Local Start-Up Turns Waste Into Food

David Yaffe-Bellany PhotoOlive pits, grape skin, almond meal.

Historically, those waste products — and the billions of pounds of other unappetizing refuse left behind during the food production process every year — have gone straight from the factory to the dump.

Now a New Haven-based start-up is turning that waste into nutritious, tasty, and environmentally sustainable food.

The start-up — called Renewal Mill, and co-founded by husband-and-wife team Sumit Kadakia and Claire Schlemme — has already hit the streets: Katalina’s on Whitney Avenue and Whole G Bakery in Branford sell scones made with the company’s signature “okara flour,” a specialty blend containing the pulp left behind when cooked soy beans are turned into milk.

In July, Renewal Mill, which has received support and funding from Yale’s Entrepreneurial Institute, won first prize at a business competition hosted by Yale and NYU.

Schlemme and Kadakia, both in their early 30s, discussed their vision for Renewal Mill at a makeshift office set up across a countertop in the Coffee Pedaler in East Rock. They were reluctant to speculate on plans for future products. At the moment, they said, they are “laser-focused” on marketing okara flour. The flour tastes sweeter and milkier than traditional flour but includes additional nutrients. Their ultimate aim is to convince a wholesale bread-making company to adopt their product.

According to Schlemme, baking an okara scone — which costs 25 cents more than white-flour scones at Katalina’s — is a simple matter of substituting one type of flour for another. It requires more labor, however, to mix the okara blend into products like baguettes, which are heavily reliant on the gluten structures that hold bread together.

Still, she said, “It’s just an optimal time to be doing this project. People care a lot about where their food is coming from.”

“These fibrous waste products are just very nutritious food products that are just waiting to be utilized,” she added.

Schlemme and Kadakia met in the late 2000s, when they both spent a summer working on a renewable-energy start-up in India. At the time, Schlemme was a student at Yale’s School of Forestry and Environmental Studies. A couple years after she graduated, Kadakia also enrolled at Yale. Given their history, it made sense, they said, to base the company in New Haven.

“It doesn’t have the entrepreneurial reputation of other cities like Silicon Valley or even New York or Boston,” Kadakia said. “It’s a hidden gem.”

In New Haven, Schlemme said, a young company can build its reputation quickly — and still benefit from the business resources in nearby hubs like New York or Boston.

“It’s big enough that you can really form valuable partnerships, but small enough that you can be a vital part of the community right away,” she said.

“The only thing that we’ve faced is that ‘food byproduct’ is better than the word ‘waste,’” she added, laughing.

Schlemme — who grew up in northern California, where she was a frequent visitor to the local redwood forests — always expected her business career to trace back to her roots as an environmentally conscious adolescent.

“When you make your social or environmental mission inextricably linked to a way that you’re making money, that’s exactly what you want to be doing,” she said. “You’re getting all the benefits at once.”

Kadakia, a West Virginia native who wore a backwards baseball cap over his thick black hair, took a much different route to the sustainable food business he now spearheads. He calls himself a “reformed cold-hearted capitalist” who became interested in environmental work after a stint at the McKinsey consulting company, where he worked on sustainability issues.

Kadakia and Schlemme said they hope Renewal Mill will come to epitomize “social entrepreneurship”: the pursuit of money-making ideas that also leave a positive legacy in the community.

“For us, it’s not really a separate class of entrepreneurship,” Kadakia said. “Companies that stand the test of time are ones that take all the stakeholders into account.”

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posted by: THREEFIFTHS on August 15, 2016  7:54am

It doesn’t have the entrepreneurial reputation of other cities like Silicon Valley or even New York or Boston,” Kadakia said. “It’s a hidden gem.”

In New Haven, Schlemme said, a young company can build its reputation quickly — and still benefit from the business resources in nearby hubs like New York or Boston.

“It’s big enough that you can really form valuable partnerships, but small enough that you can be a vital part of the community right away,” she said.


Like I said get ready for the the Invasion of the Yuccies who are the new hipsters.

posted by: Gretchen Pritchard on August 15, 2016  8:10am

Good luck with this, but surely the simpler and better answer for most food-production waste is COMPOSTING.  It’s hard to see what edible products (especially, edible by humans) could come out of such leftovers as olive pits and grape skins, without extreme transformation that is probably wasteful (of energy, etc.) in itself, or generates new waste from whatever other ingredients are brought in to make the “by-products” into something palatable.  But that doesn’t mean these things have to go to “the dump.” Refuse that is composted and returned to the earth is not, in fact, wasted.

It would be useful to learn how much refuse of this kind is already being composted in our area; I know this figure has been growing.

posted by: robn on August 15, 2016  10:33am

Can anybody guess what 3/5’s new class warfare pejorative is?

posted by: markcbm on August 15, 2016  11:13am

robn,

young urban creatives

http://mashable.com/2015/06/09/post-hipster-yuccie/#g64Rqo0poOqV

posted by: Bradley on August 15, 2016  1:22pm

3/5ths, I suspect we are close in age (I’m 62) and I have enjoyed sparring with you on the NHI. But the average New Havener is under 30. It’s time for the 20- and 30-somethings to see what they can do.

posted by: robn on August 15, 2016  3:21pm

MARCBM,

I was joking but bingo…you got it! And if you happen to be young and creative just stop it will you?

posted by: THREEFIFTHS on August 15, 2016  5:53pm

posted by: Bradley on August 15, 2016 2:22pm

3/5ths, I suspect we are close in age (I’m 62) and I have enjoyed sparring with you on the NHI. But the average New Havener is under 30. It’s time for the 20- and 30-somethings to see what they can do.

We are close in age.As far as It’s time for the 20- and 30-somethings to see what they can do.I always wonder what can they do.

posted by: AngryGrandmother203 on August 15, 2016  10:08pm

Turning garbage into food and selling it for a profit? I really hope New Haven schools don’t hear about this. I can imagine that somehow Garth Harries is thinking up some plan to buy this stuff to feed to our kids so he can say he’s saving money while making these Yalies rich. Imagine the headlines, “School Lunch is Now Really Garbage”.

posted by: Bill Saunders on August 16, 2016  12:51pm

There is a really great documentary out there called ‘The Yes Men’, where two pranksters (from my alma mater, RPI), hoax the corporatists.  It started by knocking off the WTO Webpage and booking engagements….

One such ‘prank’ was a fake new product at McDonald’s called ‘The Re-Burger’, which is made from recycled, pooped out, hamburgers…....

Afterall, there is still some nutritition in that crap!!  Can’t let that go to waste…..

posted by: theoriginalLJ on August 20, 2016  11:21am

Always nice to see the snide, cynical naysayer comments.

To them I say, “Those who do not create the future they want must endure the future they get.”—Draper L. Kaufman, Jr.