Judith Winfrey is the President and Co-Founder of PeachDish and the epitome of a Southern lady.
We were tickled ‘peach’ at Pretty Southern when Judith and her team reached out to collaborate. For those of y’all who’ve never heard of PeachDish, it’s a meal kit service based in Atlanta, sourcing local ingredients and shipping nationally.
This Southern startup that has scaled rapidly. About 99% of startups never make it past $1 million in revenue, and PeachDish has flown past that mark, spending more than $1.6 million to local farmers and vendors in 2017.
“We make it easy to cook better food, which in turn makes it easier to eat better and live better,” Judith explained. “We help bring small, organic farmers into the digital economy.”
Judith was kind enough to share her “origin” story of how PeachDish got started, and the incredible story of her pivot from farming her own land into meal kit mega star. Judith has always had an entrepreneurial spirit as evident in her words below.
Tell us your story and what led you to the path of launching PeachDish?
“I am a food person—passionate about good food, community, and farms who has learned to follow her heart. My passion for local food and farms developed through a syzygy of events.”
“During college, I was working at the Brick Store Pub where I met this dreamy guy with dreadlocks who was volunteering for an organization called Food Not Bombs. His name was Joe, and he introduced me to the ideas of direct action, gleaning and alternative economies. He convinced me to become a vegan, which I practiced for three years.”
“Joe started volunteering at this certified organic farm called Crystal Organic Farm. I started working a little with the farm too. I loved working outside; I loved the energy and community of the farmers market; and I loved meeting people who were making conscious, empowered decisions about their lives. Obviously, I love that guy, Joe, too, and later on, we married.”
“When I graduated college (which I did very late, but that’s a tale for another time), I took a job at Georgia Organics (GO), the state’s leading organic agriculture advocacy and outreach organization.”
“This was 2007, pretty early in the GO years, and while I loved being a part of the nascent movement in such a rooted way, I also struggled with the pace of the organization. I wanted to go fast because I knew there was a lot of work to do. The good food revolution was happening, and I felt motivated to help the farming and good food movement in Georgia catch up with the work I saw happening in the Northeast and California.”
“I’m a native Atlantan—I’ve always felt competitive on behalf of the South that way.”
“I wasn’t a year into my work with GO when a legendary old-timer organic farmer, Skip Glover, walked into our offices and said he’d heard about me and Joe, who was then working full time at Crystal Organic Farm and running The Local Farmstand at Star Provisions.”
“Skip and his wife Cookie wanted us to come take over their farm and steward their land for them. After some soul-searching, Joe and I started Love is Love Farm at the Glover Family Farm.”
“Around the same time, I became the co-leader of Slow Food Atlanta, the local chapter of an international organization fighting to make food good clean and fair. I served as a leader and then regional governor for Slow Food USA. The organization is still near and dear to my heart and I think everyone who cares about food should be a member.”
“Joe and I farmed together full-time for two years. In the fall of 2009, we experienced a devastating flood, at which point we agreed that it made sense for me to look for employment off-farm. The decision was based on many factors: the intensity of having our entire livelihood hinging on the whims of mother nature was definitely one of them. Farmers who make it work without off-farm income are few and far between.”
“I have nothing but respect and awe for all farmers and think that those who do it without the security blanket of another income are incredibly courageous.”
“At the time of the flood, I was working with my friends Kate Barney, Jonathan Tescher and Gina Hopkins to start an organization called Wholesome Wave Georgia (WWG) which is still going strong helping increase access to healthy, locally grown food.”
“We were at a meeting days after the flood when Gina asked me what I needed most. I remember saying ‘I need a job. I need income.’ Not too long after, I found myself working at Restaurant Eugene, a job that Gina was kind enough to give to me, and managing the East Atlanta Village Farmers Market, a position lined up by my friends Kate and Jonathan.”
“I also began working on a very part-time basis as coordinator for WWG, its first paid employee. I eventually handed over the reigns of EAV Farmers Market which was becoming Community Farmers Markets (CFM) and WWG while continuing to serve both organizations in a board capacity. I continued my employment with the Hopkins and worked my way up from manager at Restaurant Eugene to Chief Operating Officer (COO) for Resurgens Hospitality Group, the management company that oversaw operations for Eugene, Holeman & Finch Public House, H&F Bread Co., H&F Bottle Shop and H&F Burger.”
“It was a thrilling, eventful time. Both WWG and CFM were growing like crazy. CFM launched the Grant Park and Decatur Farmers Markets and I helped hire the first full-time Executive Directors for both organizations. I also helped open the first two H&F Burgers at the stadium (when the Braves were at the Ted) as well as the Bottle Shop at Peachtree Battle Shopping Center and helped move H&F Bread Co. from its tiny space on Peachtree Road to a much larger facility on Ellsworth Industrial.”
“I learned a ton and discovered that business can be an important form of direct action.”
“After more than four years as COO at Resurgens, I was ready for a change. I met this funny guy at a dinner party for Alice Waters, the fairy godmother of local food and sustainable agriculture. She was in town promoting the Edible Schoolyard Project, and for some reason, the gods blessed me and Joe with an invitation. We speculate that we were either the token farmers or that our activities supporting Slow Food through the years helped us rate a seat at the table, as Alice is a long time Slow Food board member.”
“This funny guy, Hadi Irvani, told me he was thinking of starting a meal kit company.”
“At the time–six years ago–I thought Hadi was crazy and told him so. We had a lovely dinner conversation nonetheless, and we stayed in touch. About a year later, I bumped into Hadi and he asked for my help. I was a little softer on the idea of a meal kit service this time.”
“I saw the incredible possibilities for farmers and eaters.”
“I had an inkling of the retail revolution that was coming to grocery, which we’re now all in the middle of, and I wanted to be sure that farmers had a seat at the table. Hadi and I formed a company out of the foundation he had already built, and we got started growing.”
“I’ve been leading PeachDish for almost four years now, and we’ve seen a tremendous amount of growth.”
“I’m really proud to share that we supported 270 farmers, local food vendors, and artists in 2017, spending $1.6M in our local economy. I continue to be driven and motivated by food, community and farms.”
“It’s delightful for me to look back and see how one dreadlocked guy with radical ideas changed the trajectory of my life.”
“This is a long answer, but one which I hope sheds some light on why PeachDish is such an awesome synthesis of so many things I love, and I hope it encourages people to live their values and follow their heart.”
PeachDish has experienced incredible growth since its launch in 2014. Would you share some of your secrets to success?
“PeachDish is a mission- and values-based business. We are all in it for more than ourselves. We are in it for the farmers. We are in it for the eaters. Being motivated and driven by something bigger than ourselves is important to authentic success. Of course, we’re playing in an emerging market, which also helps. Meal kits are becoming ever more popular. PeachDish is the meal kit solution for people who really care about food.”
99% of startups don’t make it to $1 million in revenue. What advice would you give to an aspiring entrepreneur?
“If you really want it, be prepared to surrender and give it everything you have.
- Be prepared to fight at least 10 times harder than you thought you were going to have to fight.
- Be prepared to sacrifice almost everything.
- Get really clear about what you’re not willing to sacrifice, and don’t compromise.
- Be prepared to give yourself a million pep talks.
- Find as many mentors and allies as you can.
- Know your values, mission, and vision, and use them as tools to help you lead and make decisions…
“Don’t be afraid to tell some people to go f*&k themselves when it’s needed.”
Editor’s note – I laughed out loud reading that one
The importance of product-market fit cannot be understated when it comes to having a startup succeed. How has PeachDish created its own niche in the booming category of meal kit delivery services?
“In some ways, this goes back to that competitive feeling I’ve always had on behalf of the South. When Hadi and I started PeachDish, there were already meal kit companies up and running internationally, and some were starting to pop-up in New York and California. I wanted to create a meal kit company for the South using Southern ingredients and Southern chefs. Our food and our hospitality are known nationwide. I wanted to create a meal kit business that captured the best the South has to offer and shared it with the rest of the country.”
“I’m also very proud to be in Whole Foods stores throughout the metro Atlanta area. I think that says a lot about the quality of our food and the integrity of our sourcing.”
What are some of the other partnerships that have helped contribute to your success?
“I am incredibly grateful for my friend Dominique Love, founder of Atlanta Food & Wine Festival for her mentorship, support, and partnership. Exact same can be said for Mary Moore and Cook’s Warehouse, Suzi Sheffield of Beautiful Briny Sea, and Dale DeSena of Taste of Atlanta. These women and their businesses mean a great deal to me and are a part of my success story.”
“The women in my WPO group and many of the members of Les Dames d’ Escoffier Atlanta have contributed to my success in ways large and small.”
“We publish a magazine, PeachDish Magazine, to help tell the stories of the farmers, chefs and food producers who make us who we are. This has allowed us partnerships with incredible writers and creatives such as Shaun Chavis, Wendell Brock, Osayi Endolyn, Wyatt Williams, Austin Ray, Kyle Tibbs Jones and Juwan Platt.”
“Obviously Whole Foods has been incredible in terms of helping us reach new audiences. We’re working on some powerful new partnerships with local, regional and national retail, e-comm and resort (yes resort) chains, but nothing I can reveal publicly just yet.”
What have been some of your favorite meals, concepts, or campaigns?
“Our food is good—really good! I cook PeachDish at home every week, and I always enjoy both the process and the meals. Our Culinary Director, Seth Freedman, is incredibly talented. He generates dozens of unique recipes every single week. He wrote a recipe for tomato pie, based on a dish he served at the James Beard House for Georgia Grown in 2015—completely craveable. Everyone in the office talks about it, and it comes back on the menu every year when tomato season rolls around.”
“I love it when we capture dishes we love from restaurants, like Zeb Stevenson’s Chicken & Dumplings which he had on the menu at Watershed, and Kevin Clark’s Comfy Chicken—an Atlanta favorite on the menu at Homegrown. (I think it was recently named the most Atlanta breakfast item by Atlanta Magazine.) We added vegan dishes this year. We always have two, and I’ve really enjoyed cooking Chef Zu’s incredibly creative and tasty vegan dishes. Also, Sandra Guiterrez knocks it out of the park regularly; her vegan pupusas with chorizo seitan were astoundingly delicious.”
Editor’s note – of course Judith is the epitome of Southern hospitality and let us sample a few of the meals. We tried the…
Hangar steak with mushrooms and egg noodles
Guest chef Asha Gomez’s chicken with fragrant rice and green beans. Shoutout to Asha on this one because the preparation for these green beans is a gamechanger!
This one was my personal favorite, Benton’s bacon ravioli with fresh ramps.
In 2017, PeachDish spent ~$1.6M with farmers and local vendors to source products. Talk to us about the importance of investing your community and eating local?
“Supporting our community, local economy, and environmental stewardship through organic agriculture are values at the very core of my being. One of the best ways to live your values is to put your energy, especially your money energy into supporting the things which are in alignment with your values. It is imperative that I support local farmers. I am putting my money where my mouth is literally in every sense.”
“I believe that we have a responsibility to make the world a better place for each other. I’m just trying to do my part.”
In addition to the meal kits, PeachDish has an incredible online marketplace. What are some of your favorite products in the Market?
- Everything Doux South
- The tasso from Pine Street Market. Good tasso is HARD to find!
- The Delta Blues Rice from Mississippi is pretty incredible.
- Banner Butter!
Your home is in Atlanta but your business is national. How is PeachDish helping to support the region? What do you see for the future of the South?
“We’ve created about 50 stable jobs so far. I’m pretty darn proud of that! We’ve supported all those farmers and makers, and we’re going to continue to do that. We’re going to continue to tell the story of the South and our foodways in a way that is forward-looking and inclusive. I think the South holds the key to what will happen in the rest of the country. Dubois said, ‘As the south goes, so goes the nation.’ That’s a mighty powerful charge. It’s up to us to make this country what we want it to be.”
What comes next? What are your goals for 2018?
“Continue to grow with stability. Continue to wow our existing customers. Continue to create a safe, happy place for people to grow and learn while they work, and continue more artist collaborations!”
For more information on PeachDish, check out their website to see this week’s menu, the market with local Southern goods, or meet some of their farmers. Also check ’em out on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram @peachdish.