By Renita Wolf
Alongside restaurant giants like Panera Bread and Chipotle, Bean Sprouts is regularly recognized in the “Top 100 Movers and Shakers” in the restaurant industry. This hip and healthy café chain serves family destinations. It has been awarded the best kids’ meal in the nation and the women entrepreneurs who founded it have been invited to the White House to share ideas on how to make wholesome family fare more appealing in the food industry. I was able to get co-founders Kelly “Pea Brain” Parthen and Shannon “Peacasso” Seip to answer some questions. Drumroll, peas…
Q: First of all, I love your Bean Sprouts names. What’s the scoop with those?
Kelly: We strive to bring Bean Sprouts’ HIPP (Health, Innovation, Positivity and Playfulness) core values to every aspect of our company. That starts with everybody coming up with their own fruit or veggie name to represent their passions. We have Bean Jovi, Peakachu and Lady Guava to name a few.
Shannon chose “Peacasso” as she’s the creative force in Bean Sprouts, creating our award-winning Imaginibbles menu and the design of each café. I chose “Pea Brain” because of my brainstorming superpowers.
We put every aspect of our operations and culture through our HIPP filter—from hiring to new menu items to which organizations we seek out for partnerships.
Q: What was your biggest “aha” moment along your Bean Sprouts journey?
Shannon: Our first café was a standalone, which we financed out of our own pockets and with an SBA loan. There was no other concept like it that we knew of, which was fantastic and also terrifying. We had to work incredibly hard to raise awareness about what Bean Sprouts was and get people to buy into the concept, since we were just a tad ahead of our time.
Then, during our first few years, we received multiple requests from family destinations, mainly children’s museums, about catering, cooking classes and possible pop-up locations. After enough inquiries, we had the “aha” moment that rather than build locations and then spend marketing dollars to get people through our doors, let’s plant Bean Sprouts where our target market is already coming!
That’s when we shifted our business model to focus solely on family destinations (museums, science centers, amusement parks, etc.). And with that move, we solved an additional problem. Many family destinations were offering amazing experiences, but had horrible food service that didn’t align with their missions. We’ve filled a niche in providing good-for-you food that families were asking for, but existing food service companies couldn’t accomplish.
Q: What is the hardest question you have to ask and what’s the hardest question you have to answer?
Kelly: At the beginning, asking investors for money was difficult. When we raised our first million dollars (from friends, family and an extension thereof), Bean Sprouts was more of a vision than a reality. You are really asking folks to invest in their belief in you, not necessarily in the concept.
The hardest question to answer is “Where do you live?” Even though Bean Sprouts will top $3 million in sales this year and double that next year, we still haven’t established a corporate headquarters. Instead, we are focusing our capital on opening new locations. Our Peas Corps (corporate) team is all over the U.S., and we work virtually. Shannon and I live more than a thousand miles apart, but probably talk more each day than we do to our own husbands. This unconventional arrangement is hard for some to comprehend.
Q: How will you know when you’ve “succeeded?”
Shannon: It’s easy to get wrapped up in bottom lines, valuations and landing contracts, and those are, of course, important. But at the end of the day, our philosoPEA is “to spark kids’ appetites for yummy, good-for-you food; and delight grown-ups with a happier mealtime!”
It’s magical when we see kids and grown-ups enjoying wholesome food at our sites and giving a chuckle at the cleverness of our plating or the names of our dishes. To know that we’re helping families lead healthier lives in a sector where junk food can be the norm, it is not just a thrill for us, but also for every Bean Teamer in our company.
If you would like more information about Bean Sprouts, visit their website at http://beansprouts.com.
About the Author
Renita Wolf is a Colorado-based financial executive who works with businesses to define and implement business growth and operational improvement strategies. She has global experience in financial management, strategic planning, operations, mergers and acquisitions, organization restructuring and technology implementation. Follow her on Twitter @RenitaWolf or connect with her on LinkedIn at www.linkedin.com/in/RenitaWolf.