The restaurant business isn't the only entrepreneurial option for food lovers. The desire to offer people a unique culinary experience has spawned interesting food trucks, subscription services and green eateries, to name a few.
These 10 businesses have succeeded because of their off-the-beaten-path approach and delicious delicacies.
Pay-it-forward pizza: Rosa's Fresh Pizza
Philadelphia is known as the City of Brotherly Love, and Philly pizza joint Rosa's Fresh Pizza truly lives up to its hometown's name. The restaurant is decorated with a wall of colorful sticky notes worth $1 (or one slice), which feeds its homeless visitors.
"One day, a customer asked to buy forward a slice for a homeless person," Mason Wartman, the owner of the shop, said in a video for the Ellen DeGeneres show. He then purchased sticky notes, which now cover the wall of the restaurant. "Then a homeless person takes a sticky note and trades it in for a slice of pizza."
According to the video, Rosa's feeds approximately 40 homeless persons a day. Visit for a slice of pizza and the gift of giving back. If you're not in the Philly area but still wish to help out, the restaurant has set up a donation page.
Delivered canine cuisine: The Farmer's Dog
Since the growth of subscription services, items for dogs (made by the humans obsessed with them) have gotten really popular. The Farmer's Dog is a subscription service which delivers healthy farm-to-dog bowl dishes carefully formulated for your dog's breed.
Answer a questionnaire about their breed (mixed or otherwise) weight, activity level, current dog food, and The Farmer's Dog suggests the perfect combination of healthy ingredients, all of which are sourced from restaurant suppliers and human food purveyors. According to the site, the dog food is never frozen and delivered days after it is cooked. Furthermore, the recipes are tested on humans, for a happier and healthier pup.
Liquid nitrogen ice cream: Mix 'n' Match Creamery
If basic, store-bought ice cream isn't unique enough for you, Mix 'n' Match Creamery will likely meet expectations. Mix 'n' Match Creamery is an Oregon-based ice cream parlor that serves liquid nitrogen ice cream, and every order is custom, so you can have any flavor you want.
According to the company's website, the liquid nitrogen "freezes everything so fast that ice crystals don't form," making its ice cream extra smooth and creamy. Customers choose a base — premium milk, nonfat sugar-free milk, or vegan coconut milk — then from more than 30 different flavors like caramel, cheesecake, coffee, gingerbread, and mint. From there, customers can choose from dozens of different mix-ins like almonds, bacon, cereal and chocolate chips. Mix 'n' Match makes the ice cream right there in front of you, with a blast of liquid nitrogen.
Dining in the dark: Opaque
Opaque, a restaurant in California, promises to change your view of going out to eat by wining and dining you in the dark. And yes, it's exactly what it sounds like—you eat your meal in a pitch black dining room.
When you arrive at Opaque, customers look through the menu in a lighted lounge and order food. The restaurant's staff will then check coats and bags, and lead you to your seat. According to the restaurant's website, Opaque is staffed by blind and visually impaired servers who have been specially trained to serve food in the dark.
Dining in the dark may seem like a strange concept, but according to Opaque's website, it's all about having a more in-depth sensory experience with your food. Opaque has multiple locations in California.
Food trucks with a cause: Drive Change
The food truck trend has hit its stride. Popular trucks in major cities have long lines of eager customers waiting outside on their lunch breaks. But Drive Change, a hybrid profit/nonprofit organization, is taking food trucks to a new, socially-responsible level by giving back to the community.
The organization hires, trains and mentors formerly incarcerated young adults, and the food trucks serve as a form of transitional employment with the ultimate goal of preparing these young people to go back to school or start full-time employment.
Drive Change currently operates only one food truck, located in New York and called Snowday. It farm-fresh foods prepared in their kitchen in Brooklyn and served at the truck. Drive Change plans to open more food trucks in the future, and each truck "employs and empowers 24 young people per year." All food truck sales go back into the organization's re-entry program to help more former inmates get on the right track.
A grow-your-own-mushroom kit: Back to the Roots
Back to the Roots was started by two college students who were inspired by something they learned in a class: You can grow mushrooms using recycled coffee grounds. Co-founders Nikhil Arora and Alejandro Velez wrote of their experience, "After watching hours of how-to videos and turning our fraternity kitchen into a big science experiment, we eventually decided to give up our corporate job offers to instead become full-time mushroom farmers."
In an effort to get people more connected with their food, Back to the Roots created an easy, 10-day grow-your-own organic-mushroom kit. Their organic mushroom farm comes in a small box (the mushrooms grow right out of the box) and simply requires watering twice a day.
The company also sells a "garden in a can" product that makes growing organic herbs at home even easier, a self-sufficient water-garden aquarium (the fish feed the plants and the plants keep the water clean), and ready-to-eat organic cereals.
Professional cheese sculpting: The Cheese Lady
Do you love cheese? Bet you don't like it as much as Sarah "The Cheese Lady" Kaufmann, who makes her living as a traveling cheese sculptor.
She creates cheddar-cheese carvings for grocery stores, sporting events, festivals, photo shoots, and any other business or event that needs a giant hunk of cheese. Kaufmann has carved everything from a scene of the first moon landing to the Chicago skyline.
Though she makes most of her money carving cheese, Kaufmann also hosts seminars, where she informs audiences about the art and traditions of cheese making.
Subscription spirits: Tasting Room
Want a little wine to go with that cheese sculpture? If you still haven't found your favorite go-to bottle, Tasting Room can help.
Tasting Room is a wine club subscription, but unlike similar services that send you whichever bottles they want, this service allows you to taste various wines to find the ones you like before you buy, so that you only get shipments of wine you know you'll enjoy.
How does it work? When you sign up, you'll receive a tasting kit complete with six different wines in special mini bottles. Simply log in to your Tasting Room account and follow the instructions; the site will generate a "wine profile" for you that tells you more about the types of wine you like, such as where they come from and what foods pair well with them. After that, you'll receive shipments of wines you like (and if you get one you hate, just tell them and they'll replace it or give you a refund).
Bacon business: J&D Foods
J&D's Foods makes a huge variety of edible products — mayonnaise, popcorn, croutons — and all of these products have one thing in common: They taste like bacon.
Founded in 2007, J&D's was started by two friends whose mutual love of bacon led them to the logical conclusion that everything in life should taste like this savory meat product.
They started by creating a bacon-flavored salt that could be added to nearly any food to lend it that distinct, cured-meat flavor. Since then, J&D's has expanded its offerings to include much weirder products, such as bacon-flavored lip balm and sunscreen and, of course, its highly popular Mmmvelopes (that's right: bacon-flavored envelopes) though they are currently out of production.
Comfort food for the grieving: MealGifts
What do you give to those who have recently lost a loved one? You're probably thinking flowers. But although flowers are pretty, they're ultimately useless to mourners. This is why David Storke, a former funeral director from Virginia, founded MealGifts.
Storke's company delivers family-style meals to grievers all over the United States. So, if you want to send a little comfort food to someone far away, there's no need to cook and ship your famous lasagna. Whether it's a full pot roast or some vegetable stir-fry, MealGifts delivers all the goodness of a home-cooked meal without requiring any of the home cooking.
Additional reporting by Brittney Morgan (Helmrich).