WDET’s “How to Summer” is a season-long series that offers insider tips and advice from social media and listeners on how to maximize the season. With only a few weeks left of summer, the owners of Detroit Charcuterie and Detroit Picnic Company offer up their party-planning expertise.
A love of travel and entertaining inspired two entrepreneurial women to start businesses amid the pandemic.
For Victoria Cummings and Zeinab Merheb, the owners of Detroit Charcuterie Company and Detroit Picnic Company, respectively, creating a cheese and charcuterie board or planning a tablescape for a waterfront picnic is an art.
They shared some of their secrets and tips for creating your own experience at home or outdoors.
Plan a Pretty Picnic (and Prepare for the Weather)
Through her business Detroit Picnic Company, Zeinab Merheb’s vision is to create “a five-star restaurant experience but outside.”
Merheb’s love for event planning and creating tablescapes led her to start Detroit Picnic Company in March. Inspired by the L.A. beach picnics that she would see on her trips to California, where her husband frequently traveled to for work, she wanted to bring that experience to Detroit.
While her professional experience is mostly in the beauty industry, she would plan events for family birthday and baby showers “and go all out.”
Now she uses her creativity in a different way, including planning and executing elaborate tablescapes for customers who leave it up to her picnic prowess to plan their outdoor soirees.
“We are in an era where we want a selfie-quality setups,” she says. “Customers want to take pics and post.”
Her customers essentially bring the food. As of right now, Merheb offers a s’mores kit and is planning to bring a chef on full time.
Here are Merheb’s tips for planning your own picnic:
Don’t forget these essentials: Merhab’s must-haves include water bottles, silverware and napkins. “Always have silverware,” she emphasizes. “You might have someone who wants to eat pizza with a fork.” Also, bring something to sit on. No chairs? Bring a blanket and pillows — and something to protect you from the elements, whether it’s sun or rain. She brings a big umbrella that covers both scenarios. For Merhab, a picnic basket to carry it all is a must. And don’t forget the cups!
Pack food with the weather in mind: You don’t want to bring anything that will get “nasty in the sun,” she says. Think of things that are easy to transport and fit into a cooler, such as finger foods. “Charcuterie boards are the top thing people love to bring,” she says. “It has everything all in one [plate].” (See below for how to put together your own charcuterie board.) If you like to imbibe on alcoholic beverages, Merheb suggests Champagne and mimosas to pair with cheese and charcuterie.
The fun stuff: Bring a game and a speaker to play music. She’s even put up projectors for customers who want a movie night.
Level up: While plastic disposable plates will work for picnics (you could even wash and reuse), Merhab has full sets of real plateware (she buys them at places like Home Goods and TJ Maxx) and brings real wine glasses. She’s also built a table out of plywood. Not the DIY type? She suggests getting a piece of plywood for your tabletop and then setting it on top of something like crates.
Think of a theme: She takes inspiration from many sources, including her travels (one of her most popular tablescapes that features an orange color palette is inspired by Madrid) and even music videos. “Think of a theme: What is one thing you love or relate to? For example, if someone likes cherries I’ll incorporate cherries to make it feel special because I want to personalize these [picnics].”
Location, location, location: Merhab suggests being by the water. Some of her favorite spots include Gabriel Richard Park on Belle Isle and Pavilion Shore Park in Novi.
Build a Better Board with Detroit Charcuterie Company
Victoria Cummings and her husband love to eat good food, travel and entertain (I can attest to this as I showed up to their east-side home to meet them and was greeted by a full brunch spread complete with pastries, fruit and mimosas). They parlayed this passion into their company, Revel Events, curating and hosting dinner parties, brunches and wine events, but the pandemic brought all of that to a halt.
But Cummings would still get requests for charcuterie boards, so she started the Detroit Charcuterie Company in February amid the pandemic to fill that demand. “What I set out to make is literally art that you can eat,” she says.
Here are some of her tips for putting together a board that’s a feast for the eyes:
Infuse personality: When she puts a board together, she considers the customer’s personality. “If somebody’s outgoing, I’ll put some spicy cheese in there,” she says. “Everyone’s style is different.”
Go for a variety that will appeal to many tastes: Cummings likes to use cheeses that are crowd-pleasers, such as Brie and gouda. “Personally, I like to throw something in funky,” she says. Whether it’s mild or funky, Cummings recommends at least three cheeses. And don’t forget the accouterments such as pickles, nuts, dried fruit, honey and chocolate, just to name a few. Again, “it should be reflective of your personal style.”
Shop local: Cummings tries to use as much local products as possible. Some of her favorite local spots include Mongers Provisions for cheese and Joe Randazzo for local fruits and vegetables.
Charcuterie as self-care: Most importantly, it’s all about treating yourself especially during the moment we are living in. “I started doing the boards as a way for people to a form of beautiful self-care, as we’re going through these like crazy times.”