Gotham Greens + Whole Foods: Commercial-Scale City Greenhousing

57904_10151356204230843_895285916_nGotham Greens is the first commercial-scale rooftop hydroponic greenhouse in the world. They got together with Whole Foods for this groundbreaking entrepreneurship, using less water, eliminating pesticides, putting an end to fertilizer runoff and leading the way to a sustainable agriculture.




You can read more on this Whole Foods article.

A look at Pret

Well-done food, convenience and designed experience. Some days ago we posted about Fast Casual Food here on the blog. Another perfect example of this kind of approach towards food is the restaurant chain Pret a Manger.


The first Pret , like it likes to be called, was opened in 1986. It is the same year Slow Food was founded. Even having a lot of different principles and goals, this two initiatives are still a part of a certain cultural behavior change. Since the 80’s, our global and individual problems regarding relations between food and men got more explicit and bigger. People are more aware about how food shapes not only ourselves, but our world itself (socially, economically, physically, biologically…).

Taking a look at Prets, it is clear what is the chain’s business position. And, of course, I have read some consistent critics, but the company is still a nice example of a good market answer to the behavior change I am talking about. I do not intent to make a proper case study, but here are some points I want to highlight:

Gourmet + ready-to-eat, sophistication + convenience. This is Pret’s base concept from the beginning, a lot similar to some other Fast Casual Food cases;

Other strong principle is “avoiding the obscure chemicals, additives and preservatives common to so much of the ‘prepared’ and ‘fast’ food on the market today. It is sacred to Pret.” The company says “partners drop off the very best ingredients to our shops everyday” without the “endless additives that plague modern food.” It is also interesting how natural food characteristics are featured: “Our wasabi mustard is brown (not fluorescent green), our ham is pale (not bright pink) and our dried apricots are brownish (not orange)”;

Close relation with costumers. The brand looks for “absolute sincerity” from their consumers, keeping them informed about it’s strategies and actions. The communication strategy is quite impressive.  To set this cozy felling, Pret’s uses friendly talking with people, always with an open approach showing concern for improvement and constantly looking for offering a coherent experience. This kind of preoccupation is also present from packaging and ingredients to chair finishes and eating soundtrack;

Franchising. Pret says they do not franchise. This reassures the quality control that is shown by them. Other than ingredients quality, they “run many courses”. If the concept is present in every shop spot, what to say about the people who represent the brand for you? They take those courses, “most of which have nothing to do with sandwich making”, in order to know how to work under Pret’s concept.

Like I wrote before, there are strong critics about some Pret’s workers’ situation, about their relation with McDonald’s corporation, about buying food from far producers and also about some other contemporary food industry problems. But the company claims to be following UK higher food standards and also dealing well with waste, sustainable sources and considering social care by taking actions like  giving their today unsold sandwiches to homeless charities rather than keep them over to sell the next day.

All these questions, linked with other aspects, must be a part of the user’s experience. The way it is going to be designed all depends on the context, what kind of concept you want to offer and who is experiencing it. Pret a Manger’s design is not only in their award-winning packaging, graphic and other products but in the way they offer their services, it is present in the way their experience is offered and experienced.

Cortilia, organic Km Zero food – online –

Captura de Tela 2012-12-12 às 14.22.22

Better late than never, comes the platform for those who want to shop from local producers, but don’t have time. Cortilia is online, the first local farmer’s organic food market in sales and distribution network. And you can have it all at home. The network isn’t that large yet (available in Italy), but it’s a great initiative that can bring significative changes for both producers and consumers and also for those who aren’t a part of it, considering environmental and social gains.

Captura de Tela 2012-12-12 às 15.44.11

La pizza e il gelato anti-casta

pizza anti casta 100 euro 1

Una singolare protesta contro i privilegi della casta, ideata da Gino Sorbillo proprietario di una pizzeria nel cuore di Napoli. E’ stato lui a stabilire per primo un prezzo maggiorato per senatori e i deputati. Una pizza per i politici invece che costare 3 euro come per la gente comune, viene venduta a 100 euro. E lo sa bene l’onorevole Sergio D’Antoni del Pd, al quale una serata in pizzeria, sabato scorso, è equivalsa a un salasso. La stessa iniziativa è stata intrapresa da altri tre esercizi commerciali di Roma, tra i quali la gelateria BeeBop vicina a via Cavour, riconoscibile dal cartello: “Gelato a 30 euro per senatori e deputati”.  Il pizzaiolo Sorbillo accompagnato da Angelo Bonelli dei Verdi si è recato stamattina a Montecitorio per consegnare la “pizza Maserati” in onore del ministro Ignazio La Russa e delle 19 auto lussuose, dal valore di 2 milioni di euro, comprate di recente per i suoi generali. “Una provocazione, un modo per dire basta ai privilegi e agli sprechi della politica, un’iniziativa popolare, dal basso che possa far riflettere e stimolare l’opinione pubblica” afferma il pizzaiolo di Napoli.

Servizio di Irene Buscemi per Il Fatto Quotidiano

The New Food Chain: Investing in Food Startups

Are you really what you eat?  As people move out of the traditional healthcare delivery system in search of healthier lifestyles and a more holistic approach to interventions, food is becoming the new designer drug.  Food isn’t just about the healthier choice anymore; it is also about the culture and community that it breeds. Whether it’s organic, gluten-free, low carbs, low sodium or if it’s highly social or tweetable, there is a new food economy emerging today.

CultureKitchen class in action

Inspired by insights from our last event, “Design a Healthy Startup: Prevent Burnout,” we decided to take a look at the world of food and technology and what kinds of investment opportunities there are today. Join us on August 10th from 6:00-9:00 p.m. at 500 Startups for an event entitled, “The New Food Chain: Investing in Food Startups.” Learn more about the event and reserve your spot here.

We will hear from investors and representatives from green and sustainable food brands and explore the new appetite for food apps and how social media and user-generated rating sites are changing the way we think about buying and consuming food.  Our distinguished panel of investors, include:

  • Ilya Fushman, Principal, Vinod Khosla Ventures

  • Tom Cole, Former investor, Trinity Ventures

  • Dave McClure, Founding Partner, 500 Startups

  • Aki Sano, Founder of Cookpad & Investor

Attendees will get a taste of where the new food market is right now and where it may lead us. They will also hear from our very own 500 Startups including SpoonDate, CultureKitchen, and FoodSpotting. We will also see how food plays a part in corporate wellness programs and the culture of new startups.  Other notable speakers include:

  • Andrew Pederson, Global Chocolate Sustainability Manager, Mars

  • Scott Gambiastiani, Quentin Topping, and Olivia Wu, Executive Chefs at Google

  • Jeff Miller, Punchfork Founder and Investor
  • Nitzan Waisberg, Design School (, Stanford University

  • Mark Cerqueira, Senior Food Officer, Smule

  • Emily Dellas, Cooking Teacher, First Class Cooking

Check out additional food startups that have been asked to demo like E La Carte, Shopwell, and GogoMongo.  A special shout out to our sponsors: Calafia, SanFranola Granola, Coupa Cafe, Curry Village Foods and Equator Coffee who are leaders in the organic and healthy food movement and will be providing dinner for the evening.

If you are a foodie, a food lover, or just trying to understand how food plays a role in the world of technology today, this is an event you won’t want to miss.­­­­­­­

Via 500 Startups

Stockbox Grocers

A group of Seattle entrepreneurs has come up with one solution to the urban food desert problem, and it doesn’t involve adding traditional supermarkets to underserved areas. Their new venture, Stockbox Grocers, is taking the favorite building block of the green-building movement—the shipping container—and adapting it into a miniature food emporium, packed from floor to roof with fresh produce and other staples.

“Our goal is to bring food back to communities, and focus on communities that don’t currently have good access to food and are heavily dependent on public transportation,” says founder and owner Carrie Ferrence. This week, Stockbox celebrates the opening of a 160-square-foot prototype store in a parking lot in a neighborhood where corner stores are the only source of food. Up to five customers can shop at once, said Ferrence, and only one person is needed to staff the operation.

This first store—housed in a temporary structure that’s actually smaller than a shipping container—is intended as a six-to-eight-week experiment to feel out the needs of the community and gather feedback. “A lot of people who come in are breaking down the myth that people of low income and mixed income don’t want access to organic or natural food,” Ferrence says.  By the end of next year, she and partner Jacqueline Gjurgevich hope to have four permanent shipping container stores up and running.

“Everyone’s really excited to have a grocery store in the community,” Ference says. “The community’s been asking for years.”

Via GOOD Magazine

San Francisco Incubator Launches Street Food Entrepreneurs

A cooking class being taught at La Cocina. See more pictures of La Cocina’s chefs and fans.

Veronica Salazar was born in Mexico City, but after moving to San Francisco she couldn’t find a taqueria serving anything like the cuisine she grew up with. Working in restaurant kitchens during the week to support her family, she began selling her native foods at home on the weekends. Word spread, and the crowds grew to 40 customers, but she needed help to make her passion into a business.

In 2005, Salazar found the help she needed, starting El Hurache Loco—named after a Mexican delicacy shaped like the iconic sandal—in the commercial kitchen operated by a nonprofit called La Cocina. Initially a catering company, El Hurache Loco grew into a beloved food stand at area farmers markets. This fall, Salazar will open her own restaurant, a major victory for her and the organization that helped kickstart her business.

La Cocina’s mission is to transform talented home cooks into successful businesswomen by removing obstacles to entrepreneurship. Rooted in the Mission District of San Francisco, La Cocina provides commercial kitchen space and technical advice to help low-income, immigrant women start their own food businesses from square one. La Cocina offers the resources these women need to harness their talent and create successful businesses to support their families and contribute to the local economy, all while doing what they love.

The idea for La Cocina began in the late ’90s based on feedback from other nonprofit groups serving immigrants in the Mission District. Launched in 2005, La Cocina was born out of a paralyzing community-wide need for affordable commercial kitchen space. Women were selling delicious food out of their homes or on the streets, but were unable to take their businesses any further.

“The barriers to entering the food industry are high and they are real,” Caleb Zigas, the organization’s executive director, says. Commercial kitchen space is prohibitively expensive and La Cocina’s “clients face additional barriers like perception barriers, language barriers and class barriers” that make it extremely difficult to start and maintain a small business.

“La Cocina is creating equal opportunity for people that are making some of the best food, but can’t normally access the resources they need,” says Nick Heustis, regional marketing coordinator of Whole Foods, which carries products made by the organization’s chefs.

So La Cocina stepped in to fill the need, and over the last five years has dramatically increased the scope of their services and the number of clients they assist from six to more than 50. “Our priority for our businesses is to put them in a space where they can succeed long term. It is a long, intensive process,” says Zigas.

The business incubator program lasts anywhere from three to five years. During this period, La Cocina’s permanent staff and dedicated volunteers help business owners lay the foundation they need to survive in the cutthroat food industry. La Cocina prioritizes finding ways for their clients to launch businesses with very little capital and facilitates their access to investment, but the staff also helps program participants navigate treacherous legal regulations on food production, market their goods, and access new markets.

La Cocina’s volunteer network is a major contributor to the success of the businesses it supports. Professionals in a variety of fields—marketing, graphic design, legal, and finance—donate their time and expertise to help these businesses get off the ground.

The women who work with the group have become hallmarks in the San Francisco food community with food stands, food trucks, pop-up restaurants, and products sold in local Whole Foods markets. “The ultimate goal of La Cocina is to help these businesses become self-sufficient, and that success looks different for each business,” says Leticia Landa, Programs Manager at La Cocina. “For one business, success is a stand at a farmers market, for another it is their product carried in Whole Foods, for another it is a brick-and-mortar restaurant.”

“For us it is great, we come in at the end of that cycle and partner with La Cocina to bring the food to market,” says Heustis, the Whole Foods marketer. “La Cocina is also like a curator. People trust that what is coming out of La Cocina is good and has heart.”

Last weekend, the organization hosted their third annual Street Food Festival, a tradition that celebrates the organization’s businesses. “We think our clients bust their asses just like any other chef in this city, but those chefs tend to get respect whereas our clients tend to be lumped among ethnic eateries,” said Zigas. “There is something that feels innately unfair about that. Our festival is intended to flip that and to bring the community around this type of food, street food.”

By providing the support these unlikely food entrepreneurs need to start and maintain their own businesses, La Cocina is changing their lives, bettering the local community and breaking down long-upheld barriers. And a model that works in San Francisco could inspire similar nonprofits around the country.

There’s already a precedent for national attention: Celebrity chef Anthony Bourdain recently visited one of La Cocina’s food trucks, Chaac Mool, for his show No Reservations. Chaac Mool’s owners, Luis and Maria de La Luz Vazquez, began selling Mayan-inspired Mexican cuisine out of their Tenderloin apartment six years ago before partnering with the nonprofit.

“La Cocina gave us this food truck and our business has expanded because of the truck,” Margarita Hernandez of Chaac Mool says. “Our dream is to establish a restaurant here in the city.”

photo by Emily Voigtlander

Via Good Magazine

A Restaurant That’s Bartering Through the Recession

A Chicago restaurant is using an age-old method of payment to power through a faltering economy. Richard Wohn, the owner of Fireside Restaurant and Lounge on the northwest side of the city, has kept up a steady stream of customers who pay through bartering. Wohn told WBEZ he estimates about five to 10 percent of his business is the result of bartering, an average of about five tables a night.

But don’t go to the restaurant planning to make an on-the-spot deal; Fireside doesn’t directly barter with customers. The restaurant uses bartering websites like ITEX and International Monetary System, which act sort of like brokering services for thousands of businesses. Wohn has actually been bartering more informally for decades; the online system has simply made it easier to connect with businesses who offer services he needs.

“There are personal trainers, electricians, dentists, you name it,” says Joey Metler, the general manger of Fireside. “We just re-did our floors through the system. The guys gave us an estimate [through the site] and we gave them a credit equivalent to meals at the restaurant.”

Wohn has bought everything from tables to ice cream coolers to mixers to custom chocolates for the staff on Valentine’s Day through the online bartering system. He buys “excess inventory”—discounted items (usually up to 30 percent off) that otherwise wouldn’t sell at all. And the system isn’t limited to physical objects, either. Instead of getting a bonus, Metler went on a $2,000 vacation to Cancun using the barter system and ended up paying just $200.

“[Wohn] likes the bargain-hunting,” says Metler. “And it ends up being cheaper for us in the long run.”

photo courtesy of Fireside

via good magazine

Stanford Startup Lets Immigrants Swap Recipes With Foodies

A new kind of cooking school gives immigrants new jobs, and an avenue for sharing their culture.

There’s no doubting the power of the dinner table — the act of eating together has the ability to transcend differences and spark conversation. But while on research trips abroad to Myanmar and Kenya, Stanford students Abby Sturges and Jennifer Lopez uncovered what they believed to be an even more important moment surrounding food — the time spent preparing and sharing meals with other women. “When we tried the food laid out before us in Myanmar and Kenya, the women we spoke to began trusting us and became generous of much more than just the food in their kitchen,” says Lopez. When they got home, the duo launched Culture Kitchen, a new Bay Area-based culinary school where women share their family recipes and insight into their cultural backgrounds.

Culture Kitchen is firmly entrenched in the startup world.

“There is a great interest in food right now, but ethnic cuisines are particularly exciting to people because they are entry points into familiar and unfamiliar cultures,” says Lopez. By exploring these access points in an intimate, hands-on setting, Sturges and Lopez think they can create valuable exchanges and interactions between different ethnic backgrounds. “In classes, we hear the conversation begin around ingredients or styles of cooking and progress into stories of growing up and the richness of cultures,” says Lopez. “People are seeking out commonalities. When you find that how you cook is similar to someone else, and how you grew up is similar, even if it was on two very different continents, you create meaningful connections.”

Cooking, the duo discovered, is a comfortable place for people to compare notes on very personal experiences without feeling invaded. Even something as simple as slicing vegetables can be a window into someone’s background, says Lopez. “People say, ‘Oh, that’s how you cut carrots! I would have never thought to do it that way, I always do it like this,’ and the next thing you know they are talking about personal memories of their own family’s culture.”

While this may sound like Food Network territory, Culture Kitchen is firmly entrenched in the startup world (the founders are calling their concept a “Khan Academy for ethnic cooking classes,” referring to the hot online school where people teach and learn skills for free using videos and tutorials). Recently, the duo was asked to participate in a food-centric event for accelerator 500 Startups where Silicon Valley’s hunger for food issues was made evident by the sold-out, standing-room only crowd. “What was more interesting were the broad and distinct interests of the group spanning such areas as sustainability, technology, agriculture, open communities, and corporate culture — all of which directly related to food, but were very different takes on what the food startup world could be,” says Sturges.

Upcoming classes focus on Mexican, Thai and Vietnamese classics, and the prices range between $40.00 to $60.00, which include the cost of ingredients. The teachers are all women who are not professionally-trained chefs but have recipes to share, many passed down through generations. “Initially, we started by reaching out to organizations that work within immigrant communities and already have established and trusted relationships within those communities,” says Lopez. “For example, we’ve partnered with The Women’s Initiative San Jose office who has been wonderful in supporting Culture Kitchen and connecting us with incredible women within their organization.”

This fall, Culture Kitchen will launch an initiative around sourcing and using ethnic ingredients, and is in the process of building a platform that will tell the stories behind their chef-teachers. A series of recipes are already published on the site. Sturges and Lopez think they can use their skills as designers to improve the experience around cooking ethnic food at home — making it more fun, accessible and meaningful to a wider audience, but also increasing people’s respect for cultures that seem exotic and foreign.

“We wholeheartedly believe that with a greater understanding of other cultures and people, you earn a greater understanding of yourself,” says Sturges. “Just last week, I was interviewing a woman from Afghanistan and I asked her what made her interested in teaching a Afghan cooking class with Culture Kitchen, aside from wanting people to understand Afghan food and culture. She said she wanted to learn more about American culture.”

[Top image by Lucas Cobb]

Via fastcodesign

What Does a Sustainable Restaurant Look Like?

The People's Supermarket

Celebrity chef Arthur Potts Dawson’s TED talk was recently posted, and is well worth a watch. His two sustainable restaurants, Acorn House and Water House, are furnished using recycled plastics, reclaimed wood, and rummage sale cushions (donated by his mum, who found the Norwegian Forestry-certified benches too hard). Water House, the more recently opened of the two, is actually a zero-carbon restaurant: Built next to a canal, it is entirely heated, cooled, and powered by hydroelectricity and heat exchange.

Potts Dawson’s passion is waste minimization. In the talk, he explains that his menu at Acorn House was created to allow “people to choose the amount and the volume of food that they wanted to consume, rather than me putting a dish down, and them being allowed to help themselves to as much or as little as they wanted.”

Later on, and with evident pride, he shows slides of his “dehydrating, desiccating macerator,” which turns food waste into a kind of vegetable jerky so that he can store it to compost later. His excitement is only slightly dimmed by the fact that when he experimentally added the jerky to his wormery, all the worms died.

His newest project, The People’s Supermarket, opened earlier this year in central London. I visited it last week, and it’s definitely still finding its way, but there are already several clever waste-reduction schemes in place, including an on-site kitchen so that as food nears its sell-by-date, co-op members can extend its shelf life by making it into prepared dishes.

Potts Dawson promises to open at least three more restaurants in this talk. Meanwhile, let’s hope other restaurant owners and chefs are inspired to follow his example.