It's one thing to know that you should be eating healthier, and another to have the time and money to prepare healthy meals. Saloni Doshi and Chelsea Katz, co-founders of Fresh Takes Kitchen, are working to make healthy, affordable meals accessible to the community. Their goal is to become a viable alternative to fast food for families that might have the intention but not the time to change their eating habits.
See also: - Denver restaurants jumping on the healthy kids' meals bandwagon - A pilot program places healthy vending machines in Denver schools - A new state advisory council aims to make healthy foods more accessible
Doshi and Katz met at Northwestern University's Kellogg School of Management and found they shared a background in management consulting as well as working with non-profit organizations. But most important, they shared a notion that healthy food should be accessible to low-income communities.
At Kellogg, they were part of a year-long competition to create a business to help solve this nation-wide issue. "We both got to Kellogg with a desire to sort of merge business and social impact, thinking, 'How can you use business thinking and market principles to generate social good?'" Doshi explains. "That gave us a chance to dive really deep into the issues of food access and what are the challenges holding people back from eating healthy."
Doshi and Katz realized many families do have the desire to eat healthier, but don't have the time to prepare the meals. So they set out to create a healthy alternative that was just as convenient as fast food.
After graduating last June, they moved to Denver to launch their business. Instead of setting up retail locations, they decided to work with organizations that already exist in the community, like the YMCA. "When we were first working on the idea back in Chicago we piloted at the YMCA, and we found a lot of alignment between the missions they have and ours," Katz says.
Last October they performed a taste test with the MEND program, a nutrition and health education program for overweight children and their families, at the Southwest Family YMCA. "We really found that kids, who were clearly having issues with eating because they were at an above-healthy weight, loved the food," Doshi says. "They were so excited about the different flavors and we had fun facts like, 'This is why we used brown rice instead of white rice in your meal.'"
After the successful test, partnering with this YMCA made sense to them. They have also partnered with the Schmitt Elementary School and the Denver Housing Authority Mariposa Redevelopment in Lincoln Park / La Alma, and are working to build partnerships with other local organizations like the Boys and Girls Club. "We need to build community partnerships and we're really looking at lower income, under-served communities," Katz says.
Community members can order their meals through the partner organizations each week and then pick them up during the designated time-slot for each location. The current prices are $5 for an individual meal and $15 for a four-person meal. "They're fresh prepared meals, they're delicious, ready to eat, very healthy and people can put them in their refrigerator and heat them up any time they want during the week, so it's a really convenient option," Doshi says.
Working with these organizations, Doshi and Katz noticed that the staff members could also benefit from the service, so they are gearing their business to fit their lifestyle as well. "A lot of the organizations we're working with are non-profits, and their staff members are also very budget-constrained and time-constrained and are spending most of their day focused on helping other people be healthy," Katz says. "And at the end of the day they're potentially having to stop at a McDonald's because they're in a rush and don't have time to actually cook a meal for themselves. So we're really trying to build that side of what we're doing as well."
Healthy food is not just a business opportunity, but a passion for Doshi and Katz. They understand the importance of helping families lead a healthier lifestyle because, as they were growing up, they say, their families sometimes struggled to find the time and money for balanced meals.
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"Every issue that my family worked through, we did at the dinner table and we did so around an Indian dinner. To me, that was one of the points of stability of my childhood," Doshi says. "So I think all my life food has been really important in terms of bringing people together around a dinner table." But her mother, who was raising two children by herself and working as a nurse, didn't always have the time to cook. So Doshi understands how much their business could help other families in similar situations.
While in business school, they heard the general misconception that many families not only can't afford healthier food, but don't really want it. "I think, for various reasons personally and emotionally, we had a gut reaction that that's just wrong and that's a terrible thing for our society to believe in," Katz says.
Doshi and Saloni are now looking to partner with more organizations. Their goal is to reach about 750 households with ten partners by the end of the year.