Sam Polk: “Bring healthy food to more people”

I believe that we’ve already inspired social impact entrepreneurs to find new ways to bring healthy food to more people. As we continue to grow and prove that you can make made-from-scratch food delicious and affordable, other brands will follow and fuel a larger movement towards healthy fast food. As part of my series about “individuals […]

The Thrive Global Community welcomes voices from many spheres on our open platform. We publish pieces as written by outside contributors with a wide range of opinions, which don’t necessarily reflect our own. Community stories are not commissioned by our editorial team and must meet our guidelines prior to being published.

I believe that we’ve already inspired social impact entrepreneurs to find new ways to bring healthy food to more people. As we continue to grow and prove that you can make made-from-scratch food delicious and affordable, other brands will follow and fuel a larger movement towards healthy fast food.

As part of my series about “individuals and organizations making an important social impact”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Sam Polk, co-founder and CEO of Everytable, a revolutionary, mission-based fresh food company that seeks to bring healthy and affordable food to every table in every neighborhood across America. A former hedge fund trader, Sam left an enviable and successful career on Wall Street to follow his heart to fight food injustice and inequality in America. In 2013, he founded a nonprofit called FEAST (originally called Groceryships) to address food-related health problems in South Los Angeles by helping family food providers make healthy choices through nutrition education, cooking classes, free produce, and support groups. In 2015, Sam, together with friend and former private equity professional David Foster, joined forces to create Everytable, which offers made-from-scratch meals priced according to what is affordable in a specific neighborhood. To date, Everytable has sold more than 1 million fresh-prepared meals throughout communities and on college campuses in Southern California through a combination of storefronts, subscriptions and SmartFridges. With the backing of food-forward investors like Kimbal Musk, Maria Shriver, Gwyneth Paltrow, TOMS Social Enterprise Fund, Acumen, and the W.K. Kellogg Foundation, Everytable has the potential to work in every major metropolitan area across the county.

Sam has also authored a book, For the Love of Money, chronicling his journey from Wall Street to advocate for food justice and an equitable world. Additionally, his work and writing has been published in, The Huffington Post, The Los Angeles Times, and New York Times. Sam has appeared on national television and radio including CNN, Morning Joe, Oprah, and The Today Show, and NPR.

Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?

I was just 30 years old and a senior trader for one of the largest hedge funds on Wall Street. During the crash in ’08 and ’09, I started reading a lot about the Civil Rights Movement, and I decided I wanted to spend my life doing something more meaningful than just making money. So I quit my job and moved home to Los Angeles. Soon after, I watched an incredibly impactful Netflix documentary about hunger, food deserts and food insecurity in America. I was stunned at how rampant these problems were in a country as rich as ours. It was then that I opened my eyes to how prevalent those issues were right in my own city and found a new obsession to fight food injustice. Healthy food is a human right, and shouldn’t be a luxury product, which is what it has become.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company or organization?

Sure. In 2017 we were struggling — several of our stores weren’t working, and we were running out of money. As any entrepreneur knows, this is a terrible position to be in while raising money. I kept getting rejection after rejection. But one day, I gave a speech at an Acumen event, and a guy in the audience heard me, and sent me an email saying he wanted to invest 2 dollars million. With that lead investment, we built a 5.4 million dollars Series A round. On the day the investment was to close, not only had I never met this investor in person, I’d never even spoken to him on the phone. But his 2 million dollars hit the bank, and we’ve been off to the races ever since. I’ll always be grateful to him.

Can you describe how you or your organization is making a significant social impact?

During the last 50 years, fast food has become ubiquitous, because it’s quick, craveable and cheap. These multi-billion fast food companies have literally become how America feeds itself. The problem is, fast food is basically toxic, and it’s a big reason why most of America is either overweight or obese. So the question we set out to answer is, can you take the good things about fast food — how cheap, fast, and delicious it is — but do it with healthy food? What we’ve been able to do at Everytable is to take the first steps toward disrupting and transforming America’s food system by leveraging a cost-saving central kitchen where all our food is made fresh every morning and then distributed to our storefronts, our meal subscription members, and to our SmartFridges in offices and campuses throughout Los Angeles. One of the most significant social impacts we have seen is in the communities that need healthy food the most. For example, in neighborhoods like South Los Angeles where our meals are priced around 5.00 dollars, the average income is 13,000 dollars, life expectancy is 10 years lower than more affluent areas, and diseases like obesity and diabetes are staggeringly high. Our guests there have been quick to embrace our mission and menu, with parents able to provide their children with the nutritious food they need to grow and thrive. We’re also very proud of bringing our mission to local colleges and universities, where food insecurity rates are an astounding 40–50%. Students on these campuses now have access to healthy food at affordable prices so they don’t have to choose between food and rent and other living expenses.

Can you tell me a story about a particular individual who was impacted by your cause?

One of our store managers comes to mind, Rickey. He was first introduced to Everytable by his mother, who worked for FEAST, and now is one of our store managers. Before Rickey started working at Everytable, his mom would bring home healthy meals, so naturally he began eating them and changing his eating habits. Rickey discovered that his body started to reject the chili cheese fries, nachos and other fried foods he had previously consumed and enjoyed.

Once Rickey combined his new healthy eating with regular workouts, he began to see the weight disappear. Ultimately he lost more than 50 pounds! Rickey doesn’t exercise as much as he did in the beginning, but is still eating Everytable and has included more fruits and vegetables into his diet. Actually, he doesn’t call it a diet at all but a “lifestyle” change. Rickey has moved on from Everytable to pursue a career in music, but he continues to share his story and support our mission.

Are there three things the community/society/politicians can do help you address the root of the problem you are trying to solve?

First, it’s about awareness. If more people understand the breadth of food insecurity and economic pressures that prevent access to healthy and nutritious food, the more likely we are to work towards impactful solutions.

More immediately, policy makers can work to ensure that SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) recipients can use their benefits to purchase fresh-prepared food, like ours.

How do you define “Leadership”? Can you explain what you mean or give an example?

To quote Martin Luther King, Jr: “A genuine leader is not a searcher for consensus but a molder of consensus.” Every leader’s job is to take calculated risks, and often, riskier moves or ideas that are a departure from what people are used to, are met with resistance. Leadership is setting a vision, shaping the path to your destination, and convincing people to get on board.

Countless people told me it was impossible to sell healthy, convenient food for just 5.00 dollars. But we’ve been able to attract great talent to join Everytable because they believe in our mission and vision and embrace that what we have set out to do is a great challenge. And here we are, we’re doing it.

You are a person of enormous influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

I believe that we’ve already inspired social impact entrepreneurs to find new ways to bring healthy food to more people. As we continue to grow and prove that you can make made-from-scratch food delicious and affordable, other brands will follow and fuel a larger movement towards healthy fast food.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

“The measure of our compassion lies not in our service of those on the margins but only in our willingness to see ourselves in kinship with them.” — Father Greg Boyle

Over the years Father Greg, founder of Los Angeles-based social enterprise Homeboy Industries, has been a mentor and a tremendous inspiration for me in this social justice journey, and his heart and counsel have very much shaped the mission and values of Everytable.

Father Greg served as a catalyst for our business. For more than 30 years, Homeboy Industries has helped formerly gang-involved and previously incarcerated men and women redirect their lives to become contributing members of the community. If I had never met Father Greg and discovered his heart-led approach to business, Everytable would not exist today.

After I left Wall Street, I read Father Greg’s book, “Tattoos on the Heart,” and was deeply moved. Months later I conceived the idea for Feast/Groceryships and reached out to Father Greg to see what he thought of the concept. He loved it and invited me to start it at Homeboy Industries. Father Greg gave me the confidence to start on this mission and now Feast has spread all over Los Angeles, New York, and many other states across the country.

Working with Feast also helped me understand the needs of working moms. Many of them — who often had several children and multiple jobs — were hungry for a restaurant that would provide fresh, healthy food with the same convenience and affordable prices of fast food. That was where the idea for Everytable was born.

Is there a person in the world, or in the US whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them. 🙂

Michelle Obama. Her passion for solving childhood obesity and improving access to healthy, affordable food is very much aligned with ours. We would love to hear about the greatest insights and lessons she learned in launching the Let’s Move initiative, and perhaps find a way to work together towards our common goal.

How can our readers follow you on social media?

Your readers can follow us on Instagram and Twitter @foreverytable or Facebook at @Everytable.

This was very meaningful, thank you so much!

Share your comments below. Please read our commenting guidelines before posting. If you have a concern about a comment, report it here.

You might also like...


Social Impact Heroes: How Karen Voci and the Harvard Pilgrim Health Care Foundation helped to distribute more than 4.6 million pounds of affordable, healthy food to low-income families

by Yitzi Weiner

Women in Wellness With Kristin Groos Richmond & Kirsten Saenz Tobey of Revolution Foods

by Christina D. Warner, MBA
We use cookies on our site to give you the best experience possible. By continuing to browse the site, you agree to this use. For more information on how we use cookies, see our Privacy Policy.