The J Marshall Events team was excited to meet young entrepreneur Robert Lee, a native New Yorker, recent New York University graduate, and founder of Rescuing Leftover Cuisine, Inc. As a child, Robert learned firsthand the impact that a non-profit organization can have on a person’s life and in a short interview, explained to us how his passion drove him to start the organization.
Can you introduce the organization? What does it do? Who are its main members?
Rescuing Leftover Cuisine, Inc. is a non-profit food rescue organization that provides solutions to prevent excess, wholesome food from being wasted. These solutions include food waste consulting services, excess food delivery, co-branding services, and tax credit assistance. Louisa Chen is the COO, and Paul Sun is the CFO at our organisation.
How did you come up with the idea for the organization?
The idea for RLC evolved out of a pre-existing organization called Two Birds One Stone, which is a NYU club that delivers leftover dining hall food to nearby homeless shelters. Louisa Chen and I were members of the club’s Executive Board for three years, during which we learned the best operational practices in delivering food, fostered relationships within the industry, and honed volunteer management skills. During the last year of our undergraduate career, we developed ideas on expanding the concept and creating incentives for partner restaurants to engage in the program. With these ideas, we entered a social entrepreneurship venture competition and were able to win seed funding to launch this non-profit.
When did your passion for food rescue and poverty begin?
My passion for food rescue started with my family. Food waste was never tolerated in my household, which partially stemmed from necessity. These values were ingrained fairly early in my life, but was only an internal self-guiding principal until I was involved in Two Birds One Stone, where I helped others rescue leftover food and bring it to where it needed to be.
What were the challenges/obstacles you faced when trying to set up the organization?
There were many challenges we faced as an organization during the initial launch. First, there were the uncertainties: although we had a working model at NYU, we had no real proof that our extension of the idea would work outside the NYU community. Thus, it took a lot of pitching and convincing before our first partner restaurant, Cantine Parisienne, came on board to work with us. After we started to pick up momentum and began increasing our impact, we also realized that our original goals were too ambitious to implement right away. Second, another challenge we faced, and still face, is funding. As with any non-profit, we have limited resources and still rely on many volunteers to continue to operate, so we truly encourage anyone who can spare just 30 minutes to come and help out.
How is the organization doing so far? What progress have you made?
RLC has grown at a tremendous pace. Since incorporating in July, we have partnered with over 15 different food providers and delivered nearly 10,000 pounds of food to the hungry. However, the greatest accomplishment we've had is in reducing the amount of food waste that was occurring. With our first partner, Cantine Parisienne, we were able to help them realize how much food they were throwing away. The management at this restaurant was then able to take action, and reduce the amount of leftover food. Bringing this excess food to local agencies such as homeless shelters is just one of the ways we eliminate food waste, and we prefer to find the root cause of the food waste to eliminate it before it happens.
Finally, where do you want to go with this organization?
I hope that RLC will continue to grow and partner up with more companies. There are restaurants that want to donate food but cannot because of minimum food weight requirements. We hope to provide other incentives for new restaurants to partner with us. Our plan is to canvas all of lower Manhattan by the end of 2014 and reduce instances of food waste by at least 50%. We hope to make use of new technology to identify instances of leftover food at a faster pace ensuring that no food is wasted.