Former brewery tour operator Elizabeth Choto’s pandemic pivot into charcuterie —Graze Dat! — is keeping her plate full.
I really am a believer in the idea of people eating with their eyes first, and I feel like when food is presented in a way that makes one stop and look and wonder about what you’re eating, it means so much more.
Elizabeth Choto, Graze Dat! founder
New Orleans culinary entrepreneur Elizabeth Choto transformed a love of food and a need to soak up some boozy nights, into a burgeoning catering business with the launch of Graze Dat! charcuterie this past August. Since then, her works of culinary art have garnered the former educator-turned-brewery-tour-guide a wide following on Instagram, catching the eye of clients from all walks of life for parties, celebrations, family gatherings and more.
After moving to New Orleans four years ago, Choto dove headlong into the city’s love of food and drink, creating a brewery tour business, Big Easy Beer Tours. When COVID-19 shut the tour business down, Choto pivoted online, and from those virtual interactions, her newest venture came about. Graze Dat! was born out of a practical necessity, spurred on by Choto and her brewery guests’ big love for those “big boozy beers.”
“Graze Dat! was a complete accident! I had a brewery tour in New Orleans when the pandemic hit and that forced me to shut down physical beer tastings,” Choto said. “Months later, I hosted virtual tastings and during one of those, my guests and I got sloshed. My sister suggested that I have some sort of food. I reached out to everyone for the next tasting and encouraged them to have food. I made myself a charcuterie plate. During that tasting, no one cared what about the beer at all. They were really interested in what I was eating, and it just felt like I’d struck a chord. The next week, a few people asked me to make them a box and that was the birth of Graze Dat! I officially launched my little company in August 2020.”
Choto was originally born and raised in Zimbabwe, moved to the United States in 1991 to finish her studies, and soon found herself in a career in education. While her time spent as an educator in K-12 schools and at Johns Hopkins School of Education sustained her, it was her passion for the culinary arts that inspired her to make a career change, and New Orleans would prove to be an excellent place for that.
“I’ve always been a foodie. My earliest memories revolve around food and family gatherings around food. As a kid, my family lived on a farm, and my siblings and I were no strangers to the process of growing food and rearing livestock. I really became interested in high school where I chose culinary arts as my elective, but that didn’t go anywhere at the time because my parents wanted me to come to college in the States to become a biologist.”
Choto’s culinary pivot is part of a national meat-and-cheese board trend, with charcuterie blowing up on social media sites. According to a January 2020 “Business Insider” article, “[T]hey’ve become a fixation on social media platforms. A search for ‘charcuterie’ on Instagram yields nearly one million results, while on Facebook there are hundreds of public and private groups dedicated to the art form.” Choto currently has more than 3,700 followers of Graze Dat! on Instagram, with the number growing with every post.
These “adult Lunchables” appeal not only to the foodie appetite, but also the visual nature of social media with displays of artfully sliced fruit, vegetables, nuts, spreads, cold cuts and more. Plus, the charcuterie board can be easily customized and made to order for almost any occasion or diet, and are delivery friendly and are just fun to eat.
Graze Dat! offers a wide selection of charcuterie sizes, from a picnic-for-two to boutique wedding receptions, and beyond. Charcuterie can be arranged in the classic board format, in jars, boxes, or even in the shape of letters (think: wedding initials or birthday honorees.) The options are nearly endless, according to Choto.
“I try my very best to work with everyone,” she said. “I’ve loved the large group catering orders that I’ve had but have also loved creating individual boxes for people who are just jumping in to see what this is all about or who are just curious about some of the items I use on boards. I offer ‘jarcuterie’ and ‘cupcuterie’ (just a bite of meat, cheeses and accoutrements in a jar or cup), grazing boxes for one to eight, grazing platters for groups of up to 25, and grazing tables. Each option is completely customizable in terms of meats and cheeses. I also offer vegetarian and vegan options. My sweet and s’mores boards during the holiday season were such a hit that I will be offering them again this year.”
Prices range from $9 per “cupcuterie” to $50 for a medium grazing box, $70 for personalized monogram letters, $225 for a 2-foot, crowd-friendly grazing board, plus customizable pre-assembled or on-site assembled grazing tables for a variable price.
Graze Dat! is still a one-woman operation, with Choto looking to expand into a physical location with employees and delivery drivers in the short term. Culinary items for her charcuterie creations are sourced from all over the New Orleans area, with an emphasis on getting the freshest items as possible.
“I shop everywhere, from farmers markets to big box stores,” she said. “Occasionally, I’ll see what interesting items local purveyors might have and I’ve found some really cool items like pink pineapples, finger limes and Cape Gooseberries. St. James Cheese is also great for charcuterie and cheese. I’m not a cheese expert, but I’m told by someone in the know that they are the best cheese shop in the country, and I feel super lucky to have them right here in New Orleans.”
While the pandemic may have forced Choto, like so many others, to pivot from her original business plan to something completely different, that change has proven to be for the better so far, putting a positive spin on a challenging time.
“The upside is that the pandemic gave life to this operation,” she said. “I think after a whole lot of time being shut in during the lockdowns, it was handy for my customers to have a food delivery option that offered something different. The pandemic also pushed me into territories unknown. I honestly didn’t know if or where this would go and I’m super excited every single day that I get to do this because it’s really been one of the most fulfilling and creative experiences of my entire life.”
Looking for a great gift or addition to your tabletop offerings this holiday season?
Orders for Graze Dat can be made at Grazedat.gethoneycart.com. Delivery is available up to 20 miles outside of the 70117 ZIP code.
How to Order
Delivery available up to 20 miles outside of 70117 zip code