Food, Small Business

How Graze Dat’s Elizabeth Choto went from craft brews to charcuterie charm

The colors and flavors Choto pairs pop off her custom made boards.

Elizabeth Choto composes platters of charcuterie, fruit and veggies like an artist creates a still life. Combining an artful eye, attention to detail, and appreciation for color and texture, she’s conjured a new business for herself, Graze Dat.

Choto, 45, spent 20 years in education, including time in New Orleans implementing programs for middle and high schools for Johns Hopkins University. Born and raised in rural Zimbabwe, Choto came to the states after university, spending 15 years working in schools in Georgia, Texas and Louisiana.

Graze Dat is not Choto’s first pivot. Laid off from her job almost two years ago, she realized that change was in order.

 

View this post on Instagram

 

A post shared by Elizabeth (@grazedat)

“I’d worked the whole gamut in education, from teaching to administrating,” she said. “I was burnt out. Education had been paying the bills, but I really wanted to try something different.”

Finding a fresh new career

A getaway to Pittsburgh’s Fresh Fest in 2018, America’s first Black craft brew festival, was an ‘aha’ moment.

“I met so many inspiring people – and in talking to them realized I knew more about beer than I’d realized,” she explained. “I thought – maybe I can turn that into a living by giving brewery and beer tours in New Orleans.”

Big Easy Beer Tours was born and until COVID-19, she’d been doing well, slowly building her business and network of contacts. Between the pandemic’s restrictions on tours by vehicle and a dearth of tourists, Choto, like so many others dependent on tourism for a living, was out of work.

She tried virtual beer presentations, focusing on the collective Black is Beautiful Beer dreamed up in Texas. A trip to visit her sister in Austin and source more beer led to another moment of awakening.

Truth be told, a lot of beer was consumed first.

From beer to cheese

“A few of us got a little toes up, so we needed to eat,” she said. “I love charcuterie and put a plate together. My sister said – this pairs so well with beer – you have to figure out a way to do this. So I did.”

Choto, who lives in the St. Claude neighborhood, started Graze Dat in August, assembling platters, boxes, jars and celebratory numbers and letters filled with the likes of prosciutto, manchego and local honey. Currently, in the process of sourcing more wholesale and artisanal ingredients, she offers a range of shapes and sizes for contactless delivery Wednesday through Sunday, 11 a.m. to 7 p.m.

Her online menu showcases Choto’s versatility and creativity. On your lonesome? A mini grazing box ($20) includes two types of meat, two types of cheese and fruit, veggies, nuts and crackers. Hosting a socially distant gathering for friends or family? Individual jar-cuterie lets everybody have their own, $8 half-pint jars filled with charcuterie bites for gathering and grazing safely.

 

View this post on Instagram

 

A post shared by Elizabeth (@grazedat)

Her most popular offering is the medium grazing box for $45, an abundance of six different meats and cheese and a slew of fruit, veggies, nuts, crackers and condiments, enough to feed two or four as a starter. Since many of her customers shy away from pork, there’s Cajun turkey and teriyaki chicken in amongst the capocollo and Genoa salami. To celebrate that milestone birthday or anniversary, she offers 16-inch tall letters, hollowed out with a channel to fill with charcuterie – picture the number 40 filled with enough goodies to feed six people. Under her hand, salami is turned into rosettes, and gouda becomes a linear divide and a scattering of pomegranate seeds opulent eye candy.

 

View this post on Instagram

 

A post shared by Elizabeth (@grazedat)

A savvy home cook with lots of global travel experience, Choto channels her wanderlust by introducing design elements and interesting flavors and condiment offerings to her boxes. “Food always tells a story,” she said. “I want to use my business to connect to the community and forge new partnerships. I see a lot of potential.”