Rai Lewis believes in healthy living in mind, body, and heart and has fun spreading joy one vegan plate at a time. After many years working in youth development in Philadelphia and hoping to change the way society views food, she founded the F.U.N. Kitchen, a vegan/plant-based food company on a mission to create access to healthier food. F.U.N. (Feasible, Understandable, and Nourishing) derives from the ability to make healthy eating part of a normal and everyday life. As a social enterprise, F.U.N. Kitchen is committed to changing the perception of modern-day vegan cuisine and promoting a healthy way of life.
What does “entrepreneurship” mean to you?
Rai Lewis: Entrepreneurship means seizing an opportunity in hopes of a better future. It’s recognizing a problem and developing ways to approach it. It is going after that opportunity no matter what hurdles you are faced with because in entrepreneurship all bets are on yourself, what you wake up and do, what risk you take, and what opportunities you seize.
How did your company come to be?
RL: When I first stopped eating meat, just like the rest of the world, I would post photos of my meals on social media. Mush of the feedback from people was them asking what was in the food, how did I stay full, or if I could cook for them so they could try it. Shortly after, I started a small home base meal prep service offering people the opportunity to get at least 5 different meals at a time. It wasn’t long before good reviews began to pour in and volume began to increase, and I realized there was a core group of people who wanted to eat healthy but didn’t know how. I thought, why not create a way for people to eat healthy, regardless of diet preference, and make it cool, not like a punishment. The rest is history…
How has your business changed in response to the COVID-19 pandemic?
RL: Fortunately, we did not have a tremendous negative impact due to the COVID-19 pandemic. In some ways it helped us. Right before the pandemic hit we launched our premium product, meal jars. We had only 2 months of operation when all restaurants were ordered to shut down therefore we had to stop meal jar production. Our vendor started with a shortage and eventually went out of stock on the jars we were using. Because of how specific they were it was hard to find them at a comparable price anywhere else. I decided to switch gears and focus on opening a food truck. I turned all of my money and resources into building a place for FUN and broadening the idea.
What is your proudest and darkest moment so far? Share a key high and a key low from your journey if you can.
RL: My darkest moments lie on the battleground of the fight with myself to let go of who I was to step into who I am supposed to be. This moment lasted almost a full year. In 2019 I lost so much of me. From losing my grandmother, to moments of hopelessness, and doubt. I hit rock bottom. Fast forward to 2020 when some of my proudest moments happened. I regained my confidence, fell in love with myself again, and started spinning the wheels more on FUN Kitchen. I am learning that our journeys are largely attributed to how we love and care for ourselves. It was the absence of self-care that aided in staying in my darkest moments, and the presence of it that got me through them and into my proudest moments.
How is your company changing the landscape?
RL: We are changing the landscape by creating a new normal for healthy eating, teaching sustainable living, and creating a lasting impact on how people view and take care of their health. We are doing meaningful work in an area that needs it most, for people who need it most. We are changing what it means to be healthy and lead healthy lives.
What do you wish you knew when you started? Is there anything you would do differently?
RL: I wish I knew how much of the entrepreneurial journey was about self. When you start a business, everything is about you. If you are lazy, procrastinate, or try to take shortcuts, it will show. If you are focused, motivated, and diligent, it will show. What people don’t share about the journey is how much self love it takes to start. Those long nights, moments of doubt/giving up, the relationship with yourself will pull you through any obstacle. I wouldn’t do anything differently. Though not perfect, my journey has been fulfilling. The beauty of it is that it’s my journey and without all aspects of it I would not be here today.
What advice/credo do you live by as you grow the business / what is your professional and personal mission statement?
RL: One day at a time, literally. I live by this because it is a reminder that I am human and no two days are the same. The past happened and the future is unknown, all we have is the day in which we stand. I approach each day as it comes and to work on myself, my goals, and to enjoy the journey. My personal mission statement is to “Be Great!!” In everything I do my mission is not to pass or fail, it is to be great at it.
Where do you find inspiration when faced with challenges?
RL: I find inspiration in being great, knowing that I can’t fail, and I can’t give up hope. The toughest battle is the one with yourself. Stress, anxiety, relationships, finances, there will always be something to overcome. My inspiration is internal because if I don’t who will? I’m in control of my destiny, my success, my future; I have to make my dreams come true.
What does “success” look like for you? What do you think will help you achieve it?
RL: Success looks like standing on a corner between passion and purpose. It is reaching a point when your platform, not just your business, creates an impact. But, success is not just one point. It is a compilation of big and small wins that come together to reach your goals. If today I reached a goal, or taught a young person how to plant kale, I became successful. I reached a place where my passion and purpose has met and I am metaphorically dancing in the street. A growth mindset, staying focused, and determined aids in reaching success. It’s not overnight. Success is a marathon that may never end. The higher the success ladder you climb the bigger the goals you set for yourself. Each mile marker is a lap around success. Building, growing, focusing on your passion and purpose to reach success.
Has personal or professional “success” changed for you since the COVID-19 pandemic?
RL: Both personal and professional successes changed for me since the pandemic. It allowed me to stop, evaluate, and refocus everything around me. During the shutdown I focused on my personal brand. I began creating more food specific content on my instagram and tended to people’s questions about vegan food. Doing so allowed me to step out of my comfort zone and bring my personality to aid to my personal success. The Great Pause, as I like to say, really allowed me to save money and invest in my business. I purchased a food truck which was a huge check off my goals list! I also found the perfect location to open a vegan outdoor cafe and community garden. I entered a pitch contest called Rise UP Philly and was 1 of 4 grand prize winners! Everything is starting to come together and 2020 was a very personal and professional successful year for me.
What’s it like to work alone or with your partners? What advice do you have for fellow entrepreneurs about building and leading teams?
RL: In the early stages of working with a team to build a business it is a constant tune of trial and error learning and growing. There’s so much to do in order to start a business so the challenge at this stage is learning to prioritize tasks and keep your head in the game. When it comes to building a team, it’s important to find people whose skill set will help you reach your business goals. You’re only as good as your team. People see me as the face of F.U.N. Kitchen but without the work of my team I wouldn’t be able to accomplish everything. What’s helped me as a leader and building my team is giving them the autonomy to create. When assigning tasks, I like to give my vision on the end game and let them fill in the boxes as creatively applicable. My advice to entrepreneurs would be to not put people in a box, give them meaningful work to believe in, and create a robust team atmosphere for people to work in.
Many entrepreneurs continue to perfect their daily routines to support their work and greater vision; would you mind sharing your morning routine or a regular ritual that grounds your work each day? How has it changed in recent months?
RL: My morning begins at 5 am every day because there’s truly no peace like the silence before 6 am. I first thank God for waking up. I have a meditation playlist that I use to get my zen in as my day starts. Thanks to the Great Pause there’s no set time on my meditation. Sometimes it’s 15 minutes sometimes 45, I let my energy and thoughts flow and until they land in balance. The next steps are interchangeable, but meditation is always followed by journaling and grooving to my morning playlist. Meditation and my morning playlist has been part of my morning routine for about 4-5 years now. Journaling used to be something I did here and there but in recent months it’s been more of a daily practice. I LOVE music. The playlist is a list of songs that have motivational components and the ability to get the body going. In order, I listen to the same songs every day. This morning practice keeps me grounded and on track for the day ahead. By allowing myself to move in silence, without distraction, and with intention, I can tackle everyday calm and grounded because it begins in peace.
What keeps you motivated during this time?
RL: The “what if” keeps me motivated. What if this works? What if F.U.N. Kitchen really creates change in the way people eat and take care of themselves? What if I become successful? What if I drive my dream car, build multiple impactful businesses? What if?
What kind of an entrepreneur do you want to be known as, as in, what do you want your legacy to be?
RL: I want to be known as being me, a loving, genuine person who wants everyone to win. I want my legacy to be that of a creative pioneer. To be remembered for my work in creating a healthy world, having fun, and enjoying life.
What is a quote or some words of wisdom that help get you through the tough days?
RL: The words that get me through the tough days is remembering to take things “one day at a time.” It reminds me that I am human and some days are better than others. I may have a lazy day or may feel overwhelmed or uninspired, or not be in the best space for optimal productiveness, it happens. When it does, I am sure to be kind to myself and approach every situation with one step and one day at a time.
Have you experienced mentorship in your career? Do you feel it was easily available to you?
RL: I have experienced two really great mentors. Both people I met in my early 20s and they helped me mature into the businesswoman I am today. Funny, I met both of them by introducing myself to them and being honest in my focus to learn and grow with guidance from someone who was older and more experienced than me. When I was younger, I found mentorship easily available to me. I was fortunate enough to be a young ambitious woman who wanted success and was not afraid to challenge myself if that meant going after what I wanted. Part of success is being the person other people want to see succeed. My experience with mentorship was both beneficial and rewarding and the information learned will travel far beyond the relationships.
Who are the people who have mentored or influenced you in your life or career? How has their influence changed the trajectory of your entrepreneurial journey?
RL: One of my favorite people happens to be my mentor, Ashley Tobin. She has helped shape my career in so many non-repayable ways; I cannot thank her enough. About 5 years ago her influence stopped me from going to grad school for social work and instead pursuing a career in business and obtaining my MBA. One of the best decisions I made for myself was studying business. It solidified the foundation of what I am building F.U.N. Kitchen on, the crossroad between passion and purpose.
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