Samuel Adams philanthropic program, Brewing The American Dream, brought together six L.A. businesses and local entrepreneurs last week at the Angel City Brewery in the Arts District to vie for a $10,000 award in their annual pitch room competition.
The contest is open to emerging food and beverage businesses, in which participants practice and perfect the art of the sales pitch. Business owners who apply and have been selected to participate make their best two-minute business pitch to a panel of judges that typically include restaurant and retail buyers, chefs, food writers and bloggers, and representatives from Samuel Adams. Following the pitch, judges collectively had five minutes to question the contestant and five more minutes to provide feedback intended to help the business owner strengthen his or her pitch in the future.
This year’s judges included Natasha Case, co-founder and CEO of women-founded and led ice cream sensation Coolhaus, Granville Cafe’s Jon Limon, Jennifer Glanville of Samuel Adams and L.A. Weekly Food Editor Michele Stueven.
A diverse and deserving group of contestants all delivered great pitches for their products. In an effort to boost e-commerce, Uli Nasibova introduced a new shippable box of individual gelato servings from Gelateria Uli. Atsushi Nakagawa of the Torrance-based Amazaki Co. pitched fermented rice latte drinks, miso and koji seasonings with great charm while serving samples.
Synovia Jones of Nobe’s P.B. Foods, a former competitive bodybuilder, got the judges’ complete attention with a plant-based pitch and samples of her crab cakes. Kenshi Robayashi of Kenchan Ramen made the case for $10,000 to help in production, marketing and the optimization of new packaging of his one-of-a-kind DIY ramen kits, currently available at local farmers markets.
Tara and Mohamed Belouafa of Zonzon Organic, an artisanal certified cannery based in Downtown Los Angeles, brought their delicious North African cooking sauces, spreads and preserved lemons to the table, along with a plea for a grant to move their operation to a larger facility and start shipping their Tunisian specialties nationwide.
Finally, Ashley Xie from the Alhambra-based Rooted Fare presented her unique Black Sesame Crunchy Butter in the hopes of moving production out of her apartment and into a commercial kitchen.
It was a nail-biter trying to determine the winner in the upstairs lounge of the brewery as anxious contestants milled about the audience crowd downstairs. How the money would be spent, packaging, the products themselves and the pitch itself were all factors in the difficult choice among six equally deserving entrepreneurs. After much deliberation between the judges, a decision was made.
“We chose Nobe’s Plant Based Foods because it was a standout as far as product originality in the plant-based sector,” Case, who is also co-host and executive producer of the Start To Sale podcast, told L.A. Weekly after the competition. “The label was super clean including ingredients. It was almost indistinguishable from a regular crab cake in taste and texture. We felt that she really perfected this product over time. As a woman of color really wanting to grow and unleash the power of a great brand and business, the money can make a huge difference for her and is harder for her to access in terms of capital and how it gets invested. Now with the help of manufacturing, she can really get out there and sell it the way she did to us tonight. We also like the thoughtfulness of the sustainability of the packaging. We’re really excited for her.”
Upon hearing the news, it may as well have been a $1 million win judging from Jones’ impassioned reaction that practically knocked over the display table. She started her business in 2015 with black bean mushroom basil burgers, quinoa sushi and cashew cheese ricotta shells to help bring healthier options to her Crenshaw neighborhood. But the vegan crab cakes made with hearts of palm were historically the biggest hit.
“I’m speechless,” she told the judges in tears. “This makes a world of difference for my business. It’s life changing. I can do so much more now. I’m just barely keeping up with what the restaurants are ordering from me. I can only crank out 75 crab cakes every two hours, and with a new patty maker I can produce 2,500, which would increase productivity and my bottom line.”
In addition to the pitch room contest that moves around the country, the Samuel Adams Brewing the American Dream program has provided coaching and mentoring to more than 13,000 business owners helping to create or maintain more than 9,000 local jobs. In partnership with Accion Opportunity Fund, one of the nation’s largest non-profit micro-lenders, the program supports small business owners (40% women and 80% BIPOC) in the food, beverage and brewing industries through access to business capital, coaching and new market opportunities.