Office of the Vice President for Global Communications

Friday, March 30, 2012

A fusion of food and empowerment comes to life in the Beet Box

Less than a year ago in Africa, two new friends who were studying abroad wondered if they could fuse their passions in a way that would impact society.

Kay Feker is a foodie. Daniel Morse is into youth empowerment programs.

  The Beet Box's Alex Perlman and LSA student Colton Babladelis chop cilantro on Thursday night in preparation for opening day. (Photo courtesy of the Beet Box)

They grew their team. They fine-tuned their idea in the TechArb student business incubator. They won a $5,000 Dare to Dream grant along the way.

And tonight in Ann Arbor, their "strong food" kitchen called the Beet Box will open in the popular eatery courtyard Mark's Carts. The Beet Box food cart aims to serve dishes that are both nourishing and delicious. The students plan to eventually partner with other wellness-oriented businesses to make a positive impact on their customers and in the community.

"We're all incredibly excited," said Morse, a junior in the Stephen M. Ross School of Business.

On Thursday afternoon, Morse promised a crazy evening in the kitchen that night as the team prepped for what they expected to be their highest-volume days. They planned to chop 50 heads of cauliflower to roast in the morning and serve with yogurt-feta sauce. They had to shear 150 corn cobs for their "East meets West tacos" ceviche condiment. And they needed to clean and slice 15 pounds of poultry for their chili lime chicken bowls.

"It'll be all hands on deck," said Robert Fitzpatrick, a junior economics major who serves as a board member.

Today and Saturday, they're anticipating between five and 10 times the traffic they'll see on a typical spring or summer day. But they say they'll be ready, thanks in part to the guidance and encouragement they've received through the university's entrepreneurial community.

Since January, the Beet Box has been one of the 20-plus tenants in the TechArb business accelerator, which is sponsored by the College of Engineering's Center for Entrepreneurship, the Zell Lurie Institute for Entrepreneurial Studies and the Office of the Vice President for Research.

"TechArb is an incredible environment to be in," Morse said. "We're surrounded by people who are never satisfied, and who are always striving to learn more, and thinking on the edge."

The team's mentors are proud that the students have come this far.

"This team rocks," said Moses Lee, assistant director for student ventures and lecturer at the Center for Entrepreneurship. "In just a few short months, they raised over 10K, built buzz on campus and in the community, and will be launching this venture. They have a great team and concept and I believe they will have great success."

For Tim Faley, manager of the Zell Lurie Institute, the team shows what's possible in this campus's vibrant entrepreneurial ecosystem.

"The Beet Box team has been very enthusiastic and coachable during the past academic year. The business has been significantly transformed by going through the institute's startup grant process and is currently launching through the support of a self-hosted internship administered by Zell Lurie," Faley said.

"It's a classic example of how students that come with a passion to the U-M are able to transform their idea into a viable business."

Feker, the team's resident foodie and head chef, is a junior majoring in international studies and Spanish in LSA. She currently is studying abroad in Argentina with her Beet Box colleague junior Kendra Hall, who is enrolled in the Program in the Environment in LSA. Junior Alex Perlman, who is studying global enterprise and sustainable development in LSA, will be launching the cart this weekend with his Ann Arbor colleagues.