They’d toiled a year and a half on the concept. Their startup company would help large-scale food venues—corporate campuses, sports stadiums, food halls—make the transition from disposable, single-use food containers to reusable ones. Like so many great companies these days, they’d create a business out of saving the planet. They landed contracts with JP Morgan’s headquarters in Manhattan, a major sports arena, an airport.
Only problem was they launched in January, 2020.
“It was going to be a huge year for us,” says San Diego native Ashleigh Ferran of her and her partner’s startup, Keko Box (which is still going, just kind of on hold like everything else).
With events canceled, she returned home—now splitting time between San Diego and LA. She started to think of the pivot. Her past experience was as the partner of a small PR agency, with a lot of clients in the sustainability and food and beverage space. They’d throw experimental popup dinners on sheep farms, bring together artists and designers and musicians and create a whole experience. She’d launched brands, was obsessed with food and restaurants and makers.
Here’s where San Diego restaurants come in. They’re getting crushed. In order to survive they’ve got to create a takeout and to-go program. Ferran is very clear and careful about her next point: “I would never say, ‘Don’t get takeout.’ One hundred percent get takeout. Restaurants need the business. But the unfortunate side effect is that if you do one of these great takeout experiences, you might end up with 13 plastic containers.”
As consumers, we know this because we take out our own trash.
“The pandemic has definitely brought to light for so many people just the incredible amount of packaging used for takeout,” she says. “We still ate a lot of takeout food before the pandemic, but usually we’d dispose of the packaging in a sidewalk trash can or the office trash can. Now we’re putting it all in our own trash can and we realize how much trash we’re responsible for.”
Enter In Good Company (IGC), her new startup launched this month. The idea is to partner with restaurants that care about sustainability. They come up with an off-menu dish that freezes well and package it in IGC’s reusable, stainless-steel containers. Instead of Lean Cuisine or a frozen pizza, people can have frozen specialties from local restaurants ready to heat. Each meal serves two or three people and comes with recipes for side dishes. When finished with their meal, customers can either exchange the container next time they order or, if they never order again, IGC will come to their home and pick up the container on specific days over the month.
I was turned on to the idea by Trey Foshee (George’s at the Cove, Galaxy Taco). Galaxy participated in the first month with a braised pork and beans. The big question for me was: Did it help the restaurant? He says it did.
Ferran had a mix of restaurants, from high-end Juniper and Ivy (pork belly shepherd’s pie), sustainable butcher shop Ranch 45 (Brand beef lasagna), sustainable meal-service company LuckyBolt (winter pot pie), and Viewpoint Brewing (braised beef stew).
Customers can order one or all five. For her launch in December, she sold out in four days. Next month she’s looking for women-owned businesses and a vegan restaurant. The most important thing is working with restaurants that are sustainable, not just high-end.
“We want to work with restaurants and chefs across the spectrum,” she explains. “What’s really important is that we align around the ethos and mission. We’re committed to working with people who are committed to local sourcing using high-quality ingredients. It’s not just going to be an UberEats where it’s an endless scroll of restaurants. We are kind of curating. We brought in LuckyBolt, who does local meal delivery. They’re small, but they are so committed to sustainable and local food and the quality of their ingredients is so high that I wanted people to know about them.”