Three years ago, Regina Koetters, MBA '07,placed her bets on Pittsburgh as the next big thing. Once an emblem of the collapse of the steel industry in America, Pittsburgh is now an up-and-coming hotbed of economic activity, and Koetters is a believer in its future.
In 2008, with no ties to the city or region, Regina moved to Pittsburgh to be part of a movement to change not just the city of Pittsburgh, but the way of life in previously struggling Rust Belt cities.
Today, as owner and CEO of Marty's Market, Regina is a driving force for promoting economic growth, improving the region's food system, and fostering community in this transforming city.
Marty's is a fully integrated, specialty food market and cafe that sources much of its products from local growers and artisans. Located in a rapidly evolving former warehouse district, the market occupies a 10,000 square-foot space. Two-thirds of its framing is open to the street, which she says is designed to create openness and accessibility.
"Marty's is a place where people are coming together, appreciating local, clean food, and promoting one another," she says. "I am passionate about driving positive change in communities, and with Marty's I'm able to do just that."
One year after opening the market, Koetters says people from across the region are coming to Marty's to eat, learn about food, gather, and work. "We've become a go-to meeting place for entrepreneurs, for example," she says. "It's fantastic. My philosophy is to use Marty's to help as many people as possible." For example, Koetters recently began partnering with a graphic designer in the area to make and sell pickles. "I met her at the store. She loves pickling and wanted to go into business, but she needed a certified kitchen. So I offered my kitchen. It's amazing to be able to help incubate other businesses with mine."
Before she launched Marty's, Koetters says she never saw food as her future. But during her time as a flight officer in the Navy prior to business school, she says she developed a deep appreciation for the power of food to bring divergent people and cultures together. "Also, the food industry employs one in four people in our economy. It is a tremendous economic lever."
Koetters says that at Marty's, the focus is on "clean" food, as she calls it. "While we do our best to source certified organic products, many of our local farmers can't afford USDA Organic certification. Our relationships with growers permit us to support our local food system by focusing on how food is grown rather fixating on the USDA Organic label."
In line with the company's focus on sustainability in its business practices, Marty's uses paper and sugar pulp products for to-go containers to avoid the genetically modified organism (GMO) corn used in compostable plastics. GMOs, she says, can adversely impact the environment and human health.
"Our aim is to encourage people to be more mindful about what they're eating and how it was cultivated," she says. "Ultimately, we can build a greater sense of community and fuel economic growth through this."
Last Fall, Koetters was featured in Pittsburgh Magazine as one of the "2012 Women in Business" for her work creating a positive business for the city and being part of revitalizing the Rust Belt.
"It hasn't been easy," she adds. "I've faced some steep challenges to get here. But we are building something incredible."
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