Boston Microgreens, led by founder Oliver Homberg, has taken the Boston restaurant scene by storm and only sees growth ahead.
The seeds for the venture were planted in the back garden of the Northeastern student’s Tremont apartment just over a year ago and since then have captured the fascination of chefs everywhere from sushi hot-spot O Ya to favorite brunch locations like Aquitaine and Metropolis.
Boston Microgreens came to life before my eyes on a tour of the farm. The harvest is grown indoors and the scent of soil and freshly growing greens waft through the air radiating an earthy vitality throughout the space. As I took in the racks of radish, basil, kale, and more lining the walls Oliver demonstrated the customized irrigation system he controls from his smartphone on in-house developed software.
Microgreens, Oliver explained, “are essentially the baby stage of any salad vegetable; a radish, a carrot, a beet. You’re only growing them for the first few days when the leaves have the characteristics and flavors of the full grown vegetable packed into the size of an adorable sproutling.” They’re good enough to eat alone and also boost color, enhance flavor, and add texture to any dish. Perhaps, even more incredible are the nutritional benefits of the microgreen; with the energy of the seed harnessed into the tiny embryonic leaves they have a higher concentration of antioxidants and nutrients than their mature vegetable and herb counterparts.
Amidst the tray lined walls Oliver told me, “I love this because it’s so grounded. You can touch it, you can taste it, you can bring it to the people. For me the tangibility is really satisfying.” The experience is just as satisfying for the customers.
When asked how he developed his client portfolio, composed of some of Boston’s most loved restaurants, Oliver responded, “80% of our business came from walking into the restaurants with these trays without an appointment.” Oliver joked that the hardest part about developing his clientele was getting past the hostesses. “As soon as the chefs see it they come running and the product sells itself.”
With Boston Microgreens chefs have a direct relationship with the farmer that allows them to customize their product and capitalize on freshness in a way that isn’t possible when dealing with middleman food speciality suppliers. For example, internationally acclaimed restaurant group, Zuma, sought out Boston Microgreens to be their supplier after discovering them on Instagram. For the opening of their new location at the Four Seasons coming soon, “they get the exact products, on the exact days, in the exact quantities they need them. We provide a customized experience that they can’t really get anywhere else” Oliver explained.
“The challenge is to scale that and maintain those relationships. That’s what we’ve been working really hard on.” This year Boston Microgreens will use the IDEA gap funding grant to expand into a South Boston space with increased growing capacity. Oliver noted that IDEA has been a great resource to him, “and not just the money. I mean don’t get me wrong the money is great but the coaching is essential.” The recent Northeastern graduate with an International Affairs degree elaborated, “I’m 23 without a business background so it’s helpful when you have professionals who know what they’re talking about and can get you thinking in the right way.” Oliver offered words of encouragement to other young entrepreneurs. “This is my main source of income right now so it’s a big risk, you just have to keep pushing, persistence is the key.”
Oliver’s next goal is to break into wholesale retail so hopefully we’ll be seeing Boston Microgreens in the aisles of our favorite grocery stores like Trader Joe’s and Whole Foods soon.
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IDEA Gap Funding is a non-equity educational grant available to ventures in the GO stage of IDEA’s process. Applicants may apply on a bi-monthly basis where their business plans are reviewed by IDEA’s student Investment Committee upon being selected to pitch plans to IDEA’s Advisory Board. Applicants may receive up to $10,000 in funding