At S2G Ventures, we believe a healthier food system is the underrecognized solution to critical global challenges like climate change and healthcare. Food should be produced in a way that considers human and environmental health just as much as taste and profit. To bring true impact, we must build a stable, healthy and trustworthy food system for all people. This core belief is what makes us so passionate about our recent investment in Everytable – a food company with a powerful mission to make healthy food accessible to everyone.
“To me, healthy food is a human right, and shouldn’t be a luxury product.”
— Sam Polk, Everytable, co-Founder and CEO
Our current food system causes systemic health issues due to the abundance of cheap calories. There are 160,000+ fast food restaurants in the United States, 80% of products sold in convenience and supermarkets contain added sugar, there are over five million soda and candy machines providing quick, cheap access to low nutrition across the country, and 84.8 million adults consume fast food on any given day. Poor food quality consumption has led to a health crisis with 71% of American adults being classified as obese with more than 100 million adults falling under a pre-diabetic classification.
But how can we combat the implications of poor nutrition when so many neighborhoods lack access to nutritious, affordable food? Feeding America reports that over 40 million people face food insecurity in the United States. And according to the US Dept of Agriculture Economic Research Service, in 2015, about 23.5 million people lived in food deserts and nearly half of them were also low-income.
Sam Polk, CEO and co-founder of Everytable, made a life-changing journey from Wall Street back to his hometown of Los Angeles to tackle this critical challenge.
LA native, Sam Polk started his career as a bond and CDS trader with Bank of America and went on to become a senior trader at one of the largest hedge funds, King Street Capital. After several years working in finance, he had a change of heart. He was initially inspired through reading Taylor Branch’s books on Martin Luther King Jr. and the civil rights movement and traveling to places like Birmingham, Alabama. In 2010 he quit his job on Wall Street and moved back to Los Angeles to write a book and focus on nonprofits and social change. Sam wrote about his journey from “wealth addict” to social enterprise in a powerful oped in the New York Times “For the Love of Money”.
Sam was moved to tackle the issue of food injustice after realizing the impact of food deserts in nearby places like Compton and Watts. Food deserts are defined by the USDA as “a low-income census tract where either a substantial number or share of residents has low access to a supermarket or large grocery store”. According to Propel L.A., “There is a high concentration of census tracts in Los Angeles County considered to be food deserts in Antelope Valley and San Fernando Valley.” Sam cited that lack of healthy food in these areas results in life expectancy being up to 10 years less than that of wealthy neighborhoods like Bel Air. To address this issue, he started a non-profit called FEAST with his wife Kirsten Thompson where he still serves as a board member.
FEAST offers nutrition education, cooking classes, free produce and support groups to help parents and others make healthy food choices. “I am much happier,” he wrote at the time. “I feel like I am really making a contribution.”
But over time, Sam found that the people he was helping through FEAST were often juggling multiple jobs and had little time to cook at home, often picking up food on the go. That paired with a desire to make a larger impact beyond what could be done through non-profit work alone influenced the idea of Everytable. Inspired by Father Greg Boyle, founder and director of Homeboy Industries, to turn a single bakery into numerous social enterprises, Sam created a new business model for his latest endeavor Everytable which launched in 2015.
Everytable is built on a business model that combines the social mission of a non-profit with the scalability and innovation of a for-profit start-up. The company offers nutritious, fresh food at scaling prices based on the restaurant’s location. In low-income areas prices start at $5 per meal, low enough to compete with fast food chains. In more affluent neighborhoods, prices start at $8 still low enough to compete with other fresh, fast casual restaurants. The restaurant also offers a Pay It Forward option where guests can tack the cost of another meal onto their order making a free meal available to any customer in need.
Everytable is able to offer such low prices while still using high-quality ingredients and running a profitable business because of their highly efficient omnichannel operational model. They prepare all their food in centralized kitchens that service small footprint restaurants, SmartFridges and a direct to consumer meal subscription service. They have 9 restaurants in a range of low to upper-income communities. SmartFridges provide 24/7 access to chef-prepared meals in offices, apartment buildings, universities, and businesses. The subscription service, rated best meal service by L.A. Magazine, serves a rotating menu of 28+ affordable meal choices that can be either picked up for free or delivered to customers’ homes for a nominal fee.
The success of Everytable’s model inspired Sam to take it one step further. Through a program-related investment from the Annenberg Foundation and the California Wellness Foundation, Everytable will implement a unique franchise model aimed at training and funding entrepreneurs of color to operate new restaurants in underserved neighborhoods. Everytable will provide access to capital to those who complete the robust training and work study program first.
Unfortunately, just after this funding was secured, Everytable’s plans were put on hold by the outbreak of coronavirus.
Just like other restaurants across the country, Everytable was impacted by COVID-19 shelter in place recommendations and the subsequent emergency stay-at-home order to 40 million residents of California. With consumers hoarding food, restaurants closing and many people suddenly out of work, the issue of access to healthy food for all people suddenly became even more urgent.
Everytable’s multi-channel strategy and centralized commissary kitchens enabled them to pivot quickly. They moved to curbside delivery at their restaurant locations and ramped up their meal subscription service with contactless delivery. Demand has surged for their subscription program from people craving healthy meals that can be delivered to their homes every week. Consumers want to avoid trips to the grocery store or paying premium prices from some of the national meal-kit delivery services. Everytable’s warm bowls, salads and wraps start at under $5 – compared to $12-$15 per meal through other prepared meal delivery services.
Wanting to do more, Everytable opened a Helpline on March 16 and encouraged seniors, healthcare workers, schools, employers, and anyone needing “10 meals or 10,000 to meals” to call them. Overnight they became the largest first responder for food in Los Angeles receiving over two thousand calls from people needing food and people wanting to help. The hotline calls they received brought to life the urgent needs of the Los Angeles community.
“During this crisis, the cracks in the foundation or our society are really beginning to show and our most vulnerable populations are at greatest risk for food insecurity.”
– Monica Rutkowski Grippo, Everytable, Director of Marketing
Everytable has committed to providing at least 500,000 relief meals over the next 3 months to those that need it most: isolated seniors, people with disabilities, their homeless neighbors, and low income residents. They built a network of foundations, organizations and nonprofits who are committed to the cause and launched several critical initiatives.
S2G is proud to back Everytable and support their efforts to bring real impact to the Los Angeles community at this critical time. You can join the cause by donating a meal through Everytable’s Pay It Forward program. Foundations, organizations and nonprofits interested in working with Everytable can call the hotline at (323) 458 – 6487.
Want to learn more? Sam Polk will be joining our podcast, Where We Grow From Here, this week to talk in more depth about the pivots Everytable is making to support employees, their community and the viability of the business during the coronavirus pandemic.
— Tonya Bakritzes, SVP of Marketing at S2G Ventures