In this episode of The Physical Product Movement Podcast, Eric Diamond, the co-founder and CEO at Central Kitchen, and David Miller, Director of Education & Community Engagement, talk about what it takes to succeed as a new food and beverage brand.
Central Kitchen is a food business accelerator and food innovation hub from Cleveland, which provides craft food entrepreneurs education, licensing, and facilities that ensure success from start-up through scale-up to create sustainable businesses.
Eric and David describe Central Kitchen’s benefits, training, and resources available to entrepreneurs who are looking to set up and develop their food businesses. They share some of the opportunities in plant-based foods and why the market will grow in the coming years.
As well as discussing their expertise in growing a craft food brand, Eric and David detail the importance of building and strengthening communities within a business.
Ken Ojuka: Welcome to the Physical Product Movement, a podcast by Fiddle, we share stories of the world’s most ambitious and exciting physical Product brands to help you capitalize on the monumental change in how, why and where consumers buy. I’m your host Kent Ojuka.
Taylor Howe: In today’s episode, we get to hear from Eric Diamond and David Miller from Central Kitchen, which boasts a shared kitchen and custom co-packing and production facilities, warehousing, retail space, office, and distribution partnerships, all based out of Cleveland, Ohio. Since its inception almost nine years ago, they’ve helped hundreds of food and beverage brands get started from just an idea, including multi-million dollar brand Cleveland Kraut.
Taylor Howe: They talk about what it takes to succeed as a new food and beverage, brand exciting trends in plant-based foods. Why they’ve chosen to not take on any outside funding. The growing popularity of ghost kitchens spurred by the COVID-19 pandemic, how to be true to yourself in business, and a new perspective on the great resignation and work-life balance. I think this conversation with Eric, David, and Ken is really awesome and I hope you enjoy it.
Ken Ojuka: All right, Eric, David, welcome to the podcast. Thank you for joining me. How are you doing?
Eric Diamond: I’m doing well.
David Miller: Thanks for having us, Ken.
Ken Ojuka: Hey, I’m glad we could connect and get on together. I’m really looking forward to hearing more about the Central Kitchen and the journey behind it.
Ken Ojuka: We’d like to kick off the podcast though, with a quick quote, um, you know, something that inspires you and I think both of you guys have a quote. So, let’s here them.
Eric Diamond: Yeah. So mine is a if opportunity doesn’t knock, then build the door and it kind of always reminds me of, you know, it gives me permission to dream and not waiting for opportunities to come our way. You know, we always talk about here at the Central Kitchen, the quickest way to get a job is to build one yourself. And that kind of speaks to that quote, David, would you share your quote?
Ken Ojuka: I like it.
Eric Diamond: Yeah, I like that.
David Miller: This is David, my quote is from Dr. King and it was something he said a while ago. It said: “only in the darkness can you see the stars.” And for me, what it really reminds me of, is that even in business, when things get a little convoluted or darker and personally in life, it just reminds me that, you know, that’s when I’m supposed to look up and see my star power like that, it’s designed to make you stronger and better.
Eric Diamond: You know, I was just talking to someone yesterday kind of about that same thing, like COVID is as horrible. And as it has been, it’s actually been a blessing in some ways. I mean, it’s a lot of individuals to kind of really focus on. What does life mean? What does business mean? Relationships strengthened because we were around each other so much. I think we took things for granted before that. Now we don’t like, Hey, going outside or going to a movie.
Ken Ojuka: Yeah. I mean, for me, it’s been, you know, like my kids’ sporting events and stuff, and when that was canceled for a while, it’s like, wow, I really do miss those. You know, so I need to make sure to get there as often as I can and be as present as I can with my kids and their activity.
Ken Ojuka: Yeah. Yeah. Yeah. Well, very cool. Very cool. I know you guys are ready to go and you know, you started us off by giving us some great motivational quotes. Let’s hear just a little bit more about your individual backgrounds. So David, you want to go first? Tell us just a little bit about yourself?
David Miller: Yeah, sure. I currently serve as the role as the director of education and community organization, or community outreach here at the Central Kitchen in Cleveland. My background though has been one of many different twists and turns. I grew up in Ashtabula, Ohio. That’s like 50 miles outside of Cleveland to the east. And I grew up in a city called Ashtabula and there, there weren’t really a lot of opportunities. So as I came of age, I went to university and I came back home and long story short, I really found a liking to dealing with youth. So most of my background is in social services or youth development or nonprofit work. So, Just really working with the youth. And I was a counselor for a while, and then I really hated being around the kids, why they were on their way to prison or on their way to juvenile. So I wanted to kind of do something in lieu of that. And I actually started my own organization a while back, and the purpose was to provide a place of refuge for kids after school and give them a place to eat and be around mentors.
David Miller: And It was doing well until COVID, but then, you know, the opportunities presented, you know, Eric and I have a mutual background, together working and changing communities, through entrepreneurship and community development. And, he extended the opportunity for me to come out here on this team out here and I’ve been out here for three years now and loving every moment of it.
Ken Ojuka: And out here is Cleveland?
Eric Diamond: Cleveland. Yes. Yes. Yep.
Ken Ojuka: Cool. Cool. All right. What about, Eric?
Eric Diamond: I grew up in Cleveland, lifelong Clevelander. We went to school here at St. Ed’s was our high school Eagles. We just won the state championship football. The Eagles. Um, and then, you know, I went to Baltimore. A local college. And then while I was there, I hadn’t started working in a bank in the USA actually back then it was Star Bank. It’s now US Bank and I didn’t see myself being in banking at all. I actually thought I was probably going to go onto grad school and get a degree in, master’s degree in English or fine arts and teach, but I ended up, you know, getting into banking and they offered me a job when I graduated and kind of spent the next 20 years in banking. Everything from private banking to commercial real estate banking, and I left that in around 2010. And there was an organization that was coming to Cleveland called ECDI and they did loans to entrepreneurs who couldn’t get bank funding.
Eric Diamond: And I, I loved their mission and came aboard to open up their Cleveland market and then took over. It was one of their on the senior team, who took over lending for the entire state of Ohio. Did that, and then left in 2015, which was around the time that Central Kitchen was really heating up. And it was heating up, but I wasn’t able to pay anything.
Eric Diamond: So I took a job. I started a consulting company with my wife and that’s actually where I met David. We were doing some economic development work in Ashtabula. And then, David and I kind of ran from there and then kind of left all of that in 2017 to focus fully on the Central Kitchen.
Ken Ojuka: Okay, awesome. So, why don’t we, you know, for the listeners. Tell them a little bit about what the Central Kitchen is? The services that you guys provide, the value you provide and maybe some of the entrepreneurs that you’re working with. And then I want to go back and talk a little bit about the founding of it, but why don’t you tell us what it is and what you guys do?
Eric Diamond: Right, right. So we have a central kitchen incubator, which is about 4,000 square feet of shared use kitchen. It’s open 24 hours a day, seven days a week. And typically what happens is we bring individuals into our education component, which David runs. We give them six weeks of training and what it means to be a food entrepreneur.
Eric Diamond: Then they can start producing in our kitchen. We have an app, they just basically go in and they pick the hours. They’re going to be there and what equipment they need. They only pay for what they use. And then they typically then go into Farmer’s Markets. And then from there we look to get them into retail. We do pitch days, four times a year. We’ll bring in retailers and individuals like Cisco and Gordon Foods and Local Grocery Stores, as well as Whole Foods and others. And they’ll pitch, and then hopefully the goal is to get them into retail. So we’ve probably had over 500 companies come through the incubator since we opened in 2013, we currently have about 80 members in there.
Eric Diamond: Some of the big notable ones are Cleveland Kitchen, which was formerly Cleveland Kraut. They started off in our incubator about six years ago. Now they’re doing about $25 million in sauerkraut sales, other in sauerkraut pickles and in salad dressing. So they’re probably the biggest ones to come out.
Eric Diamond: We’ve got others like Chill Pop. Clark Pope. He does a line of Bloody Mary Mixes and he does cocktails and pouches, which are pretty popular around here. That’s basically on that side. And then as we were growing this in 2013, 14, 15, we realized that after about two years, something would happen either these companies wanted to move out into their own space or they wanted it to go the coal manufacturing route where somebody made the product for them, or they went out of business.
Eric Diamond: And so my business partner, Gordon Primmer, and I, we kind of sat down and said, how could we help those individuals that are leaving because they want their own space, but are having a hard time getting funding or taking on a lot of debt to build out a space, or how can we help on that coal manufacturing side where the minimum orders are usually prohibitive to these growing entrepreneurs? So we set out to buy a building that we said we’re going to use the same shared use model, just on a bigger scale. And in 2018, we purchased a 137,000 square foot building in Midtown Cleveland. And we named it the Central Kitchen Food Hub. And here we have probably 20 some businesses that are utilizing it.
Eric Diamond: We’ve got individual kitchen pods where it becomes their own kitchen. We have flex space where people like Cleveland Kraut are in about 30,000 square feet of the building. We do warehousing of the cooler, freezer, and dry storage. And then we have our own co-packing facility. So where we do minimum 500 cases and under that’s kind of our sweet spot for co-packing.
Eric Diamond: And so we’ve been doing that since about 2020. We ended up buying the building in 18, but we leased it back to the previous owners. And then we took it over January 1st of 2020.
Ken Ojuka: Got it. Got it. And who, who was like a good candidate to join the Central Kitchen? Like what type of company are you looking for?
Eric Diamond: Yeah, so it’s interesting down at the hub, mainly that the individuals that are utilizing our incubator are individuals that have an idea. For a product that they’d like to sell under retail. So anything from hot sauces to vegan cheese spreads to salad dressings. And then we also have a, uh, that’s probably about 90% of the people at the incubator. And the other 10% are either caterers or the kind of the ghost kitchen model, which has popped up during the pandemic has been growing over there. And then if they become successful, they’re a great candidate to move into this space, have more of their own facility, but still have shared use access of cooler, freezers, and docks, and things like that.
Eric Diamond: Anybody with an idea to start? I mean, we always say we start off with the idea phase and we can help all the way through the scale up, which is kind of why the classes were created to help individuals think through their idea before they spend a lot of money trying to develop a product that the market doesn’t want.
Ken Ojuka: Yeah. And so we’ll make sure to come back and talk about the classes, and what people would learn from attending those classes. But I wanted to maybe take a minute and talk about this ghost kitchen model that’s cropped up during the pandemic and I think it actually relates to some of the quotes that we started with early on, where there are opportunities even in the dark times, or even when things are really hard. Do you mind just describing what a ghost kitchen is and why it’s an attractive model for certain types of businesses?
Eric Diamond: Yeah. I mean, I think what we were seeing there during the pandemic was a lot of, you know, the restaurants around here closed and you had all these kinds of wonderful chefs that people that have worked in the industry say, now, what am I going to do?
Eric Diamond: And they kind of developed a menu that could be sold on Uber Eats or GrubHub, and they didn’t need a brick and mortar to do it. So they would come into our kitchen, prepare the food offered for sale on the different delivery apps. And, you know, that’s how they kind of survived during the pandemic, others during the pandemic who had always wanted to be in food that I know I make really good fried chicken or seafood boils but I can’t afford a brick and mortar, so I’ve never did it. Now more people are utilizing delivery apps, let me try it. And so it was a way for them to say, basically, do. Market research with very little overhead. So they didn’t have the overhead of electricity in brick and mortar. They would come in and just rent the kitchen out by the hour. And they’ve been, you know, some of them have gone and been very successful.
Eric Diamond: Others of them as the world opened back up, went back into their own restaurants. But I think, you know, we’re seeing more and more people. Looking for, I mean, we, at the food hub, we’ve got six kitchen pods that we’ve built out and three of them are those kitchen concepts that are utilizing.
Ken Ojuka: Interesting. All right. So, I said that we would go back to the founding, right. And I noticed that when you guys were telling us a little bit about your background. I didn’t see food, or I didn’t hear food in the background at all, or running this type of business. So maybe tell us kind of how the opportunity opened up, what you guys were thinking at the time and how Central Kitchen came to life?
Eric Diamond: Sure! Squirter and I always joke we couldn’t spell food when we started this in 2013, I was running ECDI and I had to lease space at 2,800 Euclid, which is an office building. And that’s how I met Gordon, he owned the building and on the very first floor of that building, there was a commercial kitchen that had been utilized by Cleveland State, a local college here.
Eric Diamond: They utilized it as a commissary for catering events and underwent a huge renovation on their campus a few years back. And they ended up moving that kitchen to their campus. And Gordon came to me and said, Hey, look, what do you think I should do with this kitchen? You know, I’ve got this awesome kitchen that Cleveland state’s been utilizing for the last 10 years.
Eric Diamond: And it was his daughter actually, Carolyn had just moved back from LA and she was there and she said, you know, on the west coast, these commercial shared use kitchens are incredibly popular. Maybe you should do that, and I said, you know, that’s interesting because at ECDI, we’re funding a lot of food businesses and one of the challenges they’re having is, you know, where am I going to produce this food? So, Gordon and Carolyn spent about six months traveling around the country, looking at these shared use models. And he came back and he said, yeah, I’ve got this concept. Do you want to, do you want to partner with me on this?
Eric Diamond: And I’m actually at the time ECDI was an investor, became an investor in it. And I manage the investment forum and about two years in, we said, you know, we really got a tiger by the tail here. We’d done no marketing. We probably had 50 minutes, 30 to 40 members in the kitchen at that time. What we thought was there was going to be a 90% of the people walk into their front door.
Eric Diamond: Would’ve already been in business. Nearly 100% of them come in. Just had an idea, which is why. Yeah. Which is why in 2014, we started an incubator course, which we’ll talk about in a little bit, but in 2015 Gordon, I kind of sat down and we said, Hey, why don’t we buy everybody out? Our other partners, we had two other partners in it and just you and I kind of take this.
Eric Diamond: We both really kind of saw the vision of what it could be in the future. So we bought everybody out in 2015, as I said, it really wasn’t making any money. So I was kind of managing it. While doing consulting work with my wife, and then it really kind of started developing, growing, expanding, which led to us buying the Food Hub.
Eric Diamond: And so in 2017, I left Westport Capital, which was a consulting company that we had started. My wife still runs it full-time here and we’ve always said, we wished we would’ve had the vision that this is where we were going to end up, but honestly, we weren’t that smart. It was just, we followed where the market went and Cleveland’s a big foodie town and is very diverse.
Eric Diamond: And so there was just a tremendous amount of products coming out of this region and we’ve just kind of created an ecosystem around food.
Ken Ojuka: Yeah. So there’s a couple of things I wanted to double-click on that. How did you know, first of all, that you had something right? You mentioned that, okay. You knew you kind of had a tiger by the tail. What were some of the things that were happening for you to be able to know that. And then also you mentioned you wish you would’ve known where this would have ended up. I don’t know that anybody’s smart enough to know in most businesses that I’ve been a part of, or that I’ve talked to people who’ve been a part of them you do follow the market, but I’d love for you to give us a little bit more detail about that.
Eric Diamond: Yeah. So I think, when we started, we really knew we had something. It was when we were going to Farmer’s Markets in 90% of the stalls of the Farmer Markets were people that had started in the kitchen or were currently still in the kitchen.
Eric Diamond: And then when, or when people like Cleveland Kraut and Clark Pope, and Chill Pop, and Randy’s Pickles, and Mason’s Creamery. When we started seeing their products get into retail locations and not just local, but then regionally. And then in some cases, nationally, we look back and we talked to all of these individuals and they were like, Hey, look, we couldn’t have done this had it not been for you, whether it’d been the guidance and support and training, you gave us along the way, or simply just the space to do this. We never would have started. We just wouldn’t have had the opportunity. So we kept hearing those stories over and over again. And then when retailers started calling us saying, Hey, you know, can we have some more formalized relationship where we have a pipeline of people coming through your kitchen so that we can help get them into our stores instead of just, you know, 40 people randomly calling us, kind of having you guys bet the product.
Eric Diamond: And then Heinen’s, which is a really high-end grocery store in this market. Family owned it’s been around long, 50 years actually. It’s been around and they just a very specialty store, when they started saying like, If you don’t have your own facility, you have to produce at Central Kitchen to make your product.
Eric Diamond: We really knew we had something. And so that’s when we decided to double down and invest in the interesting name was we decided very early on. We weren’t going to take anybody’s money. We didn’t want other investors. We didn’t want philanthropy at that time because we didn’t want anybody to tell us what to do.
Eric Diamond: We want it to go as fast as possible with our vision. Part of our incubator at 2,800 is a nonprofit and probably two years ago, we started going out and raising grant funding for it. But until that point, we didn’t want to take anybody’s money until we especially government dollars or local philanthropy dollars until we really proven the model to ourselves. So it was all self-funded or with bank funding.
Ken Ojuka: Okay. Interesting. Let’s talk a little bit about some of those trends, right? Like you, you mentioned that the people were getting into grocery stores, you know, these locally produced products where we’re getting, some retail attention, what do you think the retailers were thinking and why were they bringing them in? Why are those attractive to a retailer like that grocery store you mentioned?
Eric Diamond: Right. So a few reasons. One is. Especially at that time, there was a real big push for buying local and our members that were making products. They were trying to buy as many local ingredients as possible.
Eric Diamond: So it was kind of a feel, good story for the grocery stores to be like, Hey, this product is made locally. It’s sourced locally. It’s a true local product. And you know, some of the retailers like Market District, which is part of Giant Eagle, you know, they have said there’s probably six or seven cities that they’ve noticed about the country that are what they call halo cities
Eric Diamond: meaning if there’s a product on the shelves, let’s say, plastic pickles, and right next to it is Randy’s pickles. And people know that Randy’s pickles is from the area they’re going to purchase that product over the last six. Every day of the week, right. Even though it’s more expensive in Cleveland, that Cleveland has really wanting to support and see other Clevelanders grow.
Eric Diamond: So they were kind of jumping on that trend. More even so more recently over the last few years, you’ve really seen kind of a push into plant-based products and grocery stores are really trying to figure out that model and give consumers what they’re looking for. And plant based has increased. And a lot of individuals in our kitchen had moved to be plant-based products. So it was a good pipeline for them with products to get into their retail locations.
Ken Ojuka: Got it. We definitely want to double click on the plant-based trend, massive trend we’re seeing, and it’s affecting a lot of different industries. But I did want to hear a little bit more from David about, you know, what attracted you to the central kitchen, and why you came on. board?
David Miller: Yeah. I was attracted by, you know, the energy I’m dealing with back home and my background, I’m dealing with young people who have a lot of energy, a lot of similar energy, right, create ideas. And so when you move yourself into this place and you start seeing. You know, these adults that are really behaving like kids because their creativity is just off the chart. And so I just really wanted to be around the energy. And then I also knew with my background that there was a potential that I could help develop, whether it was the people or the businesses or help, scale in any capacity.
David Miller: I just wanted to kind of plug myself in there and understanding my skillset of developing people. Cause we are working on products. But what’s often lost is when you’re dealing with entrepreneurs, the people are the most volatile product, right? So while we can understand the alkaline in our water and the pH balance and all the different things that our products need to have and keep them shelf stable, people change daily.
David Miller: And so you always have to deal with people. And I, I pride myself in, you know, trying to be patient and taking the positive approach to dealing with people. So that’s really what attracted me. Plus Eric and Gordon, they have, you know, these guys are different. They’re willing to do the things that a lot of other people aren’t willing to do the willing to take the risk.
David Miller: You know, he said something about vision, but they do have vision here. And that’s one of the things that we harp on. Once we started understanding who we were going to morph into, as we grew up, we started understanding like the different directions that maybe we can start leveraging from our position.
David Miller: These guys have vision, maybe at first it was just we’re chasing the market around. But, now since we’ve been around, it’s like, we’re trying to build out what we know that people need. And so that’s what has me excited about our future here at Central Kitchen.
Ken Ojuka: You know, that’s awesome.
Ken Ojuka: And it really is about people, and you always think of a business if you want to grow your business, you’ve got to grow the entrepreneur, right. The entrepreneur has got to grow and learn and develop themselves. So let’s talk a little bit about the classroom and some of the education that you guys provide for the businesses you work with.
David Miller: Absolutely. We run a cohort of classes in two separate platforms. One, we do in person it’s called the craft food classroom. And then we do one online. It’s also the craft room classroom online. And these are, Central Kitchen Educational Cohorts and what we’ve done. So they were running these cohorts before I came around.
David Miller: And what we’ve learned through this is that you’ve really brought these entrepreneurs into one room and you’ve created this atmosphere of just, you know, contagious energy, right. Where people were like, okay, I can do this whenever fear or doubt creeps in. And it’s like, they have a model or they have someone next to them or maybe someone who is
David Miller: maybe gone in the form of alumni that they can look at and be like, okay, these challenges have been conquered before. I don’t have to reinvent the wheel. I’m in the right place. I just have to dig in. And so that’s really what we wanted to provide them. And then when we were hit with the pandemic, we had already been pivoting somewhat to trying to take this online
David Miller: because again, back to the vision, we knew that this is something that other people needed to know about, but we weren’t really ready to do it online, but right before the pandemic, we had started working on it. And it just so happened by the grace of whatever you believe in that. After, during the pandemic, it was perfect for us because just that’s where people were going to online, Zoom.
David Miller: And so, I felt like we were a little ahead of the curve there. Now. It’s about just continuing to share the awareness of what we’re offering here in Cleveland, even globally. You know, we have people take the class online from Rhode Island, from San Diego, from Omaha. So we’re happy about that, but really, to be honest at the Central Kitchen here in Cleveland, like our in-person classes are really what’s super dynamic is because if you, you know, Ken, we’ve been doing this Zoom stuff for two years now, but there’s nothing like having people in the same room.
Ken Ojuka: Right, yeah. I always look at this as kind of like something that somebody told me about sales, you know, If you can’t meet in person, then you need to meet, you know, like I’m on the phone and if he can’t get on the phone and he send, you know, a letter or an email, right. And I kind of look at zoom is somewhere in that spectrum, you know, obviously being in person, in the same space as somebody else’s is probably the best way to connect. But it’s definitely better than not. Right,
Eric Diamond: Right, right.
David Miller: And I’m glad for the platform, especially when we were all shut in, I don’t know what we would’ve been able to do.
David Miller: But we, but with the classes, what we offer too, it’s the five week course online, you’re going to the first class, you’re going to be introduced to like life plans and setting goals. And while you’re probably thinking I have signed up for food class, why are we talking about my life plan? We’ve learned that it is very paramount and it is, it’s very important that one entrepreneur knows or has
David Miller: some kind of insight to what he or she wants to do with their life. What direction do you want your life to go? Because if you’re thinking about, and we hear this all the time and I say it all the time and we say it a lot, people come to start a restaurant business because they want to start more, spend more time with their family.
David Miller: That’s a little bit of a awkward way of looking at it because you’re going to be worse than ever, right? Like you’ve taken on your own freedoms if you will, but you’ve also put a lot more on yourself in terms of an entrepreneur and your time’s accounted for. So I mean, so we really focus on the first week about fleshing out
David Miller: some kind of semblance of what you want from your life. And then we can really start connecting the business to that energy. And then the next week is all about your product. So we really feel like if we can get you motivated and get you coached up and understand where you’re going. Now, it’s time to focus on this product that you’re talking about, and what’s in it?
David Miller: How do you source your ingredients? You know, what’s your process and understanding that’s week two and then week three, we talk about branding and marketing your product, which is, you know, that could be a whole another three weeks. And then the fourth week we talk about finances, understanding the finances behind your business, your product. And then after that we go into week five, we do distribution and retail.
David Miller: Like, how do you get those deals? Right? Those big box stores that Eric had mentioned before, or even the local little retail chains, but what is distribution for a small time entrepreneur? And, when is the right time to scale or try to start having those kinds of contract conversations with the distributors.
David Miller: So we, we try to give them the way I look at the craft food classroom, Ken. It’s like this, it’s just a real general brushing. There’s no real deep dives, but it’s a general understanding on everything. We think it, you need to be a successful food startup in the Cleveland area.
Ken Ojuka: Got it. And I’m sure, as you get into it, you tell stories and share experiences, about how companies have been able to get through those different phases.
Ken Ojuka: And I just really wanted to just double click on that point about just the community, and being there with other people that have been through this that are in it right now. Right. And like, I just think that’s an invaluable for an entrepreneur. Sometimes being an entrepreneur is just incredibly lonely and you feel like you’re the crazy one.
Ken Ojuka: You’re the one that has got some wrong with you, you know? And it’s nice to be around other entrepreneurs and you, and it gives you that sense of, Hey, wait a minute. I can do this, you know?.
David Miller: And you hit the nail right on the head. I couldn’t say it any better. And that’s essentially what we see a lot of times and really with our surveys and everything. One of the reasons, on top of that, I think we got some cool staff and I think they got a cool guy that leads the craft food classroom. But beyond that, It’s the fact that what you just said, it’s the culture, it’s the community. That’s what they kind of find themselves attracted to. And it should be noted that once the class is over, that doesn’t end for them.
David Miller: We’re really big on having a class ambassador and keeping that energy alive in different platforms, whether it’s on skype or Facebook, what can we do through the different social media channels to support one another? And then they take that same energy into the co-working space or to the incubator kitchen at 2,800 nucleus.
David Miller: And then they kind of share that same. I mean, you, you can go on and on from purchasing power, per pallet to however they choose to come together to make their challenges a bit easier. We’re seeing that in those communities. And then we just pay attention. A lot of times I say we just put them in the room and get out the way cause that’s when the magic happens.
Ken Ojuka: Right, right. Um, well, that’s, that’s great. So if somebody was interested in getting involved with the education component of this, or just get involved with the Cleveland Kitchen, what’s the best way to get ahold of you guys?
David Miller: Well, the best way is our website. Which is the central.kitchen. And when you go to the central.kitchen, you’ll see, it’s like a, what we say, a menu of options, right?
David Miller: You can go to the accelerator, you can check out the classrooms. And so from there, you’ll be able to kind of choose your own adventure. And then you, there’s also contact information on the website if you want to talk to either Eric or myself or any other of the staff here at the central kitchen. So again, that’s www.thecentral.com.
Ken Ojuka: Okay. Got it. And, do you need to be in the Cleveland area to participate? You know, obviously if you’re renting out a kitchen space or any type of space from you guys, you know, you’d want to be in that area, but what about the education component? Do you have people from different places throughout the world?
David Miller: Yes, we do. And that’s the beauty of it, Ken is that you could be in your bathroom and take this class, and you can retain the information you don’t have to be here. And that’s what we wanted to do. We wanted to make it accessible, and in doing so you can take it from wherever.
David Miller: If you’re interested in just kind of going straight to the classroom, it’s www dot classroom dot the central dot kitchen, www.classroom.thecentral.kitchen. And that will take you right to the page where you can check out our classes and we do offer one-off classes too. So if you don’t want to pay for the five week experience, you can purchase the classes or you can purchase some of our one-off classes individually or a la carte, if you will.
Ken Ojuka: Yeah. So we put a bookmark on the plant-based trends, you know, and so I wanted to make sure to come back to that, what are you guys seeing and what are some of the opportunities that you guys see in plant-based food right now?
Eric Diamond: We’re seeing massive opportunity with the plant-based just mainly because consumers are asking for it. And it’s either because of health reasons or sustainability reasons are really kind of the main two drivers of it, you know, in the next 80 years will be a 12 billion person population. And we just can’t continue to raise food and eat the way we do. It’s just not, it’s just not sustainable from a water standpoint, from a land standpoint.
Eric Diamond: And so I think from environmentally. People are moving towards a more plant-based diet, also kind of the gen Z generation. They really, 95% of them make their decisions based on the good for the environment when they’re making purchase choices. And then other people are looking at it from a health standpoint.
Eric Diamond: So, it’s really right now, the wild, wild west of plant-based. I was just at a conference in New York last week. And over the last two years, there’s been tremendous innovation in plant-based seafood and plant-based eggs and plant-based chicken and the technologies that are coming out around it, you know, right now, I think we’ve nailed the test, the taste of it, and maybe the texture of it, but we haven’t really nailed the healthy aspect of it.
Eric Diamond: And then if you look at like a Beyond Burger, Impossible Burger, it’s not any healthier for you. But it is plant-based, but it’s still pretty heavily processed. And so I think you’ll see over the next five years, you know, it’s predicted over the next 10 years, there’ll be a $160 billion market and plant-based would be, I think we’ll start seeing more food that is also
Eric Diamond: healthy and plant-based. And so we’ve really seen a lot of people coming into our incubator that are focusing on plant-based focusing on fermentation, which is very popular right now for the health aspect.
Ken Ojuka: So maybe let’s land the plane a little bit. What kind of products do you think, is it kind of the whole spectrum of products or, you know, what kind of products do you think, you know, there are opportunities to kind of take it and run with it at this time?
Eric Diamond: Right. So I think it’s a really kind of around proteins. If you look at kind of, when we’ve in the past, over like the last five years, when you talked about plant-based products, it’s mainly been soy, it’s mainly been wheat. You know, soy is not all that wonderful for you. So you’ve been seeing more innovations around pea proteins, algaes being used in plant-based products, science being used in plant-based products.
Eric Diamond: And so, right now, plant-based meat has increased 40% since 2019. Plant-based chicken has increased almost 50% since 2019. And actually COVID really. Helped spur plant-based products. People were spending more time eating at home and thinking about health and thinking about where their food comes from.
Eric Diamond: Grocery stores were out of chicken and meat and people started being scared. Like, what does this mean for the supply chain? And so they started trying these plant-based products and realizing they really like it. You know, 64% of the population now kind of refers to themselves as flexitarian where they’ll still eat meat, but they try a couple of days a week
Eric Diamond: at least they go meatless and utilize kind of plant-based counterparts. So I think you’ll continue to see products like that. I think you’ll start to see more products kind of in the seafood realm and in that egg realm, as well as, I mean, 15% of the milk consumed right now is plant-based when you’re buying at the retailers.
Eric Diamond: And when you look at kind of the full market of like colleges and hospitals and K through 12 institutions, 50% of the milk consumed is plant-based. So it’s really, you know, it’s catching.
Ken Ojuka: Yeah. I started actually paying attention to plant-based when, when my son was 13 years old, I noticed that he was like, just really enjoying some of these plant-based like burgers and, you know, just, just foods where he typically, you know, he just wants the best burger possible.
Ken Ojuka: Right. And he’s hungry. He’s a growing kid. And so he’s constantly challenged down, but you know, he’ll prefer one of these plant-based burgers instead, sometimes which. You know, that kind of made me think, okay. I think they’ve kind of nailed it on the taste and texture, and this is actually pretty close to, you know, a typical burger and in some ways better, you know.
Eric Diamond: You know, we eat a lot of vegan because we have our 12 year old has severe food allergies. And so it’s, it’s easier just to eat vegan and. You know, he’s never really kind of had some, uh, like, you know, the junk food, like the, you know, the Uncrustables, which all of his friends eat at lunch. He always jokes that a, like a 40 year old man, I take out my valid in my balsamic vinegar and they’re chilling down on across the balls and I’ve never had one of those.
Eric Diamond: But, you know, we always, he hardly can hardly ever get sick. I mean, he’s, he’s incredibly healthy. And for him, it’s just, it’s mainstream for him. Eating plant-based stuff is because it’s is determined by the fact that he can’t eat a lot of other things because of his allergies. So, for us having more plant-based options available for him, is awesome.
Eric Diamond: He he’s been eating these hotdogs from field roast, out of Chicago and he thinks they’re the best hot dogs he’s ever eaten. And for us, we look at it and it that’s a product that’s not heavily processed and is based on that kind of pea protein and I’m happy. So our family has kind of adopted it and I think the younger generations are adopting it faster just because again of sustainability.
Ken Ojuka: Yeah. So from a business standpoint, you know, you received space in the market for, you know, lots of these food entrepreneurs to come in and kind of fill the void. Is that what you were saying earlier?
Eric Diamond: Yeah, I think, well, for us, you know, we’ve been very interested in kind of the plant-based trends since 2017, 18, and we were fortunate enough in 2000 late 2019.
Eric Diamond: It was mid 2019. We got a grant from the fund for economic future local philanthropy around here that provided us a grant to do a feasibility study on what it would look like to have an all plant-based accelerator here in Cleveland. It came out in February of 2020, the report was published and it came very favorably.
Eric Diamond: And so we kind of convened this meeting of individuals from Nestle’s and Smucker’s and local philanthropy and the city and the county. For March of 2020, and then we know what happened that got put on hold in the last few months, you know, we’ve had an opportunity to kind of bring it back to life.
Eric Diamond: You know, the city of Cleveland and the county Cuyahoga County, where we’re located, just received, you know, combined a billion dollars from the Billback Better Program under the binding and administration. And they’re looking for projects to invest in. And so they contacted us and said, Hey, why don’t you dust off that business plan?
Eric Diamond: So right now we’re going through kind of, architectural render. And we hired a consultant to write the business plan for us. And we really think could probably mid 20, 22, we’ll be breaking ground on a new building, a 20,000 square foot building, which would be dedicated to bringing in companies from across the country into Cleveland, to work with scientists, food scientists, and chefs to create plant-based products and then we’d be able to produce their products for them in our manufacturing facility, in that building, which will be all plant-based nothing but plant-based products will ever have touched it. So we’re excited about that. You know, investing in these companies, again, it’s a wide open space.
Eric Diamond: It’s a growing space. And if we can make Cleveland kind of a destination for creation of plant-based products, we’re all for that.
Ken Ojuka: Yeah, exciting times. Well, that’s great. I appreciate you guys coming on. I wanted to switch gears just real quick to the quick fire round and then wrap things up.
Ken Ojuka: Since we have two people, once you guys just each answer with the first thing that comes to mind. So first question, what’s one tool or resource that you find invaluable?
Eric Diamond: For me, it’s HubSpot. We live in HubSpot here at the hub from tracking and we have so many different business lines, that we utilize from our media side to our co-packing side or incubator side to our accelerator side. We live in HubSpot and with the team kind of spread all over and we work virtually sometimes two days a week, having HubSpot be our go-to resources has been invaluable. We moved to that to probably about two years ago and it’s been great.
Ken Ojuka: What’s a one book, that has helped you the most in your career that you could recommend to the audience.
Eric Diamond: Oh, interesting. I read so many books. right now I’m reading an awesome book called, Shocked. It’s about a woman who spent her life and kind of corporate and decided she wanted to change and she became an oyster farmer.
Eric Diamond: And so I, I looked at that. It’s like, again, people recreating themselves in this time. It felt needed. I also read a lot of books about. Businesses. So, you know, right. I just finished a book called bitter brew about the Amies or Bush family. Again, can’t I guess I can’t point to one book, but just a lot of them.
Eric Diamond: And then there’s a great, actually I take that back. There’s a great book that just came out, just came out that I think people should read. It’s called Permission to Glow and it’s written by a gentleman by the name of Christopher Carter. He is a life coach, a master meditator goes into organizations like apple and helps them create meditation programs.
Eric Diamond: But he just wrote a very compelling book about allowing people to, you know, to grow into the person that they should be instead of kind of taking all the negative energy. And I really recommend that book. I finished that book a few weeks ago and it’s excellent.
Ken Ojuka: Permission to glow or to grow?
Eric Diamond: Glow, G L O W, glow.
Ken Ojuka: Okay, cool. What’s a one piece of advice that you’d give to your 21 year old self?
Eric Diamond: Don’t take yourself so seriously. And I think, especially when I was 21 coming up in banking, I had a very distinct way of how I was going to live my life. And, kind of always kind of been very, very determined about my next step, my next step, my next step.
Eric Diamond: And as I got older and I realized. You know what the corporate world really isn’t for me, I don’t make a great employee. I mean, I had a lot of money in banking and had a great successful career, but it was really unfulfilling. And I said, I want to spend the rest of my career building something. I knew I wanted to be an entrepreneur.
Eric Diamond: And so when this opportunity came up with Central Kitchen, it fit into everything that I wanted and it fit into growing something. It fit into helping the community of Cleveland, where I grew up in, in just a door. It also allowed me to be creative again, I, you know, in school, studying English and reading a lot and it was very creative, but it had put that aside to be in the corporate world.
Eric Diamond: So don’t take yourself so seriously, you know, life has many different paths that you can take. And it’s more important about being happy. You know, my, one of my boys is 20 and he’s finishing up his school at Ohio University and in film, but this is a kid that came to me was 16. I was like, I don’t know if I want to go to college dad.
Eric Diamond: I mean, I just don’t. I don’t know what I want to do. Maybe I just want to be an electrician like grandpa was, and I’m like, Hey, grandpa made a hell of a lot of money. So go be an electrician. If that’s what’s going to make you happy. And then he decided I’m going to try out college. And if I’m going to do it, I’m going to do something fun.
Eric Diamond: Like film. He’s always been really into films and he loves it. You know, he’s got an internship next year out at MGM and super proud of him. And my other boy, my oldest boy, he was always wanted to be an English professor. And so he is, you know, he graduated, he’s a bright kid, graduated Ohio State when he was 19 and went on to get his PhD at UCLA and he’s teaching now.
Eric Diamond: And so we’ve always encouraged our kids, like, do what makes you, you know, be true to yourself and do what makes you happy.
Ken Ojuka: Yeah, it’s interesting that you bring this up, Eric. You know, one of the things that, you know, all of us are watching is what’s commonly referred to as like the great resignation, the term that I like actually better is the great reconsideration. Right?
Eric Diamond: I love that.
Ken Ojuka: Where people are, you know, and I don’t know if COVID just kind of, you know, kind of made people more aware of this, but people are reconsidering the jobs that they had and people aren’t putting up with, you know, these terrible jobs that pay hardly anything, you know, they’re, they’re quitting in droves and saying, you know what, I’m going to do something else.
Ken Ojuka: You know, and you can look at the negative side of that, you know, it’s impossible to hire and it’s hard to find good people that will stick around. But I think there’s an opportunity there where people are really looking at, you know, is this fulfilling me? You know, is this what I want to do?
Eric Diamond: Yeah. Yeah. You know, people always talk about work-life balance and, you know, over the last 20 years I’ve always talked about work-life integration. Like work is something that you’re gonna do to make a living, but you should also do something that’s going to fulfill you and never give up on you brought it up today about, you know, being present for your family.
Eric Diamond: That’s something that’s always been very important to me. I didn’t grow up in a family that valued that. And so for me, when I started having children, I really wanted to be present and I never miss a game. You know, I’m all I’m at every track meet, every cross country meet. And I love the fact that I’ve built a life that allows me to do that and integrate my work into it.
Ken Ojuka: Yeah. I mean in general, I mean, do you see that as, you know, what’s the motivation here? You know, why are people doing this right now? Do you think it’s related to COVID or do you think it could be something else?
Eric Diamond: No, it’s definitely not related to COVID. I think lives were paused and they had time to think and they had time to reflect on, do I want to be spending my life working 50, 60 hours in a restaurant, surviving on tips and dealing with shitty customers and, or do I want to create my own menu and open up a ghost kitchen? A lot of people we’re seeing recently. Yeah. Typically this time of year, we don’t get a lot of new members into the food, into our incubator.
Eric Diamond: It usually starts at around spring again when the Farmer’s Markets are opening up, but we’ve been the busiest we’ve ever been. I mean, we had the best November we’ve ever had in the, in the eight year history of the incubator. And it’s because of people deciding, you know what? I don’t want to go back to work.
Eric Diamond: Where I was working. I want to do something that I’m passionate about and if I make less money, great, that’s fine with me. As long as I can pay my bills, I want to do something that’s going to be better for me. You know, we had a recent hire, a young woman, Olivia, who runs our incubator now she’s 23 years old, graduated from college.
Eric Diamond: And same thing. You know, she was doing a job that just was very unfulfilling and she reached out to us and said, I know I’ve been following you guys since I was 16 years old. And I buy a lot of the products that come out of there. Do you have a job for me? I’d love to, you know, I’d love to come in and I want to be part of a community.
Eric Diamond: And I just thought that was awesome. I mean, for her, she knew nothing about the job, but I said, Hey, I can teach her the job. I just can’t teach passion like that. And she’s, she’s been amazing. And, you know, she said the. Week of work. You know, she was wearing her Central Kitchen T-shirt at a Farmer’s Market.
Eric Diamond: And she said, all these people were coming up to me being like, oh my gosh, I started out of there. Oh my gosh. You know, my, my brother has a business that’s working out of there. And she said, I, I called my dad and was like, This is where I want to be. This is my community. I’ve always been passionate about local food and I get to, I get to do that.
Eric Diamond: And I feel very fortunate in that. And I think a lot of people are feeling that way now. I was like, I want, I want more than just the paycheck and the two weeks vacation. I want to actually live and do something meaningful.
Ken Ojuka: Yeah. Yeah. Yeah, definitely. Well, Eric, last question last quick fire. And this has been the longest quickfire round ever, but I think we’ve had some good conversation out of it.
Ken Ojuka: Who is one person in your field of work or maybe another entrepreneur that you, uh, you watch and study, that you would love to take to lunch?
Eric Diamond: One person in my word that I would like to take the lunch. This is going to be odd. Well, two people. One is Gordon Ramsey. Like I, I love the empire that he’s built.
Eric Diamond: I love the fact that he’s uniquely himself. You know, I love the career that has been able to build around food and right along that kind of, and I would have the ability to take this guy out because he’s here in Cleveland is Mike Simon, you know, Iron Chef and the career that he’s built. I, I went to high school with Mike and looking back, you know, you could always see this guy being a chef.
Eric Diamond: He was always just really passionate about food, like nobody had ever known before. So those are kind of two idols that I look to when I’m building the empire at Central Kitchen..
Ken Ojuka: Got it. All right. So, so yeah, let’s just wrap up. Why don’t you just tell us, a couple of things that you’re looking forward to, you know, what’s coming up with the Central Kitchen and any partying, words of advice that you have for other food entrepreneurs out there.
Eric Diamond: Yeah. I’m really interested in kind of spending 2022 developing this plant-based accelerator. I think it’s going to be fun. I think it’s going to be impactful. I think it’s going to leave a legacy and that’s kind of everything that I do. I point to that, you know, what’s my legacy look like. It’s really important to me to leave that legacy for my family.
Eric Diamond: And my advice to other entrepreneurs is it’s the only career you’re going to pick where you would go from a 40 hour, a week job to an 80 hour a week job and make half as much. Right. And, but it’s all about that passion and it’s all about creating of something. And it’s all about, you know, utilizing all of your skills to watch something grow.
Eric Diamond: I mean, that’s been the most rewarding thing for me, thinking back to just the 3000 square foot kitchen we were in back in 2008 to now having the 140,000 square feet of space we have in expanding. It’s been fun to watch that grow and be a part of it. And so just, just go for it, do it, use it, go, follow your heart and do what you know you want to do.
Ken Ojuka: All right. I think that’s a great place to end. Appreciate it, Eric, thank you.
Eric Diamond: Thank you very much!.
Ken Ojuka: Thank you. Appreciate it.
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