The delicious, nutritious, affordable food of Everytable in South Los Angeles, with menus by a world-class chef, has come from an unlikely source: former Wall Street barons. The only return on investment they want? Healthy, happy Angelenos.
A whopping 78.6 million adult Americans are considered obese, according to the CDC, which in, 2008, created an estimated annual medical cost of $147 billion dollars. Obesity can also translate to less education, less earning potential, and higher rates of mortality. It benefits the entire country to have a healthy populace. And while eating healthy has certainly become trendy, it is often financially prohibitive.
Sam Polk has seen every financial strata of America; his youth was spent helping his mother at the homeless medical clinics she ran in LA’s Skid Row. He then rose to become a wildly successful hedge fund manager at one of Wall Street’s top firms. All by the tender age of 30. He had money, power, and status. But one day he looked in the mirror and realized he’d lost himself. So, he did what most people wouldn’t do. He left that life and started using his business acumen to help people. Specifically, to help people eat better.
“Solving issues around food is a personal passion of mine, as I’ve experienced my own struggles with food throughout my entire life.” Polk explains. “I was a teased, bullied, overweight kid growing up and my family was overweight as well. I have a deep understanding of how the consequences of obesity are not just financial and health-related, but also emotional and spiritual – especially in kids.” So he started his first nonprofit called Groceryships, which helps low-income families with nutritional education, providing access to fresh produce, and emotional support for dealing with food addictions.
It was a start, but didn’t quite solve the whole issue. “Through Groceryships, we kept hearing from moms in the program that between taking care of their kids and working multiple jobs, they simply didn’t have time to cook.” Polk says. “Although they were grateful for the fresh produce we were providing them, they often had no choice but to buy meals on-the-go, which in South LA, means unhealthy and processed fast food.”
That’s when Everytable was born. Through Groceryships, he struck up a friendship with a
volunteer named David Foster–another young finance titan with a social conscious. Foster’s career was in private equity and investment banking, but he soon signed on as a full-time staff member of Groceryships. He and Polk listened to these mothers’ need for fast meals and in 2014, they found a solution: Everytable.
The idea is simple, yet radical. They would create essentially a fast food-style restaurant, where people can get a quick bite, but the food would be healthy, balanced, and most importantly, priced at a level the neighborhood could afford. Foster explains: “We…took into consideration the incomes in the neighborhoods where we’d be opening locations in order to make sure our meals would be affordable for people in each community. For example, in South LA, the average per capita income is $13K and our meals average $4 or less. In our downtown LA location opening next, those exact same meals will average $8, which is still competitive in that market.”
They don’t serve your average grub either. Polk and Foster teamed up with Chef Craig Hopson to design menus that are healthy, flavorful, and respectful of the cultures and tastes they’re feeding. “Along with Culinary Director Johnny Yoo, Chef Hopson has done an extraordinary job creating a menu that celebrates and is rooted in the local cultures, cuisines and flavors of the South LA neighborhood.” Foster tells us. “The diverse, flavorful and nutritious dishes – from the Puebla Chicken Tinga, to the Vietnamese Chicken Salad and the BBQ Picnic Bowl – offer something that will appeal to everyone.” Menus are rotated seasonally to ensure no one gets bored and that only the best ingredients are used. Detailed nutritional information is available for each meal, all of which are made fresh daily. Calories are generally below 500 a serving.
The staff is another way Polk and Foster are nurturing Everytable communities. According to Polk: “…we’re also focusing on offering jobs to individuals who have been left out. That’s why, in addition to hiring from the local communities we serve, we also try to hire folks that may otherwise have a tough time finding jobs. We’ve hired from places like The RightWay Foundation, which supports foster kids aging out of the system. We are also working with Homeboy Industries, an organization that helps former gang members re-enter society, to find qualified candidates.” Everytable nourishes mind, body, and soul.
Everytable is a hit with the residents of South LA. While still collecting hard numbers on the number of repeat customers, remember, these are finance guys, Foster and Polk are pleased by the enthusiasm with which Everytable has been embraced. Within their first two weeks, they tracked several hundred people who were repeat customers, often stocking up on meals for their families. “We’ve been really excited to see these trends as it validates some assumptions about the incredible convenience offered by Everytable’s model,” Foster says. Because at the end of the day, people want to eat well.
“We’re thrilled by the excitement and reaction from the community so far,” Polk tells us. “[I]t’s certainly a testament to how much of a need there was for a healthy and affordable eatery in the South LA neighborhood. It’s wonderful to see so many familiar friendly faces, as well as new customers, come through our door.”
The benefits of Everytable will no doubt be felt across generations and other communities as general health increases, positive eating habits are learned and passed along from parent to child, friend to friend, education and work opportunities increase. As Foster says, they’re “…working together to democratize nutritious food.”