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Chicago is quietly growing as a city for Food Startups. With big exits like RXBAR and newcomers like Kitchfix and Simple Mills, the city is pumping out some special food startups.
The First Annual Chicago Startup Food Bash explores what it takes to build a food startup by interviewing 3 prominent founders in the Chicago Food Startup scene:
Matt Matros, Co-Founder of LIMITLESS Coffee & Tea and PROTEIN BAR
David Rabie, Co-Founder & CEO of Tovala
Luke Saunders, Founder & CEO of Farmer's Fridge
Not only will you get to learn from these founders, but you'll also get the opportunity to taste some of Chicago's best food. We will be featuring food booths from Chicago's tastiest startups!
Come and enjoy a night of learning, connecting and eating some great food!
Who: Founders, Co-founders, Startup Enthusiasts and anyone who loves food!
What: Chicago's Startup Food Bash
Where: mHUB - 965 West Chicago
When: Wednesday, December 12th, 6-8:30 pm
As the driving force behind Tovala, a revolutionary in-home cooking solution that combines a smart oven and fresh meal delivery service to make home cooking completely effortless, David Rabie leads the company while ensuring every decision stands by the founding vision. Tovala’s mission is to make it easier for people to eat well. As co-founder and CEO, Rabie has taken the company from an idea in business school to an operating and quickly growing company - with Tovala ovens and meals now in thousands of homes across the U.S.
Rabie earned his MBA at the University of Chicago Booth School of Business. During his time there, he worked part-time for the venture capital firm, Foundation Capital, ran the entrepreneurship club on campus and spent his summer interning at Google. Prior to Booth, Rabie co-founded the mobile app Draftpedia - the first sports encyclopedia built exclusively for mobile.
While at Booth, Rabie launched Tovala. He was driven to combine his passion for healthy food and technology – along with solving a personal pain point of lack of time to prep and cook fresh meals at home. Rabie utilized Booth’s resources to test and launch the company. He entered and won the New Venture Challenge at the university which further spurred his drive. Around the same time, he met Bryan Wilcox, who was running his own product development firm – and had a perfectly complementary skill set to David. Wilcox saw the future of Tovala and opted to join Rabie as a co-founder.
Rabie’s first taste for entrepreneurship came before launching Tovala, when he was responsible for running a bi-coastal chain of frozen yogurt stores. He trained for that role by spending time working directly under the founder of the Veggie Grill – the largest chain of plant-based restaurants in the U.S. Beyond this training and experience, Rabie was driven to become an entrepreneur and make a positive impact from childhood as he was inspired by his family of entrepreneurs.
Rabie graduated with high honors from the University of California, Santa Barbara in 2009 with a B.A. in History. He's spent time living in China and studying in London and Madrid. He speaks four languages, is an avid NY Jets and Los Angeles Lakers fan and has been passionate about eating right since attending a health retreat at age 18. He lives in Lincoln Park, Chicago with his wife, Jessica.
Luke Saunders is the founder and CEO of Farmer’s Fridge, a rapidly growing network of 200+ automated smart Fridges stocked with chef-curated, restaurant-quality salads, sandwiches, bowls and snacks.
An entrepreneur at heart, Luke ran his first business, Bears’ Bikes, as an undergraduate at Washington University in St. Louis while majoring in International Studies.
Shortly after graduating, Luke headed to New York to run a small family business focused on manufacturing specialty industrial lubricants. He later relocated to Michigan while his wife attended law school and took a role as a traveling salesman.
Regularly challenged by finding fresh food on the road, Luke arrived at the concept for Farmer’s Fridge: good health starts with what we eat and eating well shouldn’t be hard. Drawing on his entrepreneurial experience, Luke set out to build a disruptive yet simple way to make fresh, healthy food as accessible as a candy bar.
Today, Farmer's Fridge operates in locations across Chicago and Milwaukee, including O’Hare International Airport, Chicago’s famed Willis Tower and the University of Chicago. The company has been featured in The Atlantic, Entrepreneur, Fast Company, Chicago Tribune, Crain’s, USA Today, NBC Nightly News, Wall Street Journal, Women’s Health and O! Magazine. In 2016, Luke was featured on the Forbes “30 Under 30” list. He lives in Chicago with his wife and son.
Matt Matros is one of Chicago’s leading food & beverage entrepreneurs. Matt is the founder of PROTEIN BAR® (www.theproteinbar.com), a wildly popular chain of healthy food fast-casual restaurants. Most recently, Matt has founded LIMITLESS™ Coffee & Tea (www.limitlesscoffee.com), a vertically-integrated coffee & tea company that is relentlessly pursuing the cleanest coffee & tea in the world. LIMITLESS’ coffee and tea products can be found in over 2,000 grocery stores nationwide and at popular restaurants such as Bar Siena, Barrio and Little Beet Table.
Matros created PROTEIN BAR, the go-to destination for individuals seeking quick and delicious menu options they need to live a healthy, active lifestyle after practicing a high-protein diet himself that resulted in a 60-lb weight loss. After spending three and a half years in brand management for Kraft Foods, Matt decided to venture out on his own, applying his own personal health achievements and food industry expertise to this original business concept. From experience, he knows that a high-protein and active lifestyle can dramatically affect a person’s health and weight, and he hopes to help people achieve their lifestyle goals with Protein Bar.
Protein Bar currently has 20 locations open – 13 in Chicagoland and 3 in Washington D.C. and 4 in Boulder/Denver, CO – with another 5 under construction or in the development set to open by the end of 2016.
Prior to Kraft Foods, Matt was a Boston-based consultant for East Coast health-club chain Town Sports International and was an Associate Sports Agent for Beverly Hills Sports Council, baseball’s leading sports agency. In 2008 while working at Kraft, Matt liquidated his entire life savings to launch Protein Bar.
Matt is actively involved in other Chicago-area food businesses, namely as a Board Advisor of FarmedHere, the Nation’s longest running indoor vertical farm, as well as 87P, a cold-pressed juice manufacturer. Matt is also a mentor to BrewBike, the leading student-run coffee business at Northwestern University.
From a philanthropic perspective, Matt speaks at numerous entrepreneurial events such as Northwestern University, DePaul University, and Technori. Matt is on the Associate Board of Common Threads, which aims to educate children of diversity, nutrition, and physical well-being through fundraising and sponsorship development. Matt has a passion for food, fitness and helping young aspiring entrepreneurs.
Matt was the inaugural recipient of the Chicagoland Chamber of Commerce’s James Tyree Emerging Business Leadership Award in 2012 and was named to Crain’s Chicago Business “40 Under 40” class of 2012. Protein Bar was also a recipient of the 2013 Chicago Innovation Award. In March 2014, Matt was named one of Chicago Magazine’s “Top 100 Most Powerful Chicagoans” (#99).
Matt completed his MBA the University of Michigan’s Ross School of Business in 2005 and holds a BA degree from the University of Southern California.