Food and Tourism Entrepreneurs in North Carolina
A Program of the Center for Sustainable Tourism and the Department of Recreation and Leisure Studies, East Carolina University
Entrepreneur Profile: Jane Howard Crutchfield and Matthew Daniels
Entrepreneur Organization: Triangle Raw Foods
Jane Howard Crutchfield and Matthew Daniels started Triangle Raw Foods together in early 2011. The Raw Food Diet is based on the belief that as food is cooked it looses essential energy and enzymes. Most Raw Foodists argue that eating food prepared at a temperature less than 105 degrees offers more nutrients and health benefits. Jane decided to try eating raw for about a week, inspiring Matthew to join her in the experiment. After a week of creating new dishes, the couple decided to continue eating raw. It soon became apparent that there were no restaurants in the area catering to raw foodies. They found that unless they wanted to order a plain salad, there were really no options for eating out. They also realized that they may not be the only ones in the area with the desire for a raw food venue, and with that in mind, “the wheels started turning, and we just had to do it.” The couple started Triangle Raw Foods as a small delivery service, with Matthew preparing the food at a local Commissary Kitchen, and Jane making deliveries. As their customer base began to grow, it became obvious that a new system was necessary. Matthew retrofitted an old Chevy Astro Van with shelves and a commercial refrigerator, and the Triangle Raw Food Truck was born. Eventually the business brought in enough money to have a food trailer custom built, which is what Jane and Matthew currently operate. The Triangle Raw Foods website describes the company as “two people who are passionate about healthy living- body, mind, and soul.” Jane says, “Our mission is just to be happy doing what we love and make other people happy while we are doing it.”
Jane and Matthew’s Entrepreneurial Traits
Like many entrepreneurs, Jane and Matthew have a long history of self-employment and independence. Jane also has a great deal of experience in customer service, which has helped her immensely in working closely with the general public on a daily basis. The combination of Jane’s front-of-the-house experience and Matthew’s back-of-the-house work in kitchens, results in the perfect match up for an entrepreneurial venture. Jane has also successfully developed a method of marketing the business without any technical marketing education or background. Exemplifying the principles of social entrepreneurship, Jane and Matthew also infuse their own personal ethics into the company. The couple “wouldn’t feed someone else something that we wouldn’t eat. And we are super picky about what we eat. [We are] very strong in our beliefs about that.”
Some of the challenges of starting Triangle Raw Foods were technical issues, such as food truck laws, limited overhead funds, and health department certification. Before starting the company neither Jane nor Matthew had any experience with Food Truck Laws. The next issue facing TRF was the general confusion surrounding raw food. Jane described an example of this confusion with health department officials. “When we first started, the health department was so confused about raw food. They said, ‘I don’t understand what you are saying. What do you mean you’re not cooking it? What do you mean, there’s no dairy?’ And in order for them to even let us proceed with what we are doing, I had to say it’s basically just fancy salads.” Eventually the overall safety factor of the food spoke for itself, not only is it solely produce and nuts, it is also organic produce. Jane jokes about some of the initial reactions to the company, saying that many people simply didn’t believe there was a demand for food of this fashion. She was once told that “here in the South if it isn’t fried, no one wants it.” Jane and Matthew also set high personal expectations for customer satisfaction and see it as a challenge to make sure that each and every customer is satisfied with their experience. Some customers criticize the price of the food, but Jane and Matthew respond by explaining how the labor-intensive preparation process combined with the high price of organic produce sets the price of the food. Despite the challenges they deal with they continue to enjoy the job; Jane noted, “If anything, this business is what taught me to accept things that are out of my control.”
What Inspires Jane and Matthew
Jane believes in doing what she loves, and she loves providing people in the Triangle with healthy raw food. She is inspired by the interactions that she has with farmers who grow the food, other food entrepreneurs in the region, and her customer base. Jane loves how these interactions bring the community together through healthy food. Jane has also been encouraged by the many opportunities that seem to have presented themselves along the way. From the beginning, Jane and Matthew had no doubts about the business because “everything kept falling in place.” One of the biggest motivations for Triangle Raw Foods was to meet the need for a healthy raw food outlet. “It wasn’t about what kind of business can we make, it was more [about] how can we make this available to people. And that created the business.”
Positive Aspects of the Entrepreneurial Climate:
At first Jane and Matthew found that the majority of the community had little to no knowledge of the raw food movement. However,the progressive climate in the Triangle area, including the other entrepreneurs that believe in doing something with a social and environmental message, has assisted in fostering the creation of Triangle Raw Foods. Jane knew that there was a great food truck scene blossoming in Durham, providing a great venue for the company. TRF has also been quite successful in the Raleigh market, where TRF participates in many events. Jane believes that the unique nature of the business has contributed to their success.
Initially, TRF found customers through word of mouth, as news about their deliveries spread from one person to the next and their network began to grow. Eventually customers began to seek out Triangle Raw Foods on their own. Clients reached out to them through Facebook, and even asked them for a delivery spot in Raleigh. Again, this reflects the unique nature of the business, and the fact that it is the only one of its kind in the area.
The very nature of Triangle Raw Foods depends on collaborations with food producers and consumers. Making connections between local organic farmers and the community at large is a major goal for TRF. Since there are no other raw food businesses in the Triangle area, there is limited opportunity to collaborate with similar operations. Instead, Jane and Matthew turn to their customers to answer any questions that pop up along the way. Jane “would rather ask [her] customers anyway, because they are the ones that it’s impacting.”
Sustainability Factors of TRF
Jane and Matthew place a great deal of value on community and environment. They choose organic produce because it contains fewer chemicals and more nutrients. Jane elaborates on the differences between raw foods and prepackaged foods, citing an example of “frozen vegetables that were grown in soil that’s been depleted of nutrients. The produce isn’t going to have the nutrients, because the soil doesn’t have it. So, the whole principle of eating raw food is that you are getting more out of the food that you are eating.” All of the food is packaged in compostable containers and delivery bags because Matthew believes in being as environmentally friendly as possible. Nothing is cooked or heated above 105 degrees in temperature, conserving energy and preserving enzymes that support a healthy body and digestive system.
Focuses for the Future
One way that Jane and Matthew hope to expand the business and continue to connect customers with each other is through tasting parties. A common mindset shared by many customers of TRF makes for intellectually stimulating gatherings, where great conversation is fostered by buffets of delicious raw food and over wine. Since this interview was conducted, Jane and Matthew have gotten their home kitchen certified, allowing for the production of more raw treats, which they hope will help sustain their business with opportunities to sell wholesale to other retailers. Some items to look out for in the future are Ginger Snap Hemp Protein Bars, Goji-Cacao Energy Bars, Raw Chocolate Brownies, and their popular Sesame-Ginger Dressing.