Kimbal Musk (the younger brother of Elon) wants to revolutionize the way America eats — this time, with cheap and nutritious food.
In late 2016, Musk launched Square Roots, an urban farming incubator program in Brooklyn, New York. In 2011, he started a nonprofit program that has installed “Learning Gardens” in over 300 schools, with the intention of teaching kids about agriculture.
His longest-running food ventures, are two restaurant chains: The Kitchen and its affordable counterpart, Next Door. The chains, which first opened a little over a decade ago, serve dishes made strictly with locally-sourced meat and veggies.
Now, he tells Business Insider that he plans to expand the Next Door chain to cities in at least a half-dozen midwestern and southern states, including Iowa, Ohio, Michigan, Wisconsin, Missouri, and Arkansas. Though Next Door only has three locations right now, Musk aims to open 50 more locations by 2020. By the end of 2017, six locations will open, with the next one in Memphis in May.
The prices for Next Door’s entrees average $10, and sides cost around $5, which is comparable to other farm-to-table restaurants like Chipotle, Sweetgreen, and Dig Inn. Unlike these grab-and-go chains, however, Musk says that the new Next Door locations will be places for “Millennials to hang out.” To create that atmosphere, the restaurants will offer full table service, happy hour, patio space, and weekly events.
“Next Door is about human trust — Where does the food come from? Is the farmer treated well? Is it nourishing for the body? Is it nourishing for the community and the planet? Our constituency really cares about all these things,” Musk says.
Featuring items like wild coho salmon and roasted veggie salad, the new menus’ items will differ depending on the location and time of year. Musk’s team will customize every menu based on what local purveyors can grow or raise — so that the farmer both makes a profit and the restaurant can keep its prices relatively low.
An existing location in Denver, for example, offers beet burgers, because it’s easy for Colorado farmers to grow beets at scale.
Musk has been building relationships with farmers and developing the new menus for the past five years.
“Farmers are very cautious, by their very nature. They’re always going to deal with weather, or they’re going to deal with government changing its mind on one thing or the other. It’s a tough life being a farmer,” he says. “We work very closely with them, and they’ve learned to trust us over the years.”
Next Door will also partner with food delivery startups like Postmates and UberEats, since Musk says the chain saw an 80% growth in to-go service in the past year. He adds that he hopes the chain will be to Millennials what TGI Fridays was to Gen X.
Before Musk worked in food, he worked in Silicon Valley with Elon. In 1995, the two brothers founded a Google Maps-esque service called Zip2. After selling it for around $300 million, they invested in a new venture, which later became PayPal. But Kimbal decided to leave the tech industry for culinary school, and put all his energy into his real passion: food that’s both good for the body and the environment.
“We don’t have that many gathering places that are affordable for the younger generation. They don’t really resonate with the existing players like TGI Fridays and Applebees — they just don’t resonate with those brands anymore,” he says. “I think we found a really powerful niche where we create the gathering place, people break bread with their friends in the restaurant, and if they want, they can take that food home.”
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