcuterie, and surely she wasn’t the only person that would jump at the chance to have gourmet cheeses, cured meats, pickled vegetables, crackers, and fresh fruit delivered directly to their doorstep. That's when she came up with the idea for Charcuterie Me, a service that lets customers order charcuterie boards on a one-time or subscription basis according to their party size and dietary needs. Prices range from $11 each for “selfie” handheld charcuterie cones to $149 for charcuterie platters for 12 people.
Born and raised in Portland, Zhao was introduced to charcuterie by a friend in 2014. “I started making my own boards at home,” she says. “I just love having multiple components and being able to appease different flavors that I liked on my palate.”
Fast forward to 2019, when she worked for the local nonprofit Prosper Portland. Zhao enjoyed her job, but it didn’t provide a creative outlet, so she looked for other ways to express herself. Initially, she tried a side hustle as a fashion stylist, but that never got off the ground. When she had the idea to start her own charcuterie business, she attended TiE Oregon’s business bootcamp to give her that extra nudge and the know-how to make her business idea a reality. “I knew I wanted to start a business, and it just so happened that I saw the opportunities for food, and I saw a way for me to be creative. I’m very into aesthetics, so being able to arrange a beautiful box that also makes people happy is satisfying and fulfilling.”
She decided to launch her business in April of 2020—just after pandemic lockdowns began. “The pandemic hit, and no-contact delivery became such a huge thing, and I was like, I think this is the moment,” she says. Her gamble paid off, and these days her charcuterie business is her full-time job.
Zhao’s boards come in many different shapes and sizes. You can order the Graze box (Charcuterie Me’s most popular order), which comes with brie, prosciutto, Havarti with dill, and crackers. There are other boxes available, like the self-care box. This 1-person charcuterie box comes with meat, seasonal fruits like strawberries, and brie (a staple cheese, according to Zhao).
She gets her ideas through trial and error and the opinions of friends and family. “I try new things, and I get feedback from friends and family on what flavors they like, and then I'll incorporate them into my boxes,” she says. If meat isn’t your thing, Charcuterie Me also offers vegetarian and vegan charcuterie boards, which could include fresh grapes, strawberries, pistachios, and assorted cheeses (if you're vegetarian). Or, for those with special dietary needs, there are keto and gluten-free options.
Zhao’s biggest challenge isn’t getting her business off the ground—her charcuterie business is popular in the age of no-contact delivery—but growing it. “Right now, I’m wearing every single hat. There are so many things like strategy and marketing that I don’t get to do because I have to do all the physical stuff right now,” she says.