Food Meets Entrepreneurship at the Future Food All-Stars Challenge

Entrepreneurship isn’t just about having a great idea — it’s how you sell it, tell the story, and connect with your audience. That’s the big challenge at the heart of JWU’s Future Food All-Stars competition, now in its third year.

This year’s big ideas brought together food and sustainability in different ways, with all 3 teams capitalizing on opportunities in the marketplace. Each team presented their pitches in a swift ten minute segment and had 10 minutes to answer questions from the trio of judges:

  • Food Entrepreneur in Residence David Burke '23 Hon.
  • College of Business Dean Mary Meixell, Ph.D.
  • Professor Katrina M. Herold Ed.D., '99, '09 M.Ed.

The College of Food Innovation & Technology’s dean, Jason Evans, acted as the event’s emcee.

“The Future Food All-Stars competition is great prep for real life. These students learn competence from doing this.”

Island Girl Ginger Beer: John Owen and Spencer Mah (Providence)

The first team, Island Girl Ginger Beer, was inspired by what they saw as a gap in the domestic market for alcoholic ginger beers, most of which are imported. “There are few significant producers of alcoholic ginger beer in the United States and none south of New England,” explained co-founder Spencer Mah '23. “We are making our own market in the United States where alcohol is simply not produced on the scale that we plan on doing.”

Looking at a more geographically broad market, international brands, seltzers, and small-scale brews crowd the shelves. “To differentiate ourselves from these, we want to take two steps: Quality and locality,” noted co-founder John Owen '24, who handled recipe development. “We want to produce the highest quality ginger beer we can with a crisp bite and smooth finish.”

Spencer Mah (foreground) and John Owen (background) offer samples of their Island Girl ginger beer to the judges.
Spencer Mah (foreground) and John Owen (background) offer samples of their Island Girl ginger beer to the judges.


The duo outlined a vision for partnerships with local farmers to create limited-edition flavors utilizing harvest-peak Georgia peaches, Florida oranges, and so on. They don’t want to limit themselves to only ginger beer: “We have a lot of byproduct of ginger peels that can very easily be converted to bitters or flavored syrups,” noted Mah, who brought a sample for the judges. As one of the 12% of Americans with diabetes, Mah also created a special ginger beer with a low glycemic index (just 3% sugar by mass).

Double Harvest: Daniel Reid (Charlotte)

Growing up in Greensboro, North Carolina, Daniel Reid '25 saw a direct correlation between chronic diseases and lack of access to quality food: “[Living] in a single-parent household with so many siblings and cousins made access to highly nutritious foods a challenge,” he explained to the judges. “It wasn’t until 2020 that I began a journey to have a better relationship with my food. This journey led me to lose 100 pounds in a year and took me to the halls of JWU, where I could learn more about how we consume food.”

Reid’s concept, Double Harvest, is an all-purpose flour blend made from a combination of spent brewer’s grain and the pulp of oat milk and soy milk production. “We’ve created a product that is both sustainably sourced and nutrient-dense,” said Reid. “It is high in dietary fiber, protein, and essential amino acids, and it has a lower glycemic index than a traditional all-purpose flour blend. We believe it would be a perfect pantry staple for a health-conscious consumer.”

Daniel Reid (Double Harvest) presenting to the Future Food judges.
Daniel Reid (Double Harvest) presenting to the Future Food judges.


Reid outlined his plans to compete with indirect competitors like King Arthur Flour and Pillsbury by using sustainably-sourced and upcycled ingredients. “Research has shown that consumers are willing to pay a little bit more if the brand has a strong environmental and sustainable goal.”

Reid has set an initial retail price of $6 per pound. In addition, he plans to partner with local restaurants, cafes and food brands within North Carolina via a $3 per pound wholesale and bulk buying program. “We believe that we can stand out from our direct competitors like Renewal Mill and ReGrained by engaging with a local community within North Carolina,” he adds.

Stanger Brewing: Max Stanger and Kyle Soya (Providence)

Mead is an untapped market in the United States, but Max Stanger '25 and Kyle Soya '25 hope to change that with Stanger Brewing, their high-end meadery concept. Mead is created from fermented honey and offers a surprisingly versatile flavor profile: “Mead can either be closer in body and alcohol to the contents of beer or wine, depending on how long it’s been fermented,” Stanger noted. “Short-fermented mead is closer to beer, but is much sweeter. Long-fermented mead can be flavored and aged.”

Stanger’s interest in mead started when he took a brewing arts class his first year at JWU; Soya’s interest emerged from managing his own apiaries. Both love the idea of saving bees and creating a delicious beverage simultaneously. “According to our research, meaderies today source their honey from outside sources. Producing our honey in house would allow us to control the quality of our product,” noted Soya.

Max Stanger offers a taste of mead to judge David Burke '23 Hon.
Max Stanger offers a taste of mead to judge David Burke '23 Hon.


Stanger presented samples of the duo’s initial offerings, which included a winter-spiced mead for chilly days and a rosemary and blood-orange concoction. (As the judges sipped their mead samples, Dean Jason Evans quipped: “By the way, it’s only coincidental that two of the top three teams are basically serving alcohol to the judges.”)

Turning Market Research into a Business Vision

All three groups discussed their plans for projected growth.

Island Girl’s plan focused on a two-pronged approach of selling direct to consumers and stores while also building relationships with restaurants and bars to incorporate the line into menus and drinks.

Double Harvest’s Reid outlined a plan to expand beyond flour: “Years two and three will see us branch into the beverage market with our spent grain elixir as well as our snack products, including veggie crisps and high-fiber cookie bites.”

Stanger Brewery envisioned purchasing a four-acre property with a warehouse brewing setup and 24 hives, which are expected to produce an average of 10 pounds of honey per day. David Burke asked if they understood how high-maintenance honey extraction can be. “We are aware that it’s something that needs to happen daily,” Stanger replied. “Maintaining those hives is factored into our labor and delivery cost. We think we could have two or three employees doing all of that, including us.”

“Research has shown that consumers are willing to pay more if the brand has a strong environmental and sustainable goal.”

Q&A Halftime: Diane and Bob Ducoff

While the judges deliberated, Dean Evans spoke with Diane Ducoff and her husband, Bob. Not only have the Ducoffs served as major underwriters of the Future Food All-Stars competition, but Diane Duccoff’s father, David Friedman, was responsible for fundamentally transforming JWU when, in the 1970s, he foresaw a labor gap in the food service market. He went to JWU’s then-president, Morris Gaebe, with a unique proposal: “We have a need for new professionals. What I propose to do is this. I will give you a building for a culinary art school. I’ll fix that building up. I will equip it and give you everything that you need to keep your school up and running.”

Future Food All-Stars supporters Bob and Diane Ducoff spoke with Dean Jason Evans during halftime.
Bob and Diane Ducoff spoke about family legacy during the competition halftime.

The rest is history, and Friedman’s gift of the former Paramount Restaurant Supply building (currently home to the Food Innovation Design Lab (FIDL), graduate studies, accessibility services, the Culinary Arts Museum and more) has grown to encompass a thriving culinary campus.

Diane Ducoff spoke movingly about her father’s dedication to JWU: “This school was really such a source of pride for him. And I don’t think he ever envisioned that it would become what it is today. We’re not such world travelers, but we do get around, and any place we go, our son-in-law will check every kitchen in any restaurant to find out if there is a JWU graduate. It’s just a great family legacy — and a community legacy.”

And the Winner Is…

Before the judges revealed their choice for winner, Dean Evans shared his pride in the competitors, including those who didn’t make it to the final round but whose hard work was appreciated. He called challenges like the Future Food All-Stars “great prep for real life, where every day you might have an experience that makes you nervous or anxious. These students learned competence from doing this. We actually started with 9 teams this year and ended up with the three that we felt put in the biggest effort to get it done.”

Chef Burke revealed that Island Girl Ginger Beer had won first place, at which point Dean Evans unveiled the cardboard check with the following caveat: “This is not legal tender in any way! The real money will come later. Thanks to the teams for putting in so much hard work this semester.”

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Closeup of plastic cups filled with different styles of mead and the cover of the Double Harvest business plan.
Plastic cups filled with different styles of mead and the cover of the Double Harvest business plan.