Photographer / Kelli White
When Tobi Mares moved to Carmel, she was impressed by all the community had to offer - especially outdoor events like concerts in the park. A season ticket holder to Conner Prairie’s Symphony on the Prairie, she began putting together picnic baskets to take to the popular event. Fellow concertgoers soon noticed her baskets and asked if they could purchase one.
“Families were getting off of work and grabbing something quick at Kroger to take to these outdoor events,” says Mares, who was eventually inspired to launch Goodness Gracious, a picnic basket catering business.
Mares delights in crafting dishes like lemon dill tuna salad sandwiches, teriyaki tofu club sandwiches, Italiano skewers, Greek salads and more. Every sandwich comes with fruit, a side, and a fun, fancy fortune cookie with an inspirational message. Side choices include sweet potato chips, white bean hummus, German potato salad and more.
Mares, who can easily spend six hours a day in her own kitchen creating food, maintains that simple is better when it comes to cooking.
“I’m not into foo-foo cooking and while I appreciate culinary cuisine, honestly one of my favorite meals is a fried bologna sandwich,” Mares says. “But I do add Cajun seasoning.”
When people learn of her picnic basket business, reactions tend to be positive.
“They’re in love with the picnic and the whole idea behind it,” Mares says. “That motivates me even more.”
Mares has always dreamed of opening her own restaurant, and began doing apprenticeship work in local eateries to learn the ropes. Last spring she was set to sign a lease for her own place when the coronavirus led to government-mandated shutdowns. Though the restaurant dream was temporarily on hold, she continued making picnic baskets all summer for folks who were eager to have picnics in their front yards while socially distancing with neighbors.
With fall approaching, Mares has launched a new line of homemade soups, which she delivers to customers’ doors in glass jars so they can simply heat and eat. Options include Hungarian mushroom, a keto-friendly sweet potato puree, chicken and pasta, a dense beef bourguignon, and her grandpa’s recipe for cream of onion.
In addition, Mares has a wellness basket that includes a homemade, high-nutrient bone broth, which can be enhanced with noodles, chicken or vegetables. This basket also includes coffee cups, antioxidant green tea, vitamins and more.
“I took the concept of mind, body and spirit, and put it in a basket,” says Mares, who credits her husband Brad for providing the love and support she needs to always forge ahead. “Honestly, 2020 would have been disastrous were it not for Brad, my biggest cheerleader.”
During the pandemic, Mares has used her spare time to pen a book called “Goodness Gracious,” which is a memoir about food, struggle and perseverance. She hopes the launch of her book will coincide with the opening of her restaurant, as she’s considering opening her own eatery after all - at 146th Street and Hazel Dell Parkway. It would offer breakfast, brunch, lunch and baskets.
For Mares, Goodness Gracious is about keeping her grandmother’s spirit alive with picnics and comfort food, by way of old family recipes.
“The whole concept of Goodness Gracious is really about keeping the quilt of America alive through the sharing of food,” Mares says.
To order from Goodness Gracious, call 317-316-2121, email firstname.lastname@example.org, or visit ilovegoodnessgracious.com.