That Start-up Life: An Interview with MISFIT Juicery
We sat down with Ann Yang and Phil Wong of Washington D.C.’s MISFIT Juicery to talk about passion, purpose, and process. Ann and her business partner Phil shared their aspiration for changing the food system and their practice of repurposing ugly, wasted, surplus produce into healthy, natural, locally sourced cold-pressed juices.
“While it’s not always as easy as it sounds, what you do everyday should be what you love and care about. When you put your heart, your passions, your beliefs into your work, your work will resonate,” Ann told us.
seesearch: So, what is a day in the life of a juicery company?
AY: It runs like this: deliveries (to their many distributors) in the morning, pick-ups in the afternoon, and juicing through the night. We spend time sourcing surplus fruits and vegetables through CSAs, Gleaning Networks (which organize volunteers to go into fields and harvest the large mass of produce that otherwise would go unharvested), and food aggregators. And juicing.
That being said, we are constantly trying to connect with our community, NGOs, non-profits, and mentors. We care really deeply about the D.C. community and want to engage as much as we can. There is a ton of intellectual capital here and people who care about these issues.
Being student-entrepreneurs managing a juicery can be a challenge, but it can also be an asset as college campuses have a wealth of people who are already interested and invested in food waste issues and entrepreneurship.
seesearch: Starting a company is a trying process — especially one imbued with social purpose. What have you learned throughout this process?
AY: There is a false dichotomy about personal life and professional life. Your professional life should be personal to you. I’ve found that having my best friend as a business partner has been extremely helpful. I feel like when you care about the people you work with, it will make you are the most successful.
PW: We really believe that our product is a proxy for who we are. We try to instill it with the same values and integrity that we try to bring to everything that we do.
AY: And lastly, creative insecurity, whether making a video or a product, contradicts itself. We should equate insecurity with creativity. We’ve learned to only worry about things that you can control and try to let go of things you cannot. And there is a lot that we all can’t control.
seesearch: It seems like food waste is getting more attention than just on college campus and is taking a place in the national conversation with Dan Barber’s WastED and NPR’s series on “ugly” produce. How do you see MISFIT Juicery fitting into this conversation?
PW: There is a lot of discussion around food waste in the US right now and we are excited to be part of it. One of our main goals is to increase awareness and educate our consumers. We hope that someday someone will pick up our bottle and immediately understand more about food waste and more specifically surplus produce.
AY: Many people think that surplus means the produce is overripe or at the end of its life cycle. When the problem is more often that they do not fit into our norms of what we would typically commercially sell. “Grade A” produce references the cosmetic qualities of the fruit or vegetables. Spinach with the ends cut off, while perfectly edible, is not Grade A because it won’t look “good” in salads. Similarly, eggplants can grow “noses” and cucumbers can be curly. While these qualities do not compromise the taste or quality of the product, they don’t fit into our aesthetic standards, and are therefore wasted.
seesearch: How did your passion for food waste grow?
AY: Every year, six billion pounds of produce goes unsold or unharvested in the US. As consumers, we don’t see these issues in the grocery store. We wanted to figure out how we could reclaim this food waste, which was when we transitioned our interests from general food waste, to more specifically, agricultural waste. We began thinking about how we could source this agricultural waste, then we learned about Gleaning Networks, which eventually led us to create MISFIT Juicery.
PW: The original idea behind MISFIT Juicery was to take wasted groceries that were beyond their expiration date and reclaim them by selling them from a food truck in and around the District, especially in neighborhoods or areas where people may not have access to fresh, healthy food. However, strict regulations became an obvious barrier. Juicing made more sense, and MISFIT Juicery was born.
seesearch: You talk regularly about food issues being a driving force behind your brand — from the name on out. How do you see this impacting your company’s future?
We don’t just want to be a juicery company.
We care about “produce prejudice,” the food waste issue, and reinventing and reclaiming how people look at aesthetics of produce in our country.
We feel strongly that this is a larger cultural issue. From bodies, to food, to architecture, we want to reinvent the way that we think about what it means to be traditionally beautiful.