We’re excited to introduce you to our speakers for the 2016 Change Food Fest through a series of personal Q&A’s. Today we are talking with Sam Polk of Everytable.
Sam is co-founder and CEO of Everytable and the founder and executive director of the non-profit Groceryships. He grew up in LA and witnessed the city’s inequality while helping his mom run homeless medical clinics in Skid Row. Years later, after noticing families in low-income areas struggling with access to healthy food, he started Groceryships, a non-profit working at the intersection of poverty and obesity.
What’s one thing anyone can do to help the good food movement?
I think the simplest thing you can do is vote with your wallet for companies that are trying to create a sustainable and equitable food systems.
People throw around the words, “Food Desert” a lot – but you built your two companies, Everytable and the nonprofit Groceryships, on them. What does that phrase mean for you and the people you serve?
To me, food deserts mean being excluded from necessities, like fresh produce for healthy meals, that much of our society takes for granted. Healthy food is so important in helping us prosper and succeed—proper nutrition helps kids focus and do well in school, gives parents the fuel to thrive at work, and ensures that families stay healthy for as long as possible.
It was this realization; that healthy food is a human right that many people don’t currently have access to, that spurred the creation of Groceryships, which is a nonprofit working at the intersection of poverty and food related health issues like obesity and diabetes. Through our work at Groceryships, which runs meetings for parents living in food deserts who are trying to feed their families healthy meals, we began to hear from parents that many were not only short on money, but also short on time, and in need of a nutritious on-the-go food option (opposed to traditional fast food), which at the time was nonexistent.
So my co-founder David Foster and I set out to create an option for these parents that was not only healthy, but also extremely affordable and convenient. And that’s where Everytable comes in.
Pricing good food for the community you serve is an admirable, commitment. How are you balancing purpose with profitability?
For us, purpose comes first. Our team is motivated to solve the issue of food deserts by opening an Everytable in every community in the country. That’s not to say that profits aren’t important—they absolutely are. Profits are critical for fueling growth, and creating a world-class, nationally-recognized organization and brand. However, David and I believe first and foremost that companies should exist to solve problems, and that’s what we’re trying to do for our community with Everytable.
Creating healthy meals at low price points is hard for many food producers. What can you share with the rest of us about how to do it?
This was something we kept in mind while developing the business model. Everytable’s model of one commercial kitchen with grab-and-go storefronts drastically reduces the costs of the standard restaurant model. We’re also very selective about the ingredients we use to create our dishes, making sure they deliver the highest nutritional value at a low price. From start to finish, everything is designed to be super-efficient, and those savings are passed along to our customers.
It seems that the idea for Everytable came through listening to your customers of the nonprofit Groceryships. What else have you learned from the communities in former/evolving food deserts? What other key issues need to be addressed?
There are so many key issues that I feel need to be addressed in our community. From lack of access to affordable transportation, to lack of adequate banking resources, there are many problems that families living in poverty face. Unfortunately, many people don’t understand these challenges, i.e., how a single parking ticket or a car engine problem can be a serious issue for those who already have trouble affording the necessities. That’s why we hope to inspire other entrepreneurs, in areas beyond food, to create companies that bring attention to the needs in these communities.
What else can we expect to see from Everytable in the near term (6-12 months) timetable?
Right now, our initial focus is on LA for the rest of 2016 and into 2017. We’ll be opening our second location in Downtown LA later this fall. In the future, we’re planning to expand to more neighborhoods across the country in markets that lack access to healthy food. Our stores in food deserts will be self-sustaining, while stores in more affluent areas will help us grow – each store is an important part of of the larger community that, together, is democratizing healthy food.
How can we learn more about your work?
For more information on Everytable and Groceryships, you can head to www.everytable.com and www.groceryships.org. Additionally, if you’re interested in learning more about my personal background as a former hedge fund trader and the transition from working on Wall Street to redefining success through social enterprise, you can check out my memoir For the Love of Money.
Check out this video from Sam about speaking at the Change Food Fest!
The Change Food Fest “Growing the Good Food Movement” will take place in New York City on November 12th and 13th, 2016. We will explore and celebrate change happening in the food system. Rather than simply talk about problems, we will actively look at solutions that are leading us to the sustainable food system we wish to see. Our focus will be on both real and visionary change and will include an exploration into seafood, plant based vs meat diets, possible impacts of new businesses and investment money coming into the food space – and much more. You can purchase a ticket or host a viewing party of the live webcast in your local community. Follow the action at #CFFest2016!