We’ve emphasized the notion that food is the builder of community in this column for over a year, and while many have expressed that food and community are mutually exclusive, no one, to date, has embraced this concept through their personal development and familial involvement like Joshua Croke. Behind his man on a mission appearance, Croke’s understanding of food’s capacity and impact stems from a close upbringing and a humble start.

Growing up, Croke spent his Sunday lunches surrounded by family – 25 members of his family, to be exact. Lunch at grandma’s house remained purposeful amidst a world of entertainment and an untainted time. Shared meals encouraged family connections, close relationships and a simple appreciation for the power behind food. “It was the one time during the week the entire family was able to eat, talk and play games together,” says Croke. “It kept my sister, my eight cousins and myself close while growing up.”

From the beginning, Croke saw the connection between happiness, family and civic engagement. Meals served as unifiers with punctual results propelling Croke to form familial bonds. He credits dining as a means for embracing the various cultures that surround his network today. “Food is an incredible tool to rally people together,” he says.

“I love a good potluck. Potluck’s are a wonderful way to bring people together and share stories about each other’s history and how the food is a part of it. Every year, friends and I have a ‘Friendsgiving’ in November. We all bring one or two dishes, and there is usually a story behind some of the great dishes my friends bring. Whether it is a story behind obtaining a new recipe or a story that has been passed down from generations, the stories are rooted from some sort of tradition.”

While the flavors and quality of food are ranked high on Croke’s list of priorities – like many of us – he believes the utmost important piece of dining is the experience. From the server to the presentation of the food, Croke wants the full package when dining out and we don’t blame him. “I want to get along with my server and have an enjoyable conversation when they come to the table. I want them to be knowledgeable of the menu and honest with their recommendations. I want the atmosphere to stimulate conversation between my guests and me – music in the background is much more preferred than the noise from other tables. But most of all, I want an authentic experience,” says Croke.

“As a designer, I tend to lose myself in the tiny details and I believe my background in the food service industry is one of the reasons I am a good designer and creative strategist today.”

Croke is the founder of Origin Consulting – a brand development firm building brands alongside product development, the Executive Director of Action! Worcester – an organization on a mission to build strong communities through observation and collaboration, and the co-founder of Worcester Idea Lab – a membership based collaborative workspace in the heart of downtown Worcester. He is a man who pays attention to details and admires the process of consumers from a far. His admiration pours into his love of food and his close ties to community. “I do have a strong appreciation for a well curated meal,” says Croke. While some of Croke’s favorite meals come from places like deadhorse hill, Figs & Pigs, Talyta’s and Bull Mansion, there is something about spots like Mare e Monti that cater to his creative needs and his attention to detail. “When I have friends come into town, I take them on a little tour of Worcester and one of our stops is always Mare e Monti,” says Croke.

“It is not your typical Worcester foodie location. Set in the residential area of Wall Street, it can easily be overlooked, but once you are inside, it is hard to forget it. There is a great ambiance, friendly and attentive staff, and incredible food with a great wine selection. If you visit Mare e Monti – as a first-timer – use my recommendation list: start with the mussels and have the gnocchi as your main meal and finish off the night with the almond torte. This line up will make you toss your diet right out of the window – and it is completely worth it.”