The story of The Kitchen started when Kimbal’s black lab jumped into the lap of stranger – just like a scene out of one of Woody Allen’s romantic comedies. Unlike Woody’s stories which always focus on him – Kimbal’s story ended with a bistro that is all about others – a place brings family, friends and community together. The ending of Kimbal’s story is the beginning of another, which defines the life of an entrepreneur, an innovator and a chef.
In this Green Line Series, Kimbal Musk, restaurateur who has founded and advised several companies including Zip2 (acquired by Compaq), PayPal (acquired by Ebay), Everdream (acquired by Dell), Tesla Motors (Publicly listed: TSLA), SpaceX, OneRiot (acquired by Walmart) and SolarCity, gives us insight into the story behind opening up The Kitchen and his non-profit organization The Kitchen Community.
GGC: A techie and a chef is a rare combination of a successful entrepreneur. What made you venture into the culinary world after your success with several technology startups?
Kimbal Musk: After selling my successful software company, I took a look at my life and decided that I really wanted to work in the Food Industry. I decided to move to NYC, the greatest city in the world for food, and enrolled at the French Culinary Institute to learn how to cook. After graduation though, I had no expectation of opening a restaurant, the experience at the French Culinary Institute was more intense than I had anticipated.
My life changed in an instant the morning of 9/11. I lived below the security clearance zone and was able to volunteer for fire fighters for six weeks. That really changed my perspective on food and how food creates community. You can connect with people in ways you could never do without food. I was driving down through piles of smoldering metal in ATVs with coolers of sautéed salmon with dill sauce. It was an incredible experience.
GG: Let’s talk a little bit about your philanthropy work through The Kitchen Community and the Learning Gardens. What inspired you to create this non-profit and how do you see it benefiting future generations?
KM: Around four years ago, I had a serious accident and in-turn took a deep look at my life and what I could do for others with my experience and background in technology. I wanted to focus more philanthropy and embracing the philosophy of community through food. Hugo Matheson and I created the 501c3 non-profit arm of The Kitchen restaurants three years ago in 2011 to help expand the school garden efforts we had been doing in Boulder since 2004 in partnership with Growe Foundation.
GG: Can you tell me a little bit more about the Learning Gardens?
KM: Learning Gardens are extremely flexible and modular which allows the school to place them on any surface and create a shape that works for the space available. Some of the schools that have no outdoor space at all make the Learning Gardens work by putting them in the entrance of the school. The function has always been to be attractive and fun. We want kids to play with the Learning Gardens spontaneously. We now encourage schools to place the Learning Gardens directly on the playground so that the children will be able to experience them every single day.
GG: We are very excited to have you as our GoGreen Seattle 2014 closing keynote. Without revealing too much, what are a few key takeaways that you have in store for our attendees?
KM: I really believe in community as the new currency of our time. Without community we don’t have commerce. I believe every business creates a community around their supply chain and their customers. If you look at it from that perspective, what are the positive impacts businesses can have in their community beyond simply selling their product? How can businesses become a better member of their community?
GGC: You are a serial entrepreneur – The Kitchen will certainly not be the last of your ventures. How and where will your next story begin?
KM: Right now, I’m learning about the great companies and people that are out there and figuring out ways to make those systems better. Learning Gardens are really innovation on top of incredible work that’s been done by groups around the country including the group we have in Boulder. These people have done great things.
There are great organizations in Seattle that have forward-looking communities around the environment and learning outside and helping kids eat better. So we’re looking to Seattle as our next expansion point.