When I first arrived at the Brooklyn headquarters of Ripe, a healthy food delivery startup, two smiling models greeted me at the door.
When I entered the kitchen, another model offered me water with fresh-squeezed lemon. While there, another beautiful person – likely a fourth model – came into the kitchen to make himself a locally sourced, organic lunch.
This is the world of Ripe, a three-year-old startup that delivers healthy meals to offices. Founded by four twenty-somethings who met in the modeling industry, the company is gaining its footing in New York City and has more than 40 regular clients ranging from Vice to Oscar to Facebook.
The company says it’s growing its client list organically – and with few roadblocks.
“I don’t think we’ve ever gotten a no, because people are starting to care more and more about their employees’ well-being,” CEO Ben Huffman, who “retired” from modeling when he founded Ripe, told Business Insider. “They’re starting to find out that when people do eat healthier, instead of like a pizza or something, they’ll actually work harder.”
Ripe prefers to serve its meals family-style and encourages offices to gather their employees in one place to eat, share ideas, and bond – although businesses can choose individualized boxes as well. Ripe costs about $8 to $15 per person for breakfast, $12 to $18 per person for lunch, and $15 to $35 per person for dinner. If you compare it to the cost of lunch to a similar healthy meal you can buy on your own – like a Sweetgreen salad – it costs about the same.
So how does Ripe keep its costs down, especially when healthy food can get so expensive?
“We offer a limited selection per day, so we’re able to make the same items in bulk, which helps us order the produce in bulk, which brings the prices pretty low,” Huffman said. “We’re not the lowest price, but I think our clients are more concerned with the benefits. You can pay a little bit more for better food and save money in health care costs in the long run.”
‘The models are coming!’
Ripe began when Huffman and Ripe COO CJ Richards – who is still a working model – bonded over food and fitness. Richards is a nutritionist and Huffman used to be a personal trainer, so a healthy food service was a natural fit. The company is bootstrapped – although Ripe soon plans to raise a $2.2 million convertible debt round – and every spare cent from the founders has gone into the company.
Ripe has also been lucky in finding the right people to join the company, the founders say, because working in modeling helped them tap into a pool of nutrition-focused talent.
Huffman, Richards, and their other two cofounders – Vice President Maria Bradley, who is no longer an active model, and Creative Director Anmari Botha, who still works in the industry – have recruited their friends and colleagues to act as brand ambassadors and deliver the meals.
Richards is the first to admit there’s a stereotype surrounding the modeling industry and models themselves (of his cofounders and employees, he says “We kind of picked the ones with the brains who were here for bigger reasons”). But both he and Huffman say they haven’t gotten any negative feedback for being a bit different from the standard startup founder stereotype – except for the occasional gentle teasing.
Sometimes, when they arrive at a company to deliver lunch, they’ve heard employees say, “The models are coming!” Other times, Huffman said, they’ll get some unusual feedback after the meal:
“One of our clients gave us feedback that was like, ‘Can we pay extra to have one of the models feed us?'”
‘The organic, vegan icing on the top’
Eventually, Ripe hopes to cut out the middleman. The company wants to work directly with farmers, plans to grow its own produce in urban vertical farms and just hired an executive chef to cook out of a Ripe-owned kitchen in Manhattan.
Expansion plans are in the works, too (they’re considering Philadelphia, Boston, Miami, Denver, Austin and Charlotte) and Ripe currently offers free workouts on Saturdays, which it hopes to eventually expand to every public park in New York City – Huffman calls those workouts the “organic, vegan icing on the top,” since they’re designed to be a low-stress and low-cost way to introduce people to wellness.
It’s an ambitious plan and the meals are pricey when you compare them to a dollar slice of pizza.
And if you’re wondering, having a group of tall, fit, beautiful models tell you to work out more and eat healthier is a bit hard to swallow. On the one hand, I imagine having models deliver lunch to my office each day would be aspirational and encourage me to eat healthier. On the other hand, Ripe staffers have some distinct genetic advantages most of us don’t have, and I’m not eager to have a crew of male models watch me sweat it out at one of their free workouts.
But Ripe’s founders are sincere and passionate and told me they spend every minute of free time and every extra cent working to grow the company. As I finished my lemon water and left their shaded back patio, Huffman said earnestly: “We just really, really love wellness.”