Observant by nature and driven by a heart for health, Ryan Reisdorf founded Placemat in Nashville, TN, in August of 2017. He has already served thousands of people healthy, delicious meals and has booked reservations in more than 24 states. Now, he is expanding his services into Louisville.
A nursing school dropout, Ryan’s passion lies in health. Diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes at an early age, he has had a vested interest in wellness ever since. In seeking nursing school, his end-goal was a degree that would give him the clout to use his voice in regard to the topic of health. When his first nursing school closed its doors, he moved on to school number two. Class after class, he listened and learned and kept coming back to the question: What can we do to prevent the diseases and conditions being discussed?” He wondered why that was not more strongly emphasized. His teachers, it seemed, didn’t always welcome this inquisitiveness. Ryan continued to push back and became more and more stirred by the idea of prevention instead of treatment. The more he asked why, the more obvious it became — Ryan believes that nutrition is the key to preventing many common ailments, and he set out to find a way to share this message.
Ryan first began his business in Nashville. Soon after, he learned that Music City has 5,400 Airbnbs, most of which have beautiful, functional kitchens, and most of which were not being used. It was a lightbulb moment. Ryan realized he could bring healthy meals, cooked by Nashville chefs, straight into these kitchens to give visitors a unique taste of Tennessee.
After sitting down with Music City chefs and restaurant owners, and hearing “no” after “no,” Ryan literally took matters into his own hands. He tells us, “I decided I would do it myself. I love to cook. I love to cook healthy foods. I love to cook for friends.” And, so he did — and still does.
He messaged more than 150 people on Airbnb and shockingly received response after response. He quickly realized that to maintain their Airbnb ratings, the owners had to respond to him … a goldmine. He met with many of them and ultimately formed 10 relationships with Airbnb owners that would prove to be fruitful in booking dinner parties. Finally, he met with a property manager and his partner over coffee, and they booked his first dinner party at one of their own homes — 14 people around the table, and Ryan and his roommates in the kitchen — and it went seamlessly. Before the night was over, they had booked another for the following night (and had served Hunter Hayes their famous gluten-free pizza). As Placemat has grown, they’ve started booking as many as four dinners a night, and therefore enlisting local chefs to help.
While Ryan has served country music stars like Maren Morris, Florida Georgia Line and even Willie Nelson, he tells us, “The majority of our clientele aren’t celebrities. The service is the same, though. We’re accessible to everyone.”
While he started and still works within the Airbnb world, a staggering number of Ryan’s clients are locals of the cities he serves. We’d argue that a big reason for that is the way he’s impacting the community. Ryan says, “A big thing for me is treating the customer the right way, and chefs that we hire the right way — paying them appropriately and treating them appropriately.” Since the inception of the company, he’s employed more than 400 people — from chefs to consultants — and he’s adamant about keeping it local. As the company expands, Ryan has high hopes for tapping into a database that they have created with more than 8,500 chefs in 27 U.S. cities.
“It’s not about me. It’s about the brand and what we’re trying to do,” Ryan explains. “It’s not about the experience of the chef. We hire people who are chefs. People who have empathy. We have a why — not a what. There are a lot of imposters who have come behind. There are always private chefs [and] ticketed dinner events. I’m not worried about those because of why we got started.”
So how did Ryan land on Louisville as an expansion city? The answer is demand. “Louisville is a short trip from Nashville. It is a market that is continuing to grow and has similarities to Nashville in regards to who our typical guest is,” he explains. “The differences that Louisville poses are only going to allow Placemat to better understand and learn how to navigate a market, and to become a trusted service organically — the same way Placemat got through the door in Nashville.”
Ryan feels like Louisville is the perfect place to expand his one-of-a-kind services due to its budding culinary scene. He tells us, “As a whole, people are becoming more receptive to alternative, forward-thinking dining experiences, food trends and concierge services that come right to you.” Ryan believes that diners in Louisville will appreciate the experiences Placemat offers and the freshness of the food on the menu, which can be modified to meet any dietary restrictions. As part of his mission to be accessible, Ryan provides valuable experience of around-the-table dining to all. He is excited to bring that family vibe to the Bluegrass State.
With the entrance into this new market, Ryan acknowledges that there will be differences in Louisville relative to how Placemat operates in Nashville. “There is a smaller short-term rental market in Louisville, but that doesn’t pose any challenges,” he says confidently. “What is great about Placemat is that more than half of the reservations we get come from word of mouth referrals,” which have shown to be a large part of Placemat’s success in Nashville. Ryan hopes that he can reach a broader audience in Louisville with these referrals by partnering with real estate agents, local purveyors and passionate individuals who will buy into his mission.
Additionally, while business in Nashville started with a full-time nursing school student cooking the meals, Placemat in Louisville is coming to the scene with experienced and skilled chefs. Ryan tells us, “In Louisville, we have begun reaching out to short-term rental property owners, management companies, real estate agencies, event planners, home cooks and culinary professionals. Most importantly, our roster of contracted chefs is established and ever-growing.” Nineteen Louisville chefs are currently ready to receive reservations as 1099-contracted employees, and that number is expected to grow.
Thinking even further into the future, Ryan is eyeballing additional cities to continue Placemat’s reach. Some considerations are Chattanooga, Dallas, Hilton Head, London, Los Angeles and New York. First up, though, is Birmingham.
“We are carefully expanding with an absolute priority on our overall hospitality and experience,” says Ryan. After dropping out of nursing school to pursue his dream full-time, Ryan continues to display his sense of purpose and passion in the way that he runs Placemat. The success he has found in emphasizing his guests’ health and experience continues to grow by the day. Years from now, Ryan hopes Placemat is in every metropolitan city, “connecting home cooks, private chefs and industry professionals to ongoing culinary experiences, seamlessly.”
So how exactly does it work? All via the website. To host a dinner party with Placemat, book through their site with a $50 deposit, and select your desired menu. Then, the team will reach out with confirmation. The chef arrives, prepares the meal (in less than 90 minutes!), serves it family-style and takes care of the dishes, allowing guests to enjoy conversation and community over a healthy, delicious meal.
To learn more or to book your next dinner party, visit Placemat online here!
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