How a french Supermarket dramatically reduced food waste

It’s a sad but hard truth that we all waste ludicrous amounts of food, reportedly to the tune of 300 MILLION TONS every single year. Most restaurants/diners/bakeries throw out their leftover food due to liability issues, consumers let food rot too quickly or buy more than they need, and supermarkets only buy what is most presentable for sale. One French supermarket however decided to address this problem in unique fashion and actually got their customers to not only listen but also purchase deformed vegetables and fruits that would typically get thrown out.

That time I caught Dengue Fever

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It was way back in 2002 but I vividly recall driving from my home in Silver Lake to the Giant Robot garage off Sawtelle, listening to KXLU, and hearing what sounded like vintage garage rock from Cambodia. The LMU station is rightfully famous for championing all sorts of great punk rock, post punk, and noise music but this was something completely wild and different. The surfing and spying guitars were as hook-laden as they were blown-out, lifted by an otherworldly, too-good-to-be-true voice that seemed to be the missing link between the Cocteau Twins’ heavenly Elizabeth Fraser and the Cantopop idol from outer space Faye Wong. Wow. I cranked it up.

Upon reaching my destination, I dialed the radio station and asked the DJ what the hell I just heard. He said it was a new group called Dengue Fever that hadn’t released any records yet. One of the band members provided a demo. Did I want his phone number?

It turns out the bass player Senon lived in Los Feliz, just a couple of minutes from my place, and he was familiar with the magazine that I helped found and edited. One thing led to another, and I was invited to meet the band for dinner at a Cambodian restaurant called Dragon House in Long Beach.

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Back then, the group was still in an embryonic stage and Nimol’s grasp of English was just as raw. She was accompanied by a Cambodian girlfriend, presumably so she wouldn’t be alone amongst a bunch of potentially sketchy musician dudes–even if they happened to be associated with notable acts such as Radar Bros., Dieselhed, and Beck. It was the guys that did most of the talking and they weren’t creepy at all.

At the restaurant, which was more like a nightclub, the keyboard player Ethan revealed how he became obsessed with Cambodian psychedelic rock during a backpacking trip through Southeast Asia in the late ’90s. Hearing it in a taxi resulted in relentless visits to music shops and a bagful of cassettes that he shared with his brother, guitarist Zac, who had really gotten into the genre as well. With their minds on fire with the concept of forming a kick-ass group that would perform this obscure-yet-amazing style of music, they began to comb Long Beach’s Little Phnom Penh in search of an authentic Khmer singer. The stars aligned. Ethan and Zac found Nimol, whose family was Cambodian pop royalty and who was already a star in the local party circuit. Somehow, they convinced her to try playing dive bars and rock clubs with their new band.

Dragon House was dark and loud and it wasn’t easy to keep track of what each of the guys was saying, but what happened next blew my mind clean anyway. The cheesy Khmer lounge act put down their instruments and Dengue Fever excused themselves to go onstage. Just like that, the somewhat geriatric club was transformed into the coolest spot on the planet. The songs were still classic Cambodian pop, but they were filtered through a killer combination of DIY, art school, and rock ‘n’ roll sensibilities without being ruined by one iota of irony. The locals dug it, too, and a circle of dancers began to snake around the dancefloor.

At that moment I became the band’s number-one fan, and proceeded to witness them freaking out swing dancers at The Derby and Mike Watt fans at the Knitting Factory alike. I’d like to think I wrote the first full-on article about Dengue Fever in Giant Robot, following up with sympathetic coverage when Nimol got detained at the border on the way back from a show in San Diego and sharing a glorious travel piece when the band made its first trip to Cambodia.

It was exciting to see Dengue Fever get bigger–but not in the sense of selling a million records, although they really should have been. The ripple effect of their resuscitating a rad sliver of music that was nearly buried in the Killing Fields by the Khmer Rouge not only made a dent in the indie charts, rock clubs, and occasional festivals but also sparked a new interest in the dusty genre among Cambodian immigrants as well as in the motherland itself. Life was imitating art imitating life, but what’s the difference if you can do the frug to both?

More than ten years, five albums, and one soundtrack later, we’ve kept in touch and I seem to see them hanging out at our kids’ parties as often as I do at Dengue Fever gigs. Meanwhile, the band’s music still affects me the same way it did when I first happened upon it on the radio. Indeed, the band’s concept has evolved from ramped-up Khmer covers into a even wilder mutation of song from another dimension but that’s another story…

More information on Dengue Fever (including upcoming gigs in Phoenix, San Diego, and Long Beach) can be found at denguefevermusic.comAnd check in on Imprint Culture Lab via Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook for more articles, events, and announcements.

8 Questions With: Augustas Alesiunas / Peres

I am always intrigued by new technologies that can improve quality of life. PERES is the world’s first portable “electronic nose” – a unique and innovative device and mobile application which enables users to determine the quality and freshness of pork, beef, chicken and fish. It is designed to detect whether a product is fresh, hazardous to health, or at risk of food poisoning. The device has temperature, humidity, ammonia, and volatile organic compound sensors that work in conjunction with a smartphone and tablet app to scan the food item in question (without having to actually come in contact with it). PERES recently realized a successful fundraising campaign on Indiegogo and is off to a strong start.

We talked with Augustas Alesiunas, CEO of Peres to understand the process his team has gone through to bring this concept to life. Augustas is also President of SmartIT Cluster, a Lithuanian company that was established in 2008 to develop integrated and innovative IT solutions for the agricultural, food, energy and banking sectors. Augustas actively contributes to the search and realization of innovations and new solutions for making the agricultural sector even more efficient and modernized. Augustas has received the nomination of the Ministry of Economy of the Republic of Lithuania “Young successful entrepreneur” in 2011, and his focus and ambition are illustrated with PERES.

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Describe the concept inspiration for PERES and your original vision.
A year ago, my wife had a serious food poisoning case, after which I started to search for different technologies that could help every family reduce food poisoning risks to a minimum.

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What global impact do feel PERES will have, and where do you hope to take it in the near / long-term future?
Firstly, PERES presents the possibility for people to live safer and eat only fresh, unspoiled food. Secondly, PERES fights the food waste issue globally by helping people verify if items are still safe enough to eat.

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Describe the research, design, testing, and development of the product.
We started by choosing accurate and feasible technologies, and we arrived at MOS (Metal oxide gas sensors). Then we spent almost one year in laboratories, conducting extensive research to identify at what level food is no longer safe to use. Later on, we were in the design process and commercialization for mass production, which took about 5 months, and I’m proud that PERES will be able to launch in June.

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What insights and lessons can you share so far – in terms of challenges/risks?
The highest risk is in the beginning, when you only have an idea and desire to bring a new technology and product to life.

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How effective was Indiegogo in your fundraising, PR, and launch?
We have collected $77,000 USD during our Indiegogo campaign, and I am very thankful to our PR partners PRMediaNow. The biggest success was when we went to the USA and did a lot of live demos for such companies as NBC, USA Today, Channel 4, New York news outlets, etc.

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What does your typical day look like as a leader for PERES and Smart IT Cluster?
Every day is completely different and challenging. I try to focus all of my attention on how to go forward with our products, R&D activities, and market expansion. I have a wonderful and trustful team, and without them – nothing would be possible.

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What are you currently reading?
Khaled Hosseini, And the Mountains Echoed.

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Where do you personally find inspiration?
Family, active lifestyle (kitesurfing, hunting), all new projects, I just love them.

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Migrant Worker

Migrant Worker is how our next #IMPRINTPRESENTS speaker, Jan Chipchase, describes himself on his Twitter profile. Indeed, he is well known for working in a dizzying range of far-flung and exotic-sounding destinations. But what’s he all about? I thought it might be a good time to share some of his most popular talk videos available online in preparation for our talk with him coming up in LA next week! Tickets available here.

#imprintpresents John Maeda and Friends Recap

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After being introduced by Imprint Culture Lab’s Julia Huang at last week’s #imprintpresents event, John Maeda said that he wanted to make sure his presentation wouldn’t simply echo one of his TED talks, conference keynote speeches, or anything that one can easily stream online. He added that he has been giving a lot of speeches since leaving academia for venture capital, and was ready to talk about something other than design, start-ups, and leadership.

In tune with the medium-sized venue filled mostly with friends or friends of friends, the former president of RISD gave a more personal talk that that he jokingly compared to therapy. Before describing his childhood, he respectfully pointed out similarities between the “cutting-edge” design of Apple computers with coffeemakers and trashcans. Likewise, he has stumbled upon bathrooms with unintentional artistry that rivals high-end galleries without the pretense or price points. Art and design are everywhere, he noted.

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Continuing to mash up design and utility, art and science, and high culture and low culture, Maeda began describing his youth growing up in a family tofu shop steeped in Asian American culture. He noted that the Japanese movies and TV shows that he watched–from the Toro-san melodramas to the Lone Wolf and Cub chanbara series to Gundam anime–were popular culture but not necessarily simplistic. The protagonists had good and bad traits, juggled tradition and technology, and balanced humanity and machines. The shows served to entertain Maeda when he was a kid, but they also helped to inform his adult understanding of the world as more than either/or. One needn’t choose a side and can–and should–choose both.

For the second portion of the talk, which pertained to art, science, and the future, Maeda invited friends from the start-up community: Jackie Xu (Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers), Sash Catanzarite (Tradesy), John Underkoffler (Oblong Industries), Ivan Bercovich (FindTheBest). Rather than address the group as a panel, he first interviewed Xu, who then interviewed Catanzarite, and so on. It was like an Exquisite Corpse in conversation form. The program’s spontaneity was refreshing yet dangerous; it could have easily bombed.

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But Maeda chose his guests carefully and he chose them well. The questions, answers, and chemistry ran at a high level throughout the program. The recurring theme was the relationship between design and technology, but creativity, responsibility, and the development process came up in conversations as well. The panelists’ differing outlooks made for interesting overlaps and contrasts, from the venture capital perspective of Xu to the start-up mentalities of Catanzarite and Bercovich. Underkoffler, whose background is science, told a great story about showing the futuristic UI to Tom Cruise and other crew members on the set of Minority Report. A case of the future imitating art anticipating the future…

Questions were directed toward Maeda, too. He shared an anecdote about being approached by a police officer while helping kids move out student housing at RISD. The cop wondered why he didn’t have to bust parties at the renowned art school like he did at Brown or Providence. The fact is that art students have to work really hard, and apply themselves just as hard as engineering or science majors. Yet another instance of the gap between art and science not being quite as wide as commonly perceived.

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Follow John Maeda at twitter.com/johnmaeda. And check in on Imprint Culture Lab via Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook for more articles, events, and announcements.

8 Questions with: Ed Lin

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I’m thankful that I’ve been able to cobble together some sort of writing career by sharing the great stuff that my friends and future friends do. But while it’s a purposeful form of communication–and possibly even a mutation or mutilation of journalism–I don’t consider myself a “real” writer.

My friend Ed Lin is a real writer. He writes fiction. At a time when most people read no more than an excerpt, a caption, or a tweet, would could be more noble or important than cranking out novels? Especially when one’s latest work entails Taiwanese night markets, betel-nut beauties, and murder. When Ed was in town to support Ghost Month, I asked him eight (or nine) questions about his new book, his writing gig, and life.

 How would you describe your job?
The day job’s a matter of looking at the stock market and thinking against the grain. Sell-offs and buy-ins are often driven by sentiment and because we are human they often run to extremes, unjustifiably so.

I mean your writing!
Oh. Writing books is a hard thing to do, but it’s what I want to do. Although it is downright tough at times, I live for the flecks of pleasure that sparkle in the pan of dirt.

For Ghost Month, can you compare the time spent doing extensive research with the time spent actually writing? Not simply how much time they require but your approaches to the tasks…
I have to do both at the same time. That’s my own process. For me, “writing” isn’t necessarily when my fingers are hitting the keyboard; I’m writing in my head even as I’m interviewing people and reading source material. Charles Willeford said that while he was “writing,” it looked to an outside observer like he was sitting in his chair holding a can of beer. Sometimes I feel like I’m writing continuously in my head.

With Ghost Month, I (physically) wrote about 100 pages before I began to research heavily because I had the germ of the story and I didn’t want to kill it before it had a chance to fester. Much of it ended up being destroyed anyway because it couldn’t have happened.

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Do you enjoy the promotional part of publishing cycle? Is it anything at all like being a band on tour?
I love getting up and reading, feeling that connection with the audience. It is like being in a band on tour, especially since I am taking Greyhound from the Bay Area to New Orleans on this tour. I wanna see the country and literally feel the pain in my ass!

Besides Ghost Month, which of your books do you recommend a new reader to check out? Why?
I say start at the top: Read Waylaid, my first and most desperate book. After that the rest of the books might make more sense, although they do not seem to be related on the surface.

Are you reading anything cool at the moment?
Just finished Excavation by Wendy C. Ortiz. It was a searingly good memoir of her affair with her teacher when she was in her early teens. It’s a great book and took a lot of courage to write.

Where do you find inspiration outside of literature?
Absolutely music, especially live, when anything can happen. I also love the stark neorealism of early films by Satyajit Ray, Italian neorealism, and silent film. Theater, too. Because my wife’s an actor, I often get to watch her in it!

As a kid, what did you want to be when you grow up?
I’ve wanted to be a writer since second grade. Later, I wanted to be The Clash. Got one of my wishes, Ma!

What’s your favorite post-work destination?
Home, obviously. We’ve got an 18-month-old son and there’s nothing better than hearing him yell “Dada!” when I unlock the door.

Find out more about Ed at edlinforpresident.com. And follow Imprint Culture Lab on Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook for the latest articles, events, and announcements from the crew.

Aaron De La Cruz for interTrend

Imprint and our friends at our big sister company interTrend were lucky enough to host the amazingly talented SF-based artist Aaron De La Cruz here in Long Beach for a few days this week, while he painted a huge mural inside the Edison Theatre in Downtown. The space, aka Camp Edison, will be the temporary home of Imprint and interTrend while the finishing touches are wrapped up on our future digs at the Psychic Temple. Stay tuned for more content on the production of  this incredible work of art, as Brandon Shigeta was on hand to document everything in fine style.

Sometimes a bank just wants to say ‘thanks’

Every blue moon a company likes to give back to their customers. Some do it in small ways and some like to GO BIG. Canadian bank TD Canada Trust recently surprised their customers by turning an ATM into a “Automated Thanking Machine.” Reminds me of the holiday surprises Westjet gave their customers the past couple of years and it seems to be that marketing tactics like these are almost guaranteed to go viral above most other efforts. The company gets eyes on the product and the customer gets to experience something truly amazing.

Paul McCartney at Dodger Stadium

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When I was a junior high student who was just starting to buy records, I wasn’t a fan of The Beatles. I thought it was weird for classmates to wear T-shirts with John, Paul, George, and Ringo. Why didn’t they support more current, more local music, more underground music? No Elvis, Beatles, or the Rolling Stones, right? And what’s up with wearing band gear that was bought at the mall instead of a merch table at a show? Not acceptable, and McCartney’s solo songs and duets with Michael Jackson at the time were pretty corny.

But the Beatles’ musical genius and legacy are impossible to resist or deny–with covers by The Damned, Siouxsie and The Banshees, and Shonen Knife providing a gateway–and I was stoked to get to see Paul McCartney at Dodger Stadium on Sunday night.

The billboards around Chavez Ravine should have been enough to get us ready for Sir Paul’s much-publicized return to the legendary venue, 48 years after his old band famously played its second-to-last show there to nonstop screaming fans. (I particularly liked the sign above the PETA headquarters in Echo Park.) But leading up to the show was a stream of vintage photos and videos reminding us of his role in the evolution of popular music while a DJ played mash-ups and covers to reinforce his diverse and lasting influence.

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As anticipated, McCartney’s set was nearly three hours instead of 30 minutes like his last appearance in Blue Heaven. And you could actually hear the songs. When he asked if anyone in the audience was there the last time he played after “We Can Work It Out,” the screams weren’t quite as loud as before.

What surprised and impressed me was that the economy his band didn’t seem so different now than how it must have been when he and his fab bandmates from Liverpool were barroom rockers honing their chops and instincts by covering R&B hits back in the day. They were a relatively stripped down (yet fierce) five-piece–compared to sizable musical and vocal reinforcements that the Stones took with them on their recent 50th anniversary tour or the double-digit E Street Band that accompanies The Boss. No songs were more than four or five minutes long. All killer, no filler. After four numbers, he removed his jacket and deemed it “the only wardrobe change in the whole evening.”

And there was a lot of great chitchat between songs, too, making the stadium feel more intimate. After appending a “Foxy Lady” jam onto Wings’ stoner anthem, “Let Me Roll It,” the lefty bassist talked about meeting the lefty guitarist and what a great guy he was. Two days after Sgt. Pepper’s was released, Jimi learned it and opened a show with it–the ultimate compliment to McCartney. He described “Blackbird” as a song that was originally written about civil rights and has been covered incorrectly ever since, and dedicated “Something” to Harrison and “Here Today” to Lennon. What, no mention (or appearance) of Ringo?

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Many old songs had new meanings or nuances. “Back in the U.S.S.R.” was extra interesting because the Cold War is over, the Soviet Union is gone, and we were right up the hill from Studio One, where Shepard Fairey specializes in the Eastern Bloc-inspired graphics that accompanied the song. (And is the Cold War really over?)”Lady Madonna” was illustrated by a montage of strong women including Tina Turner, Diana Ross, Lady Diana, Josephine Baker, Elizabeth Taylor, Wilma Rudolph, Mother Teresa, and… Linda McCartney. He played some new songs, too. I thought they were catchy and great and they provided opportunities for more discriminating listeners to visit the bathroom or get some nachos, as well.

There was a funny moment after playing “I’ve Just Seen a Face” when the godlike Macca admitted that he sometimes gets distracted by the signs that fans bring to shows. One was held by a young lady asking the ex-Beatle to sign her mom’s arm for her first and only tattoo. In the first encore, he honored their wish onstage. Will they go through with it? Should they?

It was the second encore that really encapsulated the night, from the deceptive simplicity of “Yesterday” to the pre-punk shredding of “Helter Skelter” to the epic closure of “Golden Slumbers/Carry That Weight/The End.” McCartney seemed to make fun of the fireworks that were set off during “Live or Let Die” but those last three selections out of 39 were as impeachable as they were different as they were groundbreaking. And it’s sick that he could have picked a few dozen other cuts that would have been just as heavy. Many of the best Beatles songs were never even played live by the band that recorded them.

No, paying 50 bucks (plus surcharges) to see a big show at Dodger Stadium is not punk. But Paul McCartney is bigger, badder, and cooler than any genre, style, or label and Sunday night confirmed that gloriously.

Please follow Imprint Culture Lab on Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook for the latest articles, events, and announcements from the team.

8 Questions With: T.K. Pillan of Veggie Grill

Building leadership in the fast casual, vegetarian restaurant category, Veggie Grill, is making a distinguished effort to transform American attitudes toward food with “veggie proteins” and wholesome ingredients. Veggie Grill renders the impossible possible: nutritious food that is convenient, affordable, craveable and made 100% from plants. The company offers a menu featuring a variety of hot sandwiches and burgers, entrée salads, homestyle plates, shareable sides, daily soups and housemade desserts. As one who has never personally sought out vegetarian food, I can attest that the food is quite remarkable and absolutely crave-worthy.

Led by co-founders T.K. Pillan and Kevin Boylan, as well as CEO Greg Dollarhyde, Veggie Grill is headquartered in Santa Monica and currently has 25 locations along the West Coast in California, Oregon, and Washington with additional locations opening soon. In early 2013, they raised a Series D round and have continued to achieve steady growth. I met T.K. Pillan at a UCLA Anderson event in 2013, and he generously shares a bit of his founding story, plans for the future, and personal drivers. We wish their team success in conquering the rest of America and beyond.

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Describe your (and co-founder Kevin Boylan’s) vision for Veggie Grill, one of the first in the category, upon inception in 2005.
When Kevin and I began working on Veggie Grill in 2005, our vision was to create a national chain of restaurants that would enlighten and satisfy consumers with delicious, convenient and wholesome meat-alternative menu choices.  We are up and down the West Coast right now, but not fully national, so we still have work to do!

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Talk a bit about the evolution to date, managing through rapid growth, and successfully raising several rounds of funding.
We opened our fist location at the end of 2006 in Irvine, CA, right across from UC Irvine.  At that point we were crossing our fingers and just hoping people would give us a try.  Luckily people did and kept coming back, so we were able to open a second location at the beginning of 2008 in El Segundo, CA.  That was a very different type of location … when that one started doing well, we figured that we had something that worked.  We wanted to grow quickly, but not too quickly given that we had never been in the restaurant industry before.  So we took a moderate growth approach (and financing from friends and family), and grew to a total of seven successful Southern California locations by mid-2011.  At that point, we thought we were ready to take the next step, so we recruited an experienced restaurant CEO and brought in private equity growth capital.  At the start of 2012, we had 7 restaurants … by the end of 2014, we’ll have 29, so we’ve accelerated our growth quite a bit.  Rapid growth brings new challenges, but that’s part of what we signed up for.  If it was easy, everybody would do it!

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Where do you hope to take Veggie Grill in the near / long-term future? What most excites you, thinking about the plans?
Our near-term goal is to become a national chain, which means starting to head east.  We are still working on determining exactly when and where.  It is exciting every time we open in a new market, to bring our unique food to that area, and continue to change perceptions of vegetarian food.  It is also exciting to think that we are not too far away from our original vision, but we still have a lot of hard work to do.

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What insights and lessons can you share as you’ve built Veggie Grill (challenges and risks of entrepreneurship and restauranteurship)?
One of the keys to any business, and which has played out for me at Veggie Grill, is to surround yourself with the right people.  That involves not only partnering with people who provide complementary skillsets, but also more importantly, who share your vision and values.  Luckily the stars aligned, and I was able to find some great partners to help launch Veggie Grill.

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What is your favorite post-work destination?
I’d have to say the beach.  Whether it is going for a sand run or playing volleyball, I’m addicted to outdoor work-outs, and the beach is about the best place around for that.

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As a kid, what did you want to be?
Hmmm.  I grew up totally into sports.  I was a three-sport captain in high school (and played college baseball and basketball), so probably the first thing I wanted to be was a pro baseball or basketball player.  But luckily my parents persuaded me to take my schoolwork seriously as well.  My dad was an engineer, so I figured that might be a good bet, so I focused on engineering schools and got into MIT.  But I discovered pretty quickly that engineering wasn’t my passion, and that I wanted to get on the business side of things.  That led to me leaving my database programming related job and going to business school, after which I co-founded an Internet technology business in the mid 90’s.  That was very exciting as we were transforming the way companies did business, so it was a great combination of my technology background and interest in business.  After I sold my holdings in that company, I started to look at other technology-related opportunities … but along the way I became very passionate about solving the country’s need for delicious, convenient, wholesome food and the opportunity to show people how delicious vegetarian food could be, and so here I am.  So I guess that is a long way of saying I never really knew exactly what I wanted to be, but by following my interests and passion, ended up where I am.

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Where do you personally find inspiration?
I generally find inspiration in the power of capitalism and opportunities presented to us here in the United States to make a difference through business.  While we have our share of problems and have gone through our ups and downs, companies specifically like Starbucks, Whole Foods and Chipotle inspire me in the way they have built great businesses while also using their platforms to move social consciousness forward around specific issues.  They are not perfect, but I think they aim to make the world a better place, and I hope Veggie Grill can follow in their footsteps.

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