This Year’s Future Food All-Stars Stay Focused on Sustainability

JWU’s Future Food All-Stars Challenge is an annual food entrepreneurship pitch competition that puts our students’ culinary expertise and entrepreneurship to the test. Now in its second year, the semester-long competition was hosted by the university’s Larry Friedman Center for Entrepreneurship, College of Food Innovation & Technology (CFIT), and JWU’s 2022 Food Entrepreneur in Residence, Lorena Garcia ’00, '14 Hon.

“I’m really optimistic that any time we have entrepreneurial competitions, the key theme of the concepts is typically sustainability and doing business differently from how we’ve done in the past.”

This year, all 3 finalist teams made sustainability a major theme of their pitches — dovetailing neatly with what CFIT Dean Jason Evans, Ph.D., summed up as the university’s overarching goal: “What we do is try to set these students up with tools to change the world. And the great thing about this generation is that they legitimately believe that they can, and more importantly, legitimately believe that they should.”

The team concepts were as follows:

Arbor Bar
Team: Sean Holmes, Seth Caldwell, Lexi Lloyd, Skylar Bailey
Concept: Day-to-night coffee café and high-end bar showcasing foraged and local ingredients as a way to educate diners about sourcing, seasonality, and the carbon footprint of a meal. Lexi: “We want to show people that there is so much in your backyard.”

Symbiotic Creations
Team: Gabrielle Bartlett, Jonathan Beres, Benjamin Weinstein
Concept: Probiotic gummy brand utilizing natural fruit flavors, low sugar and the use of Symbiotic culture of bacteria and yeast (SCOBY), a nutrient-dense fermentation culture (starter or “mother”) that is a used to make kombucha. Benefits: SCOBY is rich in fiber and good gut bacteria — it’s also been shown to reduce inflammation.

True North Brewery
Team: Lucas Nunez, Evelyn Pisch, Shelby Waite, Russell Morse
Concept: Each year, breweries discard roughly 35 million tons of spent grains that are created during the brewing process. True North will control 100% of their spent grains in house, using them in breads, snacks, and natural sodas using the wort. The beer flavors will be seasonal and will include a chocolate stout, a brown ale, and a hazy IPA.

All 3 teams spent the better part of the semester developing their business concepts with Garcia, Dean Evans, and Charlotte Master Instructor Fred Tiess, M.E., WCMC, CEC, FMP. During this time, they refined their core concepts, researched their competitor set, and finalized their pitch deck, budget proposal, and other details.

Each team was given ten minutes each to present their pitches, and 10 minutes to answer questions from the panel of judges: Lorena Garcia, Stanley Cheng '22 Hon. of Meyer Corporation, and Dean Mary Meixell of JWU’s College of Business.


Future Food All-Stars team Arbor Bar (Sean Holmes, Seth Caldwell, Lexi Lloyd, Skylar Bailey) during their presentation.

Mango Mileage & How to Reduce Your Foodprint

“How far does your mango travel?” The Arbor Bar team opened their pitch with this sobering question – at 4.4 CO2 per kilogram, your average mango has a 46% higher carbon footprint than an apple. (This cumulative number includes growing, harvesting, packaging/production, and transport.)

By focusing on a rich variety of local ingredients, the Arbor Bar team saw a way to lower their carbon footprint while highlighting what’s in season. “Arbor Bar is all about creating a relationship between you, your food, and the land around us,” noted Lexi. “For example, we use beach plums to make a beach plum jam, which we all foraged. And purslane, which is typically thought of as a weed grown in between sidewalks, can be used as a garnish or mixed in with other greens and juniper berries, which we also foraged and found locally. We made a burnt juniper berry honey. And all these ingredients are made very accessible with our on-staff forager.”

The judges quizzed them on their check average, their expected buildout costs, and any supply chain challenges. With on-site foragers, Sean expects to “inherently circumvent [challenges] because our supply chain is much smaller and is much more hands on.”


2022 JWU Food Entrepreneur in Residence Lorena Garcia '00, '14 Hon.

Candy That Boosts Your Gut Health

Symbiotic Creations brought out packaging examples and samples for the judges, explaining that their seasonal flavor will utilize so-called “ugly” produce — perfectly serviceable fruits and vegetables that are not “picture-perfect” enough to end up on a supermarket shelf — that will be frozen into juice before being processed. (And by using real fruit, not concentrate, they can keep the total sugar for one package of gummies to a mere 8 grams while still preserving real fruit taste.)

“As Johnson & Wales students, we’re taught to utilize every cut, every slice.”

The judges asked them to run through their projected sales forecast and individual package costs ($1.14 for each 3-pack of 24). When asked about the shelf stability of the product, Jonathan answered that their ongoing research and development (R&D) includes working out a naturally long shelf life: “[We’ve] incorporated citric acid as well as carrageenan, a seaweed derivative with a very high shelf life. Another really big thing is just making sure that the water content is down, as well as the sugar content. That really helps to preserve the product without having to include some things that a lot of gummy companies include that are not so healthy.”

The judges also asked if the team intended to use vacuum packs for the gummies. Since the process for making kombucha is aerobic, it requires oxygen to work, explained Ben. “We are looking to do an open-ended package that would actually promote airflow. So if we have like a moisture control packet or a gasket that’s used on products like kimchi and many other fermented foods, we’re hoping that it’s not going to compromise the texture.”

Full-Circle Grains

The True North team emphasized the uniqueness of their closed-loop system for maximizing the use of the spent grains leftover from their brewing process: “As Johnson & Wales students, we’re taught to utilize every cut, every slice. We seek to change the entire way of how breweries utilize their waste — not only by making amazing beers, but by using byproducts that most would consider trash to make amazing baked goods for consumers.”

From start to finish, the True North process for full-system sustainability would look like this: “Starting with our grains, after they’ve soaked, we take them, we dry them and we mill them into flour. We use this in our baked goods and products. Then we take a portion of our beer prior to the fermentation process and we boil it down to reduce it, creating a caramel-like sugar syrup. We use this in our recipes as well as to create an in-house soda, which is nonalcoholic. Then we’re left with our yeast and our hops. We use these to make edible dips and spreads; we also use the excess as compost material.”

While they would start out situated in a ghost kitchen, the team planned to build word-of-mouth by selling beer, soft drinks, breads and snacks at local bars, stores, and at farmer’s markets. “We will be able to build a strong customer base for our brand so that we can advance our venture within the next three to five years.” The judges asked them to break down their bottling costs and other details of their business plan. Then it was time for the judges to deliberate.


The True North Brewery team during their Future Food All-Stars presentation.

Q&A Halftime: Hotel CEO Rob Palleschi

As the judges were whisked into another room to make some hard decisions, Dean Evans brought up Rob Palleschi ’86, ’14 Hon., CEO of G6 Hospitality and a member of JWU’s board of trustees, to share some life advice from his successful career in hotels.

“Hard work, focus, discipline — really, that’s what differentiates everyone in this room from the other universities and the other students that are out there.”

Dean Evans asked him how he deals with a job that involves making tough decisions, and how JWU prepared him for that kind of stress. Palleschi didn’t hesitate: “Hard work, focus, discipline — you can get through any of the most difficult experiences. And really, that’s what differentiates everyone in this room from the other universities and the other students that are out there, really smart people. But it’s the hard work and the discipline that everyone learns here.”

Palleschi went on to share his own recipe for gaining experience and getting ahead in the industry: “I would encourage everyone to take the jobs that no one else wants because you can be a huge success. And when others were saying no, or shying away from it, lean in on it. You’re already seeing that with this talent that we saw this morning. I mean, leaning in on the difficult assignments and the hard work — that’s what will make you successful.”


G6 Hospitality CEO Rob Palleschi '86, '14 Hon. in conversation with CFIT Dean Jason Evans, Ph.D.

And the Winner Is…

Word came that the judges had reached a verdict, which meant that it was time to bring out the big check — literally, one of those big ceremonial checks that you see in TV ads. (Dean Evans quipped, “Some of our students, given your age, have probably never written a check before. So I feel like I should tell you: you can’t cash this.”) Chancellor Mim Runey joined him to announce the winners of the $10,000 grand prize: Team Symbiotic Creations.

The morning was perfectly summed up by something that Dean Evans told Rob Palleschi: “I’m really optimistic that any time we have entrepreneurial competitions … the key theme of their concepts is typically sustainability and doing business differently from how we’ve done in the past. I’m really proud of that. And I think this is our hope. Yes, this is the only hope you’re going to solve problems that the political process cannot — that the political process will not, because it’s a political process. I actually think that food organizations and food professionals have as much power to affect our future as anybody else.”

Related Reading

Sunflower Kids Win the First Future Food All-Stars Competition
Meet JWU Food Entrepreneur in Residence Tyler Florence


Symbiotic Creations packaging.

Future Food All-Stars competition judges Lorena Garcia '00, '14 Hon., Stanley Cheng '22 Hon., and Dean Mary Meixell.