[00:05:31] Josh Sharkey:
So I have been pretty fascinated with grocery stores in that I feel like they dictate how we eat in America, because you go to a grocery store and whatever is on the shelves is what you can buy. Obviously, Amazon changes that a little bit, but you still kind of are buying from the same sort of digital eyes.
[00:05:47] Kristen Barnett:
It's still like merchandising. It's got to be to the same, yeah, the same extent.
[00:05:51] Josh Sharkey:
What's your, like, did you, any big takeaways from that class that, you know?
[00:05:56] Kristen Barnett:
Wow. I loved it. I mean, because it was this.
Beautiful intersection of human behavior, design, and then the supply chain and sourcing and product innovation that all comes together in a grocery store, which is like such a ubiquitous experience. For me, whenever I travel, I love to go to the grocery stores and say like, oh, what, what are the cookies that they eat here?
What are the flavors of Lay's? It's this, um, it's just this window into like, what are the local tastes and preferences? But also, it's this forum that has a ton of power, as you said, around what we need. So, this was... Uh, about like 10 years ago, I took this class and it was the beginning of white label product creation that grocery stores were starting to innovate.
And so we had people from Costco and the Kirkland brand coming and talking about the kind of power they had to create products that on their own as a company would just be doing massive amounts of revenue would be like the next big thing. They just decided to make a chocolate covered almond, and suddenly it's like selling millions and millions of dollars of product. That was just really impressive to me, not to mention that the other elements of understanding how all the in the Stu Leonard's is designed that you are like forced to file through the aisles only one direction. And so you end up seeing all the products and maybe encountering different product categories and purchases, the one off last minute purchases that you wouldn't otherwise buy.
But you do with that type of design, I think the experience, I just love the class. I'm like a huge nerd about food. So yeah, it was definitely, uh, I didn't know I was going to go work in the food industry so soon after that experience, but it was. It's certainly something that I've reaffirmed my love for the industry.
[00:07:50] Josh Sharkey:
Yeah. And now that's, that's like ubiquitous now. Trader Joe's, you know, 365,
[00:07:54] Kristen Barnett:
Wegman's, Wegman's, most of it's prime label. It's all white label.
[00:07:57] Josh Sharkey:
Yeah. You know, if I'm being honest, like we live in Northern Westchester, so I'm not in the city anymore. And when we order groceries, Because we have a farmer's market nearby and we have, you know, we have like a farm called Hemlock where we get our meat, but a lot of times we'll order groceries from Whole Foods via Amazon.
It's literally all Whole Foods products now.
[00:08:17] Kristen Barnett:
Yeah, Whole Foods branded product. Yeah, absolutely.
[00:08:19] Josh Sharkey:
And I bet that most of them are, like when I'm looking at the Collabro. Mozzarella or Calabro, you know, ricotta and the Whole Foods, it's probably the same thing. They're probably just paying.
[00:08:29] Kristen Barnett:
Definitely the same manufacturer.
[00:08:32] Josh Sharkey:
Yeah. I've heard some horror stories actually about Trader Joe's. I mean, I love Trader Joe's, but I've heard that they make it really difficult for producers because, you know, they just sort of monopolize a product.
[00:08:42] Kristen Barnett:
Absolutely. And it's the same problem with Amazon Basics. You know, you come up with an amazing new product that's really ergonomically designed stapler. They're just going to make it for Amazon Basics and then push that product above yours in the search results. And so it's when
you control the actual retail, like the actual platform, the marketplace, right? You can look at a grocery store as a marketplace, obviously. And, you know, it's, it's a tenuous existence for the independent providers for within that ecosystem.
[00:09:16] Josh Sharkey:
Yeah. I want to make sure we touch on that a little later when we talk about good food at scale, because I think we both have, well, some philosophies and interest in good food at scale. And I think that's a huge part of how we can protect ourselves in the restaurant business from that demonetization. But one thing I did want to ask, because I have a lot of friends that went to Cornell. When I worked at Tabla, it was pretty much all like a, just a wave of Cornell folks coming in with Randy Garudi and Will Gutera and um, Davey and just like this whole wave of them, like, who are all these people? And they were all really good, by the way. Like, what is it about Cornell that like produces all these great, like, hospitality professionals?
[00:09:53] Kristen Barnett:
In my perspective, it's the fact that
[00:09:58] Josh Sharkey:
And you, by the way, you also.
[00:10:00] Kristen Barnett:
I mean, but I wasn't even classically trained at the hotel school. I just didn't like a fake hotel at this point. Um, it really originates from obviously the hotel school and the hotel school is this sequestered island of hospitality obsessed people that make it as cool as it is an industry. And so you combine that with I think this like Ivy League education where everyone's already super type A and then you have the intersection of food and beverage. You end up with these ultra dedicated, detail oriented professionals that have taken all the, that type A angst and directed it into hospitality experiences, and there are fabulous classes there that really give you this holistic understanding and I think just like a depth of appreciation for what it takes. I mean, the students are literally running restaurants. That other people on campus come and eat dinner at, and you
pay and everything like it's a normal restaurant, and then they're graded for the quality of the food, the coherence of the concept, quality of the service. The actual profitability of it, the revenue, the marketing.
[00:11:13] Josh Sharkey:
[00:11:14] Kristen Barnett:
And where else are you going to get that? Yeah. And so, you know, you know when your friend is like throwing the restaurant, they bring all their friends, you go, you know, you reserve a table and it's this perfect, you know, it's this perfect testing ground for understanding whether you like the industry. And then if you resonate with the industry, you have all these tools to get way ahead that otherwise would maybe take many more jobs to understand really specific mentorship from a leader within one of those like high quality establishments, which you might not always get is pretty hard to find in this industry. But instead, it's this, it's truly like a programmatic approach to immersing you. Yeah.
[00:11:56] Josh Sharkey:
Yeah. Are there sort of tentacles that feed off of that, like let's just say that you're, you're in the hospitality school and you're in that whole ecosystem and then it turns out like. You love restaurant design or compliance or something. Do you, are there other, I didn't go to college other than culinary school, so I don't know how it works, but are there like other majors for, for those things that spin off of that?
[00:12:17] Kristen Barnett:
There's generally just the food and beverage like major that you can have, but you can go really deep within it in terms of your specialization. So there is a whole beverage track where you're doing actual alcohol tastings at like a 10 a.m. class with a professor. Nice. And the kids are like, very buzzed coming out by 11:30 in the morning.
[00:12:41] Josh Sharkey:
The hair of the dog class.
[00:12:43] Kristen Barnett:
Yeah. And, um, there's obviously the famous wines class, which everyone at Cornell takes and is actually a super valuable education on wine. But then there's advanced levels of that. There is kitchen design. And so, so you can kind of find it within it.
It's really interesting though, because I actually go and lecture at the hotel school every semester. And
[00:13:06] Josh Sharkey:
Yeah, I saw that. How does that work? Are they requesting a certain thing to talk about or?
[00:13:11] Kristen Barnett:
Yeah, I've made some relationships with professors. It all started when the hotel school organized a, like, professor emergent in New York with certain Cornell affiliated, like, hospitality businesses where Cornellians worked. And we had a few Cornellians working.
[00:13:28] Josh Sharkey:
I didn't know that's what they were called.
[00:13:29] Kristen Barnett:
Cornellians, sorry. So nerdy. I'm just, you're gonna have to forgive me here.
[00:13:30] Josh Sharkey:
Cornellians, that's good to know.
[00:13:32] Kristen Barnett:
There were a few of us working at DIG at the time. And so we had all these hotel school professors actually come to our headquarters and we gave them talks around what we were working on. And so after telling them about our supply chain initiatives and strategy, then they invited me up and that was five, six years ago, and it's turned into this amazing tradition where I
lecture in the service operations class. So, you know, how do you solve problems around throughput and service design to increase efficiency of your operation to strategic management and supply chain? And I bring really the real life examples.
Uh, some of these classes you'd be surprised or talk through pretty theoretical or just a theoretical lens and are somewhat distinct from like what actually happens when you're running these businesses. And so I come with a lot of the real world examples of having navigated many of these problems in professional world.
And it is interesting because the hotel school actually generates a lot of real estate professionals and finance professionals that there's a real estate major, there's really strong connections there. So I feel like partially it's my mission to go back as an example of a career that doesn't look like what you might originally associate with a F& B career, right? Where you think of,
okay, I'm going to be working in kitchens that might not resonate for everyone, but there is such a big world around food that I think the texture isn't always shown to students because when you're 18, 19, 20, you just don't know these things. And so I feel a responsibility to share with them how many exciting things are happening, be it technology, you know, your world. You know, media, ghost kitchens, food delivery, like, the headquarters of these restaurant chains where there's amazing things happening. Yeah. All that.
[00:15:33] Josh Sharkey:
That's so awesome. I think one of the great things about going to school for something like hospitality, real estate similar, is it's not abstract, you know, it's not theoretical.
You can just go probably down the street and learn something, whereas if you're studying it. You know, economics or business, it's very abstract and can be completely theoretical. And there's nothing wrong with that. But yeah, you can have someone like you go in and very clearly say, no, no, this is exactly what happens.
And let's go see.
Yeah. Yeah. I love that. Well, we were talking earlier about grocery stores and, you know, like Trader Joe's or 365, you know, or Amazon commoditizing some product that they think works well, which look, I think sometimes it's good for the consumer because they get it cheaper and faster, but I have a pretty clear stance on what good food at scale means when we talk about scaling good food. And I've heard you talk about it a lot as well. I once heard you say that how you communicate the food and how you get it to your customers is what good food at scale is. But maybe you could sort of elaborate on that and we could chat a little bit about it.
[00:16:37] Kristen Barnett:
Yeah, absolutely. The idea of good food at scale for me is really important because the only reason I work in the food industry is because of my own personal health challenges. And so it's something that's driven my career. I was working at the Boston Consulting Group, like a traditional business, and I kind of start after Cornell. Doing management consulting, which as a 22 year old, you're like, really, what am I managing and what am I consulting on? It's, it doesn't make a ton of sense conceptually.
I'll, I'll totally acknowledge that, but you're, you know, you're like scraping data, managing presentations, whatever, and, um, learning a lot.
I ended up getting really sick with chronic Lyme disease. And I've been sick with it since college and been chronic and was relapsing, you know, trying to do Western medicine, ended up stumbling on an alternative, like health program, raw vegan, traditionally treats cancer patients, but they had a Lyme disease program that was somewhat experimental, went down for 20 days and had this miraculous recovery, went from not being able to walk more than two blocks to walking without pain. And my infectious disease doctors literally could not believe the results. So, I'd always known I was passionate about food,
but this, for me, just really drove it all the way home. And... It became really clear to me that where I wanted to use my brain power was not management consulting, it was solving problems that I cared about. And that became good food at scale.
[00:18:15] Josh Sharkey:
Yeah. I'm going to stop you for a minute because I want to talk about good food at Scale, but actually that's super interesting. Cause I want to hear more about that. Yeah. It sounds analogous to what I had chef buddy, my chef Seamus Mullen on the show a while back. And he had RA was has lived with it and very similar thing happened and changing his diet and his lifestyle was the thing that actually allowed him to manage this. And you hear this in so many, in so many places, whether it's cancer and having sort of longterm fasting, you know, helping with that, or what is it about food that has so much more power than any of these drugs or, um, you know, whatever medicines that they're prescribing, because clearly it's working for you. And maybe just a little for anybody that doesn't know, because Lyme disease is pretty geographically East Coast of America. It's almost the only place it is. Like, what are the symptoms of Lyme disease and what do they typically do to solve it?
[00:19:08] Kristen Barnett:
Yeah. Lyme disease is a pretty tricky illness. Comes from a small bug called a tick on the East Coast, primarily in the Northeast, which started in Lyme, Connecticut.
So that's where it comes from. Um, and. You know, traditionally, it's known for giving you a bullseye rash, and that's pretty easily identifiable, but the data is now showing that that actually only shows up in 30 percent of cases. So oftentimes, you're going undiagnosed because you don't have any overt signs that you've been infected with this disease, and the symptoms can kind of creep up slowly. Traditionally, you receive a four week regimen of doxycycline antibiotic, but if you don't catch it and you have it in your system for longer than, you know, two months without any type of antibiotic treatment, you're at risk of it becoming a chronic illness.
[00:19:58] Josh Sharkey:
You gotta catch it really early. What's the diagnosis? And so... How do you know?
[00:20:00] Kristen Barnett:
Diagnosis, in terms of like how you actually find out you have it. you have it?
[00:20:02] Josh Sharkey:
[00:20:03] Kristen Barnett:
It's a blood test. The Western blot. But the problem is the CDC doesn't, the testing is really antiquated. And so it doesn't actually catch the full spectrum of different strains of Lyme disease as well as the other tick borne diseases that exist, such as barnella, babesiosis. Uh, Rocky Mountain spotted fever. Many others. I also had barnella and babesiosis, which were like added to a very, it's a very complicated. It was like, I got all these like Harry Potter spells of like illnesses in one little tick bite. So,
[00:20:44] Josh Sharkey:
So they give you antibiotics and then after that, what do they do?
[00:20:46] Kristen Barnett:
Yeah. I mean, you have to find a line. If it's gone chronic, it's been months and you've had like weird symptoms for months. You finally figure out it's Lyme disease. Usually you also have to get it tested in a specific lab called IconX. It's a
process. Then you get your diagnosis. You have it. You have to find a Lyme literate medical doctor, an LLMD, because only certain doctors treat Lyme disease correctly and have been educated on it because it's such a niche illness. And then from there, the treatment is a combination of multiple antibiotics and antimalarials for anywhere between like four months and four years. You might even have to go on IVs. When I first was diagnosed in college, it was, do you want to drop out of college temporarily to go and receive hospitalization and an I.V. treatment because I had a very serious case? Or are you going to potentially have longer treatment? But still, like, keep your momentum in college. And so for me, it was obvious that I would keep my momentum going in college. So I stayed in.
[00:21:50] Josh Sharkey:
So, and then eventually you found this other treatment, sounds like via food.
What was the, I mean, what do they prescribe? How did you change your diet? And
[00:21:59] Kristen Barnett:
Yeah, it is very different than traditionally what you think of, like, I'm going to go on a diet to improve my health. This was. Food is medicine and it was a prescription. It was very much like, this is how it's going to work. This raw vegan, so only uncooked fruits, vegetables, and that's pretty much it. There really wasn't anything else. For Lyme disease, you also have to avoid sugar, so I couldn't even eat fruit. It was purely just raw vegetables, green juice, a lot of green juice, like celery, cucumber, lots of wheatgrass shots, even like a wheatgrass enema was prescribed. So you are, in theory, is that you, we all have the natural ability in our own immune systems to fight off illness, but our immune systems and our modern society are so busy fighting off. What are the toxins in our food? We're drinking alcohol, you know, we're having high fat foods, we're just generally living more complex and, uh, somewhat
toxic lives to a certain extent. And so they think like if you can reduce that burden on your immune system of digesting the food that you have and actually use that food and its nutrient density to empower your immune system to fight illness, you can see, you know, incredible results. And that's exactly what happened for me. 'Cause ultimately chronic Lyme becomes somewhat like an autoimmune disease. And so you need to fix your immune system. And that was a program. It's pretty wild. For how long? 20 days of that.
[00:23:31] Josh Sharkey:
How long did you do that?
[00:23:22] Kristen Barnett:
[00:23:31] Josh Sharkey:
20 days. And then in perpetuity is there, are there adjustments to your diet that you've had to, to make?
[00:23:37] Kristen Barnett:
Yeah, they give you, I mean, it's combined with a lot of education on how to do it.
So I stayed raw vegan for the next six months. And then I switched to vegan with cooked food. And then years after that, I was able to work in fish. So I And primarily vegan plus fish, which I hear is called like Seganism or something
crazy. I just say I'm Pescatarian now, but it's been an iterative process over the years and obviously big exercise and becoming more aware and tuned with my body so I can tell, okay, I'm feeling a little sick or a little borderline with maybe some light symptoms, go back to vegan and get some more rest and, but it's. Maybe you've heard this before then, like, in your conversations with others, with R. A., gym, and like, it's, you just reorient your life, and it's around your health, and your body, and being in tune with that.
[00:24:33] Josh Sharkey:
Yeah. Is there any instance of fasting that they incorporate into this?
[00:24:38] Kristen Barnett:
Also fasting one day a week. We would fast. Yeah. Yeah, which I know is something you do. So, yeah,
[00:24:45] Josh Sharkey:
It's funny if I find that I do a five day water fast, you know, twice a year and then, you know, three day, at least one or two times in between there. And yeah, you know, the autophagy that takes place, you know, where it's just eating all the bad mitochondria, like you feel so incredible afterwards. And [
yeah, yeah. There's a lot more obviously science behind it, but there's so much, you know, that value from it. There's this other Dr. Valter Longo that does a very similar practice for treating cancer patients. And it's so incredible how much food and what foods to eat or not to eat and when to eat can impact us far more than pharmaceuticals.
It's just insane.
[00:25:20] Kristen Barnett:
It's incredible. I mean, it's like we've had always, we've had all these schools the whole time, but it's so hard for people because our brains are wired. From our evolutionary perspective to be geared towards sugar, uh, and all the like unhealthy items that now proliferated in our society. So you have to really fight against your own surroundings and have a really strong reason to believe that it's important to eat those foods and eat differently than what all of the signals around you to eat. Yeah, well, for me, it was, I mean, it's just been a great exercise and willpower. And I think,
I think, you know, in reflecting it's and we'll talk about obviously being a founder later, but I think it's helped me be a founder because I'm used to going against the grain.
I was in college for nearly two years over, with everyone drinking around me, I generally find myself like questioning why things are happening and how it could be different and have then like the fortitude to be able to take action against those ideas.
[00:26:25] Josh Sharkey:
Yeah, which is really difficult and really we get it from all angles.
I mean, at least in America, you're the pharmaceutical companies that they make far more money from you taking their medicine than from you just eating well. And then, you know, sugar and fat are far more addictive than vegetables. So the, you know, companies at scale would much rather sell things that are high in sugar and fat because you're going to eat more and buy more. So yeah, we have a tough job, you know, to make sure that we don't, that we don't, you know, get too far in the spectrum. So, well, that's a good segway to sort of wrap up this good food at scale. I believe I've been on
this sort of similar quest for a very long time, you know, I started a fast casual. You know, restaurant that tried to do the same thing. And, and I think it's part of what we need to do with meez, but I think for me, good food at scale is, you know, consistent execution of delicious food and without like manipulating or like commoditizing farming or food production and a menu that like can be prepped every day. You know, you're not getting food in that is, you know, sent to you that's already done and you just need to warm it up. And also like ingredients. Can be adjusted based on seasonality and agriculture. I think these for me are like the formula of what good food at scale is. And if you plug those sort of parameters in, it's tough. You know, most of the time what ends up happening is you do end up creating commodities or commoditizing a product and creating more of a vanilla version of something.
And if we're able to do it without doing that, I think there's so much power and I think you've been trying to do that with a lot of the work that you've done, but I'm curious how that resonates with you.
[00:28:03] Kristen Barnett:
I completely agree. Good food is still for me, it means the difficult work of understanding how to bring food from quality sources, from farms that are using great farming practices, from even knowing where it is, the whole value chain associated with bringing it to where you are and ultimately consuming it. And then it's the preparation of it and having to care for the ingredient to really let it shine through. And all this gets like, exponentially more complicated when you add in question of scale and accessibility. And so this is why. For me, working at DIG was such a valuable experience because I saw and helped build and was in the weeds of the complexity of bringing this amazing, high quality, vegetable forward supply chain to life for a multi-unit group that was serving a pretty high volume of people every single week.
I think as I've continued to move through my career, it's understanding all the touch points that help us bring good food at the scale to people, you know. There's a technology piece, and then there's the media and the storytelling piece, ultimately making people care about it, making it accessible through technology and how they actually can order and receive it. And then there's the foundation of like how actually was source and how it's cooked. And so it's been this journey of understanding every single part of the value chain. I think the beginning was to a certain extent, almost like naive, like, Oh, we just need to build the supply chain and the food and the people will come.
Then over time it's then realizing like, okay, well actually the online order really needs to work well, you know, like. Okay, cool. We have like all the amazing recipe systems and you know, train guides, the distribution center and overnight transportation and kidding and all that super complex. But also people need to know why it matters and they need to know that it's available. They need to know that you did put all this care and sourcing it because that's incredibly important for shifting portion of their wallet. Towards your business, which ultimately goes back and shifts their wallet into those farms and supporting the producers and growers that are making this possible.
[00:30:25] Josh Sharkey:
[00:28:03] Kristen Barnett:
So I think it's like, as I keep going, the task at hand becomes bigger and more complex in terms of understanding how to actually make this happen.
[00:30:35] Josh Sharkey: This podcast is brought to you by meez, the culinary operating system for food professionals. As a chef and restaurant owner for the past 20 years, I was frustrated that the only technology that we had in the kitchen was financial or inventory software.
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Yeah. What, what I love about the trajectory we've seen in your career is you started, at least in the food business, right? You started after college. Yeah. How do you operate a good business, you know, at scale? What does procurement look like for that type of business? And then you sort of transfer it into, okay, how do you now distribute that product to customers quickly? And that was with Zuul, right? So you started DIG, and then Zuul is this distribution model. And then, okay, how do you, how do you create more of a unique, you know, vision of each of these? products with really incredible creators, which you started a hungry house. And now you've sort of carried this on to like, how do you tell a really
good story? Because I agree, that's one of the most important and one of the most under-appreciated necessities of any businesses, you know, great product without great distribution and a great story doesn't work. And all three of those need to be in play. And so is there a common thread between sort of. DIG, and then moving to COO at Zuul and Hungry House, starting that company and starting this new media company.
Is there a common thread there throughout those? Is it good food at scale? Is that the common thread? Or is there something else?
[00:32:31] Kristen Barnett:
I think so. I mean, it's the search to understand more and like be in the weeds of how it all comes together, which is exactly as you said. With a good product, without good distribution and a good story, It doesn't work. You need all three for anything to be successful. And so as I've worked through my career, I feel like I've had this tangible experience
in each part of the process of each part of this dynamic system. And I think what motivates me to keep going, well, generally, I, I just am excited about new things and new ideas and. Um, maybe like slightly a workaholic, but also like generally just excited about the change in our industry. I found the industry that I'm passionate about and want to make an impact. And so as I continue to combine these pieces, it feels like everything gets more rich, it gets more textured, it gets more complex in terms of like.
And it gets more valuable in terms of the actual results that I can create with my teams that I have.
[00:33:42] Josh Sharkey:
Yeah. And I really do. I think I keep harping on this storytelling. Even in my career, it's been something that it took so long to realize how important it is. I, I always have always had in my head Reed Hoffman's, I'd rather have a, an okay product with incredible distribution as opposed to an incredible product with, you know, mediocre distribution. But he forgets that piece about if people can't connect. to why they want that product and it doesn't matter. So yeah, you said something about, and this probably plays into not just Hungry House, but your new business, but honoring voices. I'm reading this quote now, by the way, you believe in honoring the voices that are using social media instead of restaurants, or that you feel that it's very important that we start honoring the voices of food creators and social media, as opposed to just in the restaurants, like what's driving that for you.
[00:34:29] Kristen Barnett:
I don't think it's so much of an either or, just that there are all these voices with amazing ideas about food, and there's tons of potential to help them build businesses and bring those visions for food to life. And so what's driving that for me is really this storytelling component that I feel like food is stories. And the restaurant industry in some ways has been a fabulous way of doing that because you have these, this captive, Beautifully well thought out, multi
faceted environment where you have a captive diner sitting, understanding the reason for that food existence, connecting with the team, and... overall having a memorable experience, hopefully, right? But then there's this whole world of the content creators that have captured the hearts and minds of millions of people creating food that is easy to make at home or really, really interesting or cooked in really rugged environments, like the videos of the guys who like are pulling rocks out of the river and fine branded beef. Those are my favorite videos. Um, and I think we need to acknowledge how much that has become an important part of people's understanding of food and their interaction with it in their day-to-day, as all of us continue to be addicted to social media and our phones and our pockets. And so if that's the case, right, instead of fighting it and saying the only way to really, like what's the only thing that's changing our thoughts and ideas about
food as restaurants? I just think it's broader now. And so how can we play with food to impact consumers? And their thoughts around what is quality? How do things exist? And why do they exist? Let me think a little bit more in depth around where I'm buying my food, why? And we have these incredible megaphones of people built these followings to work with and create projects of meaning and impact. Yeah. So that's my thought is like, it's not an either or it's a, Whoa, this thing's happening. Let's leverage the creative potential here.
[00:36:35] Josh Sharkey:
Yeah. It's interesting. I have like these mixed feelings. I don't know if they're mixed, but I have maybe a different or a slightly divergent perspective. I do think it's really important and it's very obvious that it's just, there's all of these creators now and they are making food that people love watching. As a chef, I think about the craft of being a chef or a cook, and
for me, it's not actually about that. The ability to make really interesting and delicious food, but the ability to actually make good food at scale to be able to execute at volume every day with a team and getting them behind you to do it. And, you know, I think one of the things it's similar to like starting a business, you know, lots of cooks have lots of really incredible ideas, the ability to execute those in a restaurant or any sort of food service setting where people can consistently get the same thing and also maybe not die because, you know, keeping things in a temperature
[00:37:30] Kristen Barnett:
that could be good
[00:37:32] Josh Sharkey:
danger zone and things like that. I think that there's, it's almost like these social creators, and by the way, some of them are just also incredible chefs. I saw recently this one food, notorious foodie or something was like, well, you just know right away. Okay. That guy knows Yeah. And then there's this guy, Chef Reactions, who I just recently heard about. It's really funny. Another good parody of um, but anyways, I think that they become this really good plugin, which you sort of built in a way with Hungry House, you know, where like,
Hey, do you have really good ideas? Do you know how to talk to an audience? Are you really passionate about food? We have the other piece, which is how do you operate?
How do you make sure that you're doing that safely? But I think that's essential. I think those creators, independent of having that sort of, you know, expertise and support to, to actually execute that food in a way that's manageable and operationalized and safe is really, really important because, you know, as a chef, you can see anybody can make something incredible or really, really interesting. But how do you do that every day? That might have just been a rant, but.
[00:38:36] Kristen Barnett:
Well, because my question back to you is like, for what purpose, right? Like what is the goal? If it is like, success is only the ability to actually feed people as the primary tool to inspire people around good food to scale. Then yes, you could say like these content creators are like shortcutting and don't really know what it actually takes to do that, which is absolutely true.
And it's also not their goal. Like their goal is still like cookbooks and media deals, it's brand partnerships, it's leveraging their online following. And so you end up begging the question of like, well, what is it all really for? Like what is right? What is wrong? What is impactful? What is not? You know, a restaurant can serve, you know, let's say like 200 covers in a night, but a video could get a million views. And so you start to weigh like, okay, what, what is driving people's knowledge and understanding of food? You know, those million people certainly aren't tasting it. They're not feeling it. They're not in the environment. They're not focused. They're watching the video for 30 seconds. But are they learning something? Maybe. Hopefully. So I don't think I've had like one like unifying idea around, and I don't think this is a discussion that is like one thing is better than the other. It's more
of, okay, this thing's happening. We can't suddenly turn off the fact that there are TikTok stars that are taking up the brain waves of these people. Yeah.
[00:40:08] Josh Sharkey:
Exactly. And I think it's a yes. Yeah, I think it's a yes. And there's a difference between impressions and impact, right? You can, you can serve a hundred people and have far greater impact than, you know, having a million impressions. But that said, you can also have an impact if you have really incredible ideas that, you know, millions of people can see that even as a chef, I might see something and say, Oh, that's really interesting.
I never thought about doing that. And it's from someone that isn't, you know, hasn't been doing this. And so I think it's to your point, it's all about what is the intent and. Yeah. But also, like, if they're writing cookbooks, I hope there's someone else that's helping with, like, you know, testing recipes.
[00:40:49] Kristen Barnett:
Yeah, one would hope.
[00:40:50] Josh Sharkey:
Let's diverge a bit so that we're not talking about that too long, but it is a really interesting topic and it's, to your point, it's, the faucet's turned on. It's not going away. That's happening. So, so what do we do with it? It's also part of our responsibility as chefs. to do that now. It's just, it's part of what we need to do. Yeah. It's part of the job. So, okay. Culinary Creators Worldwide, which I did say, I wouldn't say the whole thing again, but I'm saying one more time now from the rest of this podcast on CCW. CCW. What's the mission? What's the vision? Why'd you start it? Tell me about it.
[00:41:25] Kristen Barnett:
Sure. What we're doing at CCW is really sitting at the intersection of food and beverage and a creator economy and technology and It was born out of a very natural need that started to come into focus while obviously like running Hungry House. And so with Hungry House, we work with these incredible culinary creators who are using social media to come up with menus. But as you know, like we at Hungry House give them all the tools to be able to do that in a scalable way. We have a
very clear recipe testing process with our amazing team of chefs. We have a very clear, you know, content production process, you know, what's the brand look like? What are the assets we need? Where do we put it? All of that. And then with the promotion. So what started to happen was that larger brands, usually CPG companies, were coming to us asking if they can partner with us in a programmatic sense to leverage our creators for the purpose of promoting their products. And this got the wheels turning. Like, whoa, what we do actually is like creating a lot of value outside of our four walls than just like selling the food itself. We have this very distinctive approach to working with content creators in a kind of bulk fashion, multiple at the same time. We're really good at partnering with them on a project that has this experiential element.
We're throwing parties, we're engaging their followers. We're essentially running these experiential influencer marketing campaigns. And we didn't even know it like we were
just doing that for ourselves and brands were seeing the potential of it. So culinary creators grew out of that saying, where, how could we take this further?
And how could we scale up the value that we can create for brands that are clearly looking for a solution to their influencer marketing and experiential marketing goals? And so what we're doing and what the vision is, is really the ability to elevate these leading voices, these leading culinary creators. And helping, again, in a certain way, like provide a framework and structure for them to partner with brands in an authentic way and create really meaningful campaigns to share information and market the products to consumers. And these creators often need more resources and infrastructure than just their managers to do things. And quite frankly, I don't think that necessarily all these videos we've been talking about do create the most impact. Just a video. And how many videos are we seeing in a given day? So many.
So how do you cut through the noise? And that's often through more creative idea, full campaign, an event, partnership. And we're really here to bring all of that to life. And yeah, we're really excited about it.
[00:44:13] Josh Sharkey:
I love that. Yeah. I mean, you're almost like becoming the, you know, the missing link, but bridging this gap between the creators and, you know, one, all the other things that they can do to stand out and the execution of, of what they're doing at scale.
So it's awesome. Yeah. Yeah. Who are some of these creators and who are you working with and who do you want to work with?
[00:44:33] Kristen Barnett:
So our first chef that we worked with was Alvin Kailon from Burger Show, founder of Eggslut, also has Amboy Quality Meats in LA. And that campaign was an amazing exercise in combining credible IP from the Burger Show, Alvin's own social media presence, and his connection to his followers who love him for the burgers and everything.It's amazing.
And then partnering with brands in a really authentic aligned way. We worked with Spam, which Alvin has loved since he was a child. And Square, which is actually the technology that he uses at his restaurant already, Amboy. So we brought all these pieces together, create a campaign, launching the burger show menu out of the Hungry House kitchens, producing all the content, connecting with influencers, et cetera.
And I thought it was such a great example of what the potential is for us to do, to bring all these unique pieces together that any single creator, any single brand, It would be difficult, I think, to put all that together. We're now working with a celebrity backed beer brand that is a really incredible product innovating in a section of the beer market.
Uh, it's not launched in the U.S. yet and more news will come out about it, but it comes from the UFC world and is, is going to be really exciting in terms of
leveraging a massive voice for the sake of telling the story of this product that's been developed over many years. In a really incredible way right now we get to bring it to the world. So going forward, you know, for us, it's that intersection of where these voices that have an amazing ability to bring a product to market to life. How can we create an ecosystem of support to see it to its fullest potential?
[00:46:25] Josh Sharkey:
Love that. Are there any dream clients that you would love to work with?
[00:46:33] Kristen Barnett:
Um, we're working on a few of them that I think would be really exciting.
Generally, our goals to work with the really large CPG companies that we believe could see a ton of value through localized campaigns with really authentic connections to the right creators in a given market. We want to work with really innovative companies that maybe are bringing something new also to market.
And we also see the potential to partner with the, the other direction, which is a creator who is launching a company and wants to understand how to actually fan the flames and leverage their voice as a creator, but then other creators. to do something even bigger, which is kind of our current project. Um, the beer project we're working on.
[00:47:22] Josh Sharkey:
So cool. How is life different now for you as running this marketing media company versus restaurants and food tech and all that jazz?
[00:47:30] Kristen Barnett:
Oh, it's, it's pretty different. I mean, client services. And so for us, our goal is always to make sure that our clients. You know, informed and happy and excited about the work that's getting done in support of their goals. That's very different than being a solo founder of ghost kitchen company that you're just putting out fires all day around, you know, your employees not showing up or an order going out late to a VIP catering client. to anything else that could
happen. And it's a totally different flow and rhythm, which I think I'm still adjusting to. I'm obviously still very, still very involved in Hungry House and work with the current exec team every day, but it's a different flow now. And I'm really excited about it. I think that. It's more of a job of on the ground, like ops and execution, which my brain can happily exist in that place. And now really carving out the time to be creative and thoughtful around the ideas we're putting forth and the difference gets made in the quality of the ideas, not in the speed of the execution, which ultimately you have to execute for the project, but project is only as good as the idea itself.
So. I am enjoying stretching my creativity and I'm continuing to focus on that so that we can bring it on.
[00:48:52] Josh Sharkey:
It's interesting. It's not often that someone is really good at operations and also really good at branding and marketing.
[00:48:59] Kristen Barnett:
It's a weird space to be. I mean, I started to find it, you know, hungry house. Obviously I felt really passionate about our brand and the creators. And really exciting to start another company that would allow me to expand into that. Yeah. Because I also didn't know I had that necessarily in me until I realized like, well, I'm pretty passionate about making sure we get all the branding correct and like the content and how it's going to be rolled out and... Telling the story and then talking to other operators or realize like, Oh, wow, it's like a kind of a unique part of my brain. Like maybe I should go and really understand like what's happening here and how I can leverage this, you know, even more.
[00:49:41] Josh Sharkey:
Well, I want to dive into some founder therapy, but beforehand, maybe just because it's like, it's still sort of a hot topic. What's the, you still have Hungry House, which is kind of the anti ghost kitchen. Yeah. What's going on with ghost kitchens and virtual kitchens right now? What's the state of the industry as Kristen says?
[00:50:00] Kristen Barnett:
It's a major inflection point is how I could best describe it. I think what's come to light is that the ghost kitchen side of the food tech world still ultimately has a lot of the underpinnings of restaurants and technology can really only go so far.
In improving the margins and scalability of what is fundamentally very operationally and capital intensive business, there is that which is challenge and a reality that I think in the excitement over the mass adoption of delivery in the pandemic was somewhat overlooked because there were pockets that were showing incredible results and growth, but ultimately When the flood of BC dollars kind of dissipates and you can see clearly again, the fundamentals that you're looking at aren't necessarily the types of fundamentals you would see from a tech company that would have raised a similar amount of
Capital. Yeah. So that's where we are. I think the other piece of the puzzle is that beyond just the operational capital intensiveness is also the margin profile of these businesses. And that already with the very, very slim margins, it's hard to take so many cuts of the pie and everyone is fighting for their slice. And what ends up happening there is certain companies no longer become as valuable to their operators. And if the tech and the product isn't differentiated or high quality enough. Well, ultimately, you know, that value prop is diminished because no longer are you providing this new solution, but the market is maturing in terms of the food tech world and what's being offered to, to these restaurants. And so the virtual brands, their business came back. We have walking customers now, where's the value prop? I think that you need to be really, really certain around the quality of
the brand and ultimately what you're delivering to restaurants that you've partnered with.
[00:52:03] Josh Sharkey:
Yeah. Yeah. Yeah. I think. You know, nothing substitutes brand loyalty and the connection to a brand. You can't synthesize that. It's something that just happens by building a great brand as more choices come about where I can have a virtual kitchen experience or I can order on DoorDash or I can walk to the restaurant or you sit in like. That decision becomes a lot more based on what experience do I want to have?
What do I care about? Yeah, absolutely. By the way, what happened with Mr. Beast? What was the whole thing there with the virtual dining concepts and his thing? Was it like, did he suit them? Did they suit him? What went down?
[00:52:41] Kristen Barnett:
You know, I can't speak to the specifics on that.
[00:52:46] Josh Sharkey:
Oh, I thought you were going to be able to tell me some more.
[00:52:46] Kristen Barnett:
I don't think I, I'm not in a position to do that. I'm not, yeah. I think generally though, like what has played out there is.
A general feeling I've had about many of the virtual celebrity backed brands, which is that ultimately structurally there are challenges in execution because these restaurant teams that are cooking your brand, that you're giving your menu are busy, understaffed and stretched thin on all regards. And then to take on another brand in addition with a team that might have already had a call out, regardless, even before the pandemic staffing was hard, it's just a challenge. And so thinking through actually their ability to meet those brand standards day in, day out, everything we were talking about in the beginning, challenges of that when you're not actually invested as the owner of that brand. I think it sets you up to fail. And so obviously that's the most public example of something that God went sideways clearly. But I think there is like the broader, broader challenges. Oh, we have a visitor.
[00:53:56] Josh Sharkey:
Sorry, we have a visitor. Hi baby. Yeah, thank you. Those are for me. Wow. Um, I'm in …It's. There you go. I texted you, but um, Thank you, babes. Those are my favorite cookies. I love you. Herbie, you want to go with them? I love you. Herbie, you want to go with them? Okay, that was my daughter. She's not in school today. Speaking of Trader Joe's, their Fig Newtons, or whatever their version of Fig Newtons are, are the best by far. I don't know where it is. Oh my god, they're so friggin good.
[00:54:30] Kristen Barnett:
They're so good.
[00:54:37] Josh Sharkey:
Well, that was nice to see her. I don't know if you could, but I could see her. Okay, well, I didn't know if maybe you had some more scoop on Mr. Beast than I would. I've only seen headlines, but let's get away from that now and talk about, maybe we could have a little therapy session here on Founding. Because you've started a few companies. You've also ran a tech company as COO. And I'll try to let this just be all you and I'll listen. I
won't complain or vent. For everybody out there listening, you've, now you've started a Tech company, and you've started a tech slash ghost kitchen company. And now you've started a marketing company. What are some of the biggest challenges and surprises you've had over the years, starting these companies?
[00:55:15] Kristen Barnett:
I mean, it's like too many to put in a sustained series.
[00:55:20] Josh Sharkey:
Yeah, maybe you could, the top two, you're like, oh, when I think about starting a company, here's the two things that, you know, two or three things that come to mind.
[00:55:27] Kristen Barnett:
Oh, man. I mean, the, the two most obvious things are have co-founders and it's a marathon, not a sprint. Like, and it's the most generic advice, but. When you're a founder, thinking about starting a company, you're probably already halfway off your rocker to even like consider taking on that risk. And then obviously we're not the type of people that like take a lot of advice because people are probably advising us against doing that in the first part. And so you receive all this advice, like it's a marathon, not a sprint and co founders are really helpful. And I'm like, yeah, yeah, I can do this.
I don't need, I don't, I want to move fast. Like people are going to slow me down. And I think ultimately that was a huge challenge with Hungry House for myself, just speaking really candidly and openly here. The sheer amount of information and tasks and work that comes onto your plate that only someone at the founder level can handle is unbelievable. It's immense. And I don't think I appreciated that. And the other element that was actually much deeper I didn't appreciate was the need to bounce ideas off of someone who's there with you and having investors that you're close with doesn't really do the trick. Having your number two employee is certainly not the same. And so that level of being alongside you was something that I missed. And I think when you don't have that. And every decision that goes
well, goes poorly, goes sideways, goes fine, it can more easily become wrapped up with your perception of yourself and because you don't have anyone else to point to.
It really was just you and it could have just been the business, circumstances, the environment you're in, but ultimately also it is only you. And so I had struggled with in the past that identity blending of business outcomes and results. and myself and my own feelings about like, how am I doing? Who am I as a human? So for me, entrepreneurship has been this like wild spiritual journey, quite frankly, around the identification of the self as a separate unit from the business from the day to day. The separation from workaholism, you know, by self worth and need to always be productive and prove things people in that regard, because ultimately, I am just trying to
create value and I'm working on projects and putting it all out there to do that.
And it's very easy to be very hard on yourself. So the co-founder piece has been critical for me. You know, I have a co-founder for CCW. That's been an amazing experience. And it's definitely a recommendation I have to any future entrepreneur. Yeah.
[00:58:20] Josh Sharkey:
I couldn't agree more. I had the same challenge at meez and you're definitely on an island. It's funny. Yeah. First time I've heard someone talk about the identity crisis because there's a million things that you have to do and you have to be an expert at so many things that, you know, for me, I have, you know, being an expert at product and marketing and sales and. Customer success and accounting and finance and, you know, building all those things. And when any of them goes wrong, you gravitate towards, I, I'm not good enough. And you have to sort of, you know, find a way to separate the two compartmentalize them and then identify the things that you're,
that you're good at and that you love. Your zone of genius and then find ways that you can either let the other things burn or get other folks to do them for you. But that's obviously really hard. Yeah. And in the beginning, there's just not enough money to do that. I couldn't agree more. I think finding a founder is, that's also really tough, but you know, there's so much advice about, about how to run a startup and you know, it's a marathon. And I think if for me, it's, it always comes down to two things. It's like one. Don't start a startup. I tell everybody that. Don't, don't, don't do it. And then if I, if I've told you that, if I've told you that enough times and you still do it, then, you know, you should only do it if you can't not do it. And there's a million things that you won't do right. And there's a million things that you won't do as good as somebody else. If you can be steadfast in a vision and you actually have a vision, right. Where you actually believe in some vision of the world and you can be steadfast in it, no matter what happens. And then have the strength to know when. That's not there anymore when you need to walk away.
Everything else kind of, you know, you'll figure out. But if you can't have that, I think that you'll just fail. You know, if you forgot why you did it. And it's definitely like, uh, there's so many now, these founder groups that I don't know about you, I'm a part of that, that have been helpful. How about, um, fundraising? I mean, it's challenging for everybody, but any real coin busters there for you?
[01:00:20] Kristen Barnett:
I think that. Fundraising is a sliver of like the overall dynamic that you're talking about here, which is like the steadfastness in your vision. The steadfastness to continue to fundraise because you can't let it not happen. Like it can't not be that each whole country, I don't even know if any of that makes sense. It really takes that type of dedication to move that process over the finish line and just to be incredibly resolute in the fact that this thing will exist and that you are going to find the right partners to help them build it. And it might take 20 meetings, it might take 120 meetings, but getting through that
Process is a matter of willpower, quite frankly. And there's like really no good way to do it. That's the most challenging part that is like always hard. So in our marketing agency, we haven't fundraised. We're not going to services business. And so I am, I'm honestly thrilled about that because it's so distracting to fundraise and it's so hard because It's another job as a founder and you, again, hear advice from people like us. It's a marathon. Not a sprint. Well, fundraising is a sprint. And that is actually just the reality of it. A lot of other things in your life go out the window and you have to be maniacal about prioritizing to get that done. And it's, uh, challenging when you want to be in the business building. And so you have these like on and off time, sorry, fundraising, rebuilding, fundraising, rebuilding. Yeah. Yeah. I'm really excited to have a service business right now where we're focusing on building
and when we build more. We make more money that funds the business more and then we keep going. And it's this like ecosystem of, that's like we're generating in a way and very different dynamic than the start VC backstart up flow of how you ultimately scale those companies, which you obviously have been in for a while. So you know very intimately.
[01:02:23] Josh Sharkey:
Yeah, I think, you know, I think there isn't a week that goes by where I don't get at least one or two folks reaching out about, you know, advice on how to raise money for their business or how to write. I think before anyone ever starts that, I always tell them, like, think really hard about what kind of business you have. Because that's going to dictate what kind of investor you have. I didn't fully appreciate the dynamics of venture capital versus private equity versus angel versus maybe corporations that invest in you versus, you know, there's lots of ways in which you can banks, things like that. There's lots of ways in which you can raise capital, but each of them has their upsides and downsides.
And based on the type of business that you have, you can really hurt yourself. If you
aren't going to be. Focused on growth for the next five, 10 years. And you don't want to become sort of an outsized return type of business. Yeah. Venture might not be the right route for you because you have to make, you know, big bets. You have to go
[01:03:16] Kristen Barnett:
Mass returns they are investing in cross companies, you know, 100x.
[01:03:19] Josh Sharkey:
And if you're, if you're early in the restaurant, let's say, and you, you want to scale and you have one or two, maybe one, two restaurants and you want to scale that and you start talking to private equity. Well, there's certain things that you need to know about that as well, because there's expectations from them and, and unit economics that you might just not even want to actually think about yet because you're still building a brand and they need someone like you first to make sure that there's a lot of interest before they start scaling. So that's the first thing I tell folks is just like really clear about what, you know, I just asked them if they, when they ask, well, how should I raise money? And like, well, Tell me more about your business. What do you want to do in 10 years? Is it a lifestyle business? Because then certainly don't raise money. Yeah. So, well, we can go on for hours about that, but I want to
close with anything else that you'd love to share about CCW and what folks should know about what you're doing and anything else in general you want to share with the, with the whole food world.
[01:04:12] Kristen Barnett:
Sure. Well, CCW and you know, I think that where we find ourselves is
a creator centric approach to full service marketing solutions. And that modern marketing ultimately is shifting towards storytelling to create any impact. And so what I've seen from a lot of companies and why we're so excited about what we're doing is that they're caught between all these different service providers when they think about marketing. They have their experiential firm for a lot of events, they have influencer marketing, social media content. They're working with independent, you know, photographers, videographers PR agency, and it's pretty disparate, and in our mind, inefficient. Ultimately, any work you do with a given creator might not then
be reflected in experiential, and it could be a massive moment that's missed.
And so, We're looking to unify that and work with brands create a more efficient solution for what they're trying to do and see any business of good beverage. Um, always down to talk to more creators as well, hear about their goals and what brands are talking to and whether we can help scale up their efforts in a way that means that they make more and the brand gets better results. That's really what we're trying to do, like, ultimately, win, win, win, like, we love those projects. Let's make it happen. Let's make this thing bigger, better.
[01:05:33] Josh Sharkey:
Yeah. And I couldn't agree more. It's like, it's very siloed. You know, the publicist will amplify a story that someone else has told, usually, and someone else will then distribute that on social media and, you know, there's, so that's great.
I love that you're doing that. Okay. Well, Kristen, this was awesome. And I think the last few times we've actually been able to meet in person, but so nice to see you remotely. And thank you for taking some time to be on the show.
[01:06:02] Kristen Barnett:
Thank you so much for having me, Josh. Appreciate it.
[01:06:10] Josh Sharkey:
Thanks for tuning into the meez Podcast. The music from the show is a remix of the song Art Mirror by an old friend, hip hop artist, Fresh Daily. For show notes and more, visit getmeez.com/podcast. That's G E T M E E Z dot com forward slash podcast. If you enjoyed the show, I'd love it if you can share it with fellow entrepreneurs and culinary pros, and give us a five star rating wherever you listen to your podcasts.
Keep innovating, don't settle, make today a little bit better than yesterday, and remember, it's impossible for us to learn what we think we already know. See you next time.