President, Berry Good Food Foundation
I have been passionate about nutrition and healthy lifestyle choices since childhood, becoming a vegetarian at age seven and exploring veganism by my mid-teens. I majored in psychology and biology at California State University San Marcos and planned to study medicine. After interning for several years at a local hospital I became determined to be part of the solution in a preventative way. In 2012 I paired up with Davin Waite, a creative chef with a love for cooking with veggies. We co-founded the restaurants Wrench & Rodent Seabasstropub and The Whet Noodle. Both restaurants focus on sourcing locally and minimizing waste through total utilization. Our next project will be a chain of restaurants called The Plot, which will feature an entirely plant-based menu and emphasize zero-waste operations. I recently earned my MBA at Pepperdine University, and became president of the . I have begun speaking publicly about the benefits building relationships in our food communities, most recently to students, cancer-survivors, and as a moderator at the Chef’s Roll anti-convention.
My passion is building community around food. I am the President of the Berry Good Food Foundation, an organization that works to educate our community about the benefits of sourcing food that is local and sustainable. I own and operate two restaurants and a catering company in Oceanside, California, with similar ideals. I am also vegan, and currently working to launch a chain of plant-based eateries called The Plot. I think that empowering people to make informed choices about how they eat is one of the most important things we can be doing for the health of our communities and our planet.
I worked in restaurants while I was in college. I was interested in health care and focused on medical school or a PhD program. When I finished my undergraduate degree I had the opportunity to co-found a restaurant with my partner, Davin. The restaurant let us build a platform and gave us a voice in the community. The more we grew the more I realized I wanted to have a role in changing the food system. The Berry Good Food Foundation gave me an opportunity to connect with others that share this passion, and to help contribute to the momentum of the sustainable food movement in San Diego.
There is a huge shift that is happening in the food industry. For so long the emphasis was efficiencies; how to produce more, faster. This happened at the expense of human, animal and environmental health. Now there is a movement towards healthy, more intentional food sourcing. Communities can become more resilient by reintegrating their food sources. San Diego County provides a great example of this evolution. The SD culinary scene has become much more vibrant and diverse, and also more relationship driven. San Diego has a huge farm community, and many chefs and restauranteurs are very locally-focused in their sourcing. We have been able to witness and be a part of a movement to elevate cuisine by facilitating relationships between producers and chefs.
The restaurant industry is ripe with challenges, and opportunities for innovation. Doing things the right way can be more expensive; it is always going to be cheaper to buy low quality produce from the same company that delivers your cleaning products. Forming relationships with small vendors can be a bit more time consumptive and costly, but it presents a huge opportunity for restaurateurs and chefs. In an industry with low margins and high competition it pays to stand out. One great way to do this is to elevate the quality of the product or service you provide. Local produce that has been grown in healthy soil tastes a thousand times better than the alternative. Our customers really notice the difference and are also excited to hear the story about our relationship with these local producers. Another area for innovation is total utilization. We all hear the stats about food waste; up to 40% of our food ends up in the landfill! At our restaurants we work to make sure every component of a plant or animal can be utilized; from beet stems and broccoli leaves to fish skin, ribs and bones. This not only reduces costly waste; it allows us to offer our guests something different and special that they may not have experienced.
My restaurants align with my personal values; the evolution of our operations has been guided by my efforts to create a sustainable business model. My work with the Berry Good Food Foundation has contributed to this momentum. One of the goals of BGFF is to facilitate relationships in the local food community. Through this foundation I have formed countless relationships that helped me to guide my businesses in a more locally focused and regenerative direction. I cannot overstate the impact that aligning with other food advocates has had on our business. We (my husband and I) have had the opportunity to create a platform for education about creative solutions in our food industry. We constantly learn from our community partners, and there is a huge amount of synergy stemming from this collaboration. My inspiration for this business is to continue to evolve and grow in a way that demonstrates that it is very possible to build successful businesses in an environmentally and socially responsible way.
I think the trend in many business models is in the direction of conscious capitalism. People want to know where their money is going and feel like there is a purpose behind their spending. Berry Good Food Foundation does a really great job of highlighting local, responsible businesses in our community. My current restaurants offer food that has been sourced based on these principles. My next restaurant is taking this all a step further, aiming to create operations that are waste-free. The common theme among these business models is to identify the ideals that we should strive for (local / organic / ethical sourcing, minimizing waste, etc.) and continuing to strive for these values while educating the public about our journey. Additionally, no one really wants to feel like they are being preached to or lectured, so we do this in a way that is fun, accessible and aligned with current trends.
One major challenge when trying to do things the right way is that there is always someone out there who thinks it can be done better. We can’t speak in extremes: as a business we may never be 100% sustainable, and as a Foundation we may never have ALL the answers. There have been times both as a business owner and as a foundation president that I have been criticized for not taking strong enough action or doing the best version of the right thing. This is incredibly difficult and can be very disheartening. There are always going to be trade-offs and compromises that must be reached when leading an organization, and there will always be critics. I am not always perfect, and I make mistakes, but I can sleep at night knowing that all of my decisions are guided by my desire to do my absolute best for everyone involved.
I think the best way to motivate others is by being positive and solution based! Our current food system presents so many challenges, and it is easy to feel like it can never be fixed. However, we each have the opportunity to create change and lead by example. I try to do this by expressing my passion and enthusiasm to everyone I work with. Letting others know that I believe we can find solutions together empowers and activates them, and as a team we can accomplish so much!
Positivity, passion and gratitude. Knowing that I have the opportunity to make things better on this planet gives me a huge boost. Saying ‘thank you’ is key. Instead of being terrified daily, which is easy to be as an entrepreneur, I remind myself that I am grateful for the opportunity to grow.
With the Berry Good Food Foundation I really want to remain engaged and present so that I can help guide the amazing evolution that is taking place within that organization. We are such a young group and have an incredibly passionate team. With an all-volunteer board it can be difficult to keep momentum up, but right now everyone is very engaged and committed. I think we all realize we have the opportunity to grow something really great, and to have a hugely positive impact on our community.
I am really excited to launch our first location of The Plot. It means a lot to me to be a woman CEO, and to be building a business that is absolutely aligned with my belief system.
Our first restaurant, Wrench & Rodent. No matter what I do in the future I will always know that it is possible to build something amazing from so little. That restaurant was bootstrapped in the truest sense, and my husband and I grew so much in the process of building it. I love everything it stands for; total utilization, community support, and an intense camaraderie between likeminded, passionate humans. I believe that project will continue to inspire me and many others, and I love it so much.
Every time I speak in public. I remember losing an entire grade point on a poli-sci presentation because I was visibly shaking. I become so terrified of speaking in front of people that it’s almost comical. Most of the time I still have to read straight from my notes, because my mind goes blank! But I keep making myself do it, because I have something that I want to say.
More of an idea. When I was 19 I had a job waitressing at a chain restaurant. There was nothing about that job that made me feel like I was making a difference. I remember telling myself that if I could make one person’s day better, my job was meaningful. I still try to live like that. Maybe we can’t make everything better all at once, but we can spread joy and be kind.
Michelle Lerach, the founder of the Berry Good Food Foundation. She is an absolute force and has created a massive amount of momentum through her work in the San Diego food community, and beyond. My husband, Davin Waite. He is so respectful in the way he lives, and as a chef. And he is so incredibly driven. My two favorite reads are Yuval Noah Harari and Deepak Chopra (these may seem like incredible opposites, but I think they create balance 😉
A Day in My Life:
What do you love most about Your City? I love Oceanside so much. I moved to Carlsbad from Seattle area 15 years ago but was immediately drawn to Oceanside. Back then it was pretty sketchy, but I fell in love; it felt alive with potential. The city has changed a lot, but much of the evolution has been guided by local business owners and feels really organic. This is especially true for South O’, which is why we have chosen to stay in this neighborhood to open a third concept this fall.
Favorite breakfast meal & restaurant? Steady State Coffee in Carlsbad. I hide there daily. The coffee is awesome, and they carry Hazel & Jade (vegan) pastries!
What drink do you need to get through the day and at the end (and how many)?
OAT MILK LATTES! At least two
What should everyone try at least once? Going vegan 😉
Where do you enjoy getting lost? Everywhere. I have a horrible sense of direction. But I enjoy the journey!