Be curious. Be scrappy. Make friends. See possibilities. These are just a few of the values that define one of DC's leading local food producers. Recent Georgetown graduates Ann Yang and Phil Wong started MISFIT Juicery when they realized that they could be a part of the solution when it comes to solving the very real environmental and societal problems that stem from food waste. We caught up with co-founder Ann to learn more about their goals for developing the country's leading brand in sustainable foods.
What did you study at Georgetown?I studied Culture and Politics in the Walsh School of Foreign Service--the foundation of the major is critical theory and then you choose your own concentration. I chose urban social justice issues. I loved my major and feel incredibly nostalgic about my education at Georgetown.
Can you tell us a little bit about your backstory? How did you and Phil start your company?I became interested in studying food systems and passionate about how food affects everyone regardless of culture, difference, and background. My parents are immigrants from China and I grew up in a low-income household, which made me interested in social entrepreneurship from an early age. As I learned about food waste, I thought that it was a unique issue that could be solved through a social enterprise.
For Phil, he first started noticing food waste in the dining halls at Georgetown. He also noticed food waste in the streets of Senegal where he studied abroad, where waste removal infrastructure is different than in the United States. We worked on the idea for a class we took together at Georgetown called Launching the Venture. Our first experiment was with four crates of misfit peaches that we purchased from a farmer named Tim and a borrowed blender from a woman I babysat for. We now wholesale to 50 locations in DC and in early April we launched in NYC.
How did your time spent studying abroad in Rwanda influence your choice to officially start MISFIT Juicery?So Phil actually went there for two summers; the first summer that he went there he also went to Senegal for fourth months afterward, and the second summer he received the Davis Projects for Peace grant where he had the chance to study clean cook stove technology. I was also in Rwanda during that time studying social entrepreneurship. During our time in Rwanda, the everyday noise of life made us both reflect on what we actually wanted to do career-wise after graduating from college. It was the summer before our senior year in college, and a lot of our friends were looking at jobs and accepting offers, and at the same time, people were having a lot of existential nausea about what they were going to be doing after graduation. It was in that space that we decided to pursue MISFIT with full will and passion.
What has been the most surprising part of your company's evolution?I think that a lot of it is that you learn so much every day, which is one of the coolest parts of entrepreneurship. We have learned so much from our mentors and other people in the industry as well; our whole community has been amazing. Tackling food waste in multiple levels of the supply chain has been a really cool development. About six months ago we started sourcing trimmings and tops waste from Baldor Specialty Foods. When Phil and I first started the company, we knew that 20 billion pounds of fruits and veggies go unharvested or unsold every year, but we had no idea how much waste occurs at the processing level.
What do consider the role of businesses like MISFIT to be in helping end food insecurity?Our primary mission is to fight food waste because of its devastating environmental consequences. Our company has partnered with hunger organizations like Capital Area Food Bank and the Arcadia Center for Sustainable Food and Agriculture, and we hope to expand the scope of our work in food equity in the future.
What has it been like partnering with major businesses like Eataly? What kind of values do you look for in companies that you collaborate with?Eataly carries a lot of brands that have an interesting backstory, so we were really excited to be working with them. They have been an amazing brand to work with; we couldn't have thought of a better brand to launch with in NYC.
As the demand for sustainable food options continues to grow, especially in places like DC, what are some of your goals for MISFIT in the near future?We want to turn MISFIT Juicery into MISFIT Foods. We want to be the country's leading natural foods brand that stands for sustainable sourcing. In the meantime, we are focusing on expanding juice distribution up and down the East Coast. We definitely have some exciting things in the works for a more expansive food line in the future though!
Photos courtesy of MISFIT Juicery.