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  • Writer's pictureXimena Diaz Velazquez

Theodore Mourad: Revolutionizing the Plant-Based Food Industry One Beet at a Time


In our latest episode of Plant Based On Fire, we had the pleasure of interviewing Theodore Mourad, the co-founder of Theo's Plant Based, an innovative sustainable food company that's making waves with its delicious beet jerky. Not only is Theo redefining the plant-based food industry, but he's also championing zero zero-waste practices and supporting regenerative agriculture.


Theo's journey into the world of plant-based food began as a teenager when he started cooking professionally and developed an addiction to the adrenaline and creativity of the kitchen. His culinary path led him to work at Blue Hill Stone Barns, one of the best farm-to-table fine dining restaurants globally, where he experienced the beauty of seasonal, organic produce.


It was during this time that Theo's perspective on food shifted. He realized that plant-based cuisine could be about more than just replacing meat with processed alternatives. It could be a celebration of natural flavors, nutrition, and environmental friendliness. Inspired by his experience with organic regenerative farming, Theo decided to create a product that not only tasted great but also supported sustainable agriculture.


Theo's choice of beet jerky as the flagship product was deliberate. Beets are highly nutritious and underutilized, and he wanted to showcase their potential while promoting regenerative farming practices. The journey to bring his vision to life wasn't easy, and Theo faced numerous challenges, from finding the right organic facilities to getting the product into stores. But his passion and determination pushed him forward.


Theo's Plant-Based Beet Jerky has been gaining recognition and is available in Whole Foods and other retailers. It's made with organic, regeneratively farmed beets, ensuring that every bite supports sustainable agriculture.


What sets Theo's approach apart is his commitment to true innovation. He encourages entrepreneurs to draw from personal experiences rather than just following trends. True success lies in creating products with integrity, products that align with the core values of the plant-based movement—whole foods, sustainability, and health.


Looking ahead, Theo has big plans for the future of Theo's Plant Based. He aims to expand nationally, reaching more grocery stores and making plant-based options accessible to everyone. Beyond just building a successful business, Theo dreams of opening a food nonprofit and farm and food center to provide healthy food access and education to underserved communities.


In a market saturated with processed plant-based alternatives, Theo's PlanPlant-Basedt Based stands out for its commitment to real, wholesome ingredients and sustainable practices. By supporting companies like Theo's, we can contribute to a positive change in the food industry and, more importantly, in the health and well-being of people and the planet.


So, plant-based business people, if you're seeking inspiration and a delicious, nutrient-rich, and sustainable snack, make sure to try Theo's Plant-Based Beet Jerky. It's more than just jerky; it's a step towards a brighter, healthier, and greener future. Keep the fire burning and support businesses that align with your values and vision. Together, we can change the world, one beet at a time.


>Transcript:


Bryan:

Hello and welcome to Plant Based on Fire. I'm your host today, Brian, and we are thrilled to have another amazing plant-based business joining us today to discuss the plant-based lifestyle. Today we have Theo, and he is the co-founder of Theo's Plant Based and innovator of the world of sustainable food. Theo's making waves with his delicious beet jerky. a product that champions zero waste practices and supports regenerative agriculture as well. He's redefining the plant-based food industry one vegetable at a time. So welcome Theo, we appreciate you joining us.


Theo:

Thank you for having me. Thank you.


Bryan:

How did my introduction go? I mean, I'm super excited.


Theo:

That was great. I like the one vegetable at a time thing. I think that was new for me.


Bryan:

I, you know, I've been doing the plant-based life for about 13 years now. And I can say the couple things that I miss are the smokiness and that barbecue-y flavor kind of a thing. That's why I'm just so excited to talk to you today about the jerky. Cause I've tried some of the mushroom jerky, but I don't think I've ever tried beet jerky.


Theo:

Yeah, well, you know, I'm not going to throw shade, but I will say ours is the best.


Bryan:

Well, I just placed my order, so I wish it had arrived here before so I could show a few...


Theo:

I would have sent you some for free, man.


Bryan:

I'll appreciate that. But anyway, I love to contribute to the plant-based businesses. That's why we're doing this podcast to help promote you and others. So I ordered some, it should be on its way, and I will let you know how it stacks up against some of the mushroom ones I've tried, okay?


Theo:

I always tell people unfiltered thoughts only. So.


Bryan:

Yeah, absolutely. Yeah. I mean, how are you going to get better if I if I


Theo:

Wait.


Bryan:

shape it? So, yeah, definitely will hit you with that. So tell us how did this idea come about with beat jerky and your journey into this plant based lifestyle?


Theo:

Yeah, you know, I started cooking as a teenager. You know, kind of classic story of, you start as a dishwasher, work your way up. I grew up in Ann Arbor, Michigan. Once I really started cooking, I got completely addicted to it, just the adrenaline and insanity of it all. I went to the University of Michigan. I thought I was gonna be a clinical therapist, but during that whole time there, I was cooking professionally, working on farms. When I graduated, my grandmother was very disappointed because I went to go work in a restaurant once I got my degree. I moved out to New York and was cooking at a restaurant called Blue Hill Stone Barns, which at the time, and I still think is considered the best farm to table fine dining restaurant in the world.


Bryan:

Very cool.


Theo:

So, you know, I worked there for about a year and what's so cool about working there for a year is you see the whole seasonal... you know, availability of all the different varieties of produce that come up, you know, on like a weekly or bi-weekly basis and the menu is constantly changing based on what's most abundant and delicious. The restaurant's on a farm. Anyway, so I had all this experience from before, you know, I worked on farms, I was cooking, I actually cooked at a vegan restaurant for a while in college. And all of that was really solidified in this very accelerated, intensive learning environment where I really got to get my hands on, like, every piece of produce you can imagine.


Bryan:

Mm-hmm.


Theo:

And it really just changed my way of, like, my, just my perspective on what people should be eating and how, like, There's a real intersection of flavor, nutrition, and, you know, environmental friendliness that like is not being appreciated or tapped into in the CBG marketplace. And to be completely transparent with you, I thought the plant-based food section was kind of bullshit.


Bryan:

Yeah.


Theo:

Um, I thought, and still do think all that really hyper processed stuff is just. pretty misleading and not what people should be eating. And like the best vegan food has always been here and it's organic produce. And that's where the whole movement started. And like, you know, it used to be this cool thing that was about like eating whole foods and preparing your own food. And there was a emphasis on natural and organic. And like, here I am now with this cool knowledge and training and it's like, how can I directly support organic regenerative farming from a really good quality input? How can we? How few steps can we take to turn it into something else that can emulate qualities of a jerky, for example? It's chewy, savory, it's smoky. But we're not trying to be it one-to-one, like taste, smell, texture, nutrition. It's like, it is what it is. Let's just keep, don't fuck up a good thing. You know what I'm saying? So that's what beat jerky is, and that's what got me into it. So I actually moved from New York to Chicago for another Michelin star. chef job and then a couple of weeks later, COVID hit.


Bryan:

Yeah.


Theo:

And I, yeah, exactly. And you know, I think like, you know, you listen to a lot of podcasts of food founders, it's like, it starts with sharing with your friends and then you get into a store and we were selling at farmer's markets and people loved it. And, um, you know. I got to a point where I was like, this is awesome. I was working 18 hours a day at this stupid little windowless commercial kitchen just to go sell at the farmer's market. It made no sense.


Bryan:

Yeah, yeah.


Theo:

But it was the evidence we needed to really scale it up. And my friend, Aaron Brodkey at the time, who was working in venture capital, who had known forever, he's been a food guy forever. He was the one that really was recommending to me to kind of, you know, take a step back and figure out how to scale it. And I also convinced him to quit his comfortable VC job to make no money. Uh, being a founder. So him and I had been working together formally for about a year and a half. And it's been great. We've made a ton. of progress. We're in Whole Foods Market. We're working on another really big retail chain, natural chain deal right now. And yeah, it's, you know, it's the chaos is something I kind of need. I need that, that intensity to perform and similar to the kitchen. I mean, it's a little better now because I'm not like in a stainless steel room for 20 hours a day, at least take a breath of fresh air. But anyway,



Bryan:

Hehehehe Yeah.


Theo:

yeah.


Bryan:

No, I mean, I love it. I mean, you hit the nail on the head, right? I mean, I strongly propose that whole food plant based diet, right? Let's get back to the core basics of it as much as we possibly can. Nature's packaging the apples and the bananas in the perfect form that we can take them from the grocery store without a bag or anything else.


Theo:

Great.


Bryan:

But like, but I have to say Americans are just lazy, right? And they want that flavor.


Theo:

And we don't know how to we don't have a we don't have a food culture here We really don't people don't know how to cook. You know these big companies. They're genius at selling convenience and I'm not against having treats here and there you know I'm a glut myself, but like I just think it's problematic especially when you're taking large populations of uneducated consumers that are kind of blind to what they see. And there's a lot of stuff out there that's not too good for people. And sure, if you look at the metric of comparing it to factory-farmed beef in isolation, it's better. But come on, that's a pretty low bar. I don't know. I just think there's not much integrity in the space.


Bryan:

Yeah. Well, what talked to us about the regenerative farming side of this? So, I mean, you're I guess I still am curious, like how did you experiment out of all the 10,000 plus vegetables out there? How did you narrow it down to beats for the jerky side of it? And then like what talked to us about the farming aspects there?


Theo:

Yeah, well I think beets are really underused.


Bryan:

For sure.


Theo:

They're delicious. They're one of the healthiest foods on earth.


Bryan:

Mm-hmm.


Theo:

They have a really polarizing reputation out there.


Bryan:

Yes, they do.


Theo:

Interestingly there's...



Bryan:

But so do mushrooms, honestly, right? I mean, people love or hate mushrooms, so.



Theo:

Yeah, I mean, you know, at one point nobody was eating kale and now everybody's got it in their fucking drinks and their salads and their chips and everything. Anyway. I think, you know, beets are delicious. I'm aware of their nutritional value. There's also some great benefits to using them on a manufacturing side, which is that they're really durable and you get good yields when you use them. You know, they're thick and very fibrous.


Bryan:

Yeah.


Theo:

And, you know, the way that we treat these vegetables, we're kind of highlighting the natural fibers in the food, in the, in the beet, uh, to create that chewy meat-like thing.


Bryan:

Yeah.


Theo:

In terms of the agricultural side, you know, my background runs deep with the organic regenerative. I worked on an organic, biodynamic farm, small vegetable operation, and that really kind of shaped, like, not only from the standpoint of, like, how much better the stuff tastes, just kind of seeing all...


Bryan:

Oh my goodness, yeah.


Theo:

You know, with regenerative organic farming, most of it comes down to like, how can the natural ecology of the land around the farm and, you know, mainly looking at soil health and, you know, the biodiversity in the soil, how can that be maintained and promoted and grown through like no till or low till and cover crop and rotating crops and things like that. So, you know, I mean, when I started this, when I was, I was buying As we scale that's something I'm never going to like compromise So I'm working with a bunch of a bunch of really good organic farms that are doing the organic regenerative thing now organic regenerative is not Regulated Yeah, it's not like the organic certification where there's all these really stringent Guidelines and you can't even say the word right now. It's kind of like you know, grass fed, for example, where it's like, I mean, grass fed's gotten a little more regulated, but, you know, a lot of companies are claiming to be regenerative or that word, kind of like the word sustainable, which should be, you know, should have some legal consequences for using improperly, but doesn't.


Bryan:

Yeah. Are you going to the farms and holding them accountable and checking it kind of thing?


Theo:

Yeah, I have a ton of connections from, you know, this restaurant I was working at. They're like considered one of the leaders in regenerative organic farming in the world. Stone barns, agriculture, look them up. They're pretty cool. So


Bryan:

Very cool.


Theo:

I kind of had an in to a bunch of folks there and then still some of the farms around here, like Prairie Earth in Southern Illinois is a really cool farm that I've been buying beets from since the beginning of this. And we're not getting involved with anything that we're not really aware of. I don't want to blindly just buy something because the organic certification in itself has become, companies have lobbied and found ways around what it was intended to be, which is like no spray and there's now organic fertilizers that...


Bryan:

Yeah, the world will find the loopholes, unfortunately.


Theo:

Yeah, right. That's the problem with the free market capitalist thing, I guess.


Bryan:

Yeah.


Theo:

But it's my opinion,


Bryan:

What is the?


Theo:

you know, if you're gonna add something to this marketplace that like, I mean, if you go to a Whole Foods, what, there's like 40,000 different products on the shelf? Like, if you're gonna add something to a market that like, it's not really needed, like it better have some integrity, because like,


Bryan:

Mm-hmm.


Theo:

come on. Like, come


Bryan:

Yeah.


Theo:

on. You know?


Bryan:

Well, I guess that that's interesting. You know, I mentor quite a few businesses locally here in Charlotte where I'm at. And it is that challenge. Like, how did you overcome some of the challenges? Like just to get into Whole Foods, just to get the nutritional label on the packaging. I mean, the hurdle is high and the difficulty level is high to bring a product to market like you have. I have to say congratulations.


Theo:

Thanks, you know, I'm pretty obsessive and I bring the same intensity of that line cook to my work now. So


Bryan:

That's awesome.


Theo:

I think that gets me places that can come at a bit of an emotional cost sometimes. But you know, Aaron's got that drive too and he's, you know, has equal credit in this really coming to life in an organized, sophisticated way, but. I mean, the organic thing alone is a huge barrier, not only on the cost side, which screws


Bryan:

Mm-hmm.


Theo:

margins, but also like if you're producing a certified organic product, the facility you're working with has to be certified organic. There's very, you know, it's a minority of processing facilities out there. Not much incentive because it costs the facilities money to run one. But we started, we raised some money to bring this to scale with no supply chain, no manufacturing, and no sales lined up. And I don't know, when the stakes are there, you can make it happen, but I mean, I cold called over 500 manufacturers and heard no from 499 of them. And one of them like...


Bryan:

I was just talking with somebody else. It's that consistency and that passion to follow through. Like you have to, you have to be able to accept the no and try again tomorrow, you know? So.


Theo:

I mean anybody else out there that's an entrepreneur like if you don't already know this it's like Don't take no personally because it's literally just part of your job like I just applied for Lollapalooza And they told us no today, and I was like fuck, but then it's like you know what you just roll with the punches And you keep going


Bryan:

Yeah,


Theo:

so


Bryan:

exactly. So how do you sort of, I guess, what advice would you give for other plant-based businesses trying to get going and entering into the industry?


Theo:

I think like true innovation comes from a place of you know your own experiences not just looking at trend reports so anybody out there developing products or has an idea that maybe doesn't seem like where like the market is well go for it because weird shit often wins. Two years ago, everyone was like, if your product's not like fucking impossible burger, then you're fucked. Now


Bryan:

Yeah.


Theo:

their sales are way down. So tons of people told me not to do this and I did anyway.


Bryan:

There


Theo:

So


Bryan:

you are.


Theo:

hey, just jump in.


Bryan:

I apologize, there's somebody at my door who will not stop ringing it.


Theo:

Oh,


Bryan:

So


Theo:

you're good.


Bryan:

give me two seconds


Theo:

Okay.


Bryan:

here. We'll insert some sort of commercial break right there. So, uh,


Theo:

Yeah.


Bryan:

yeah, I mean, yeah, I can't, I mean, I've, I've built a couple of businesses myself and it's exactly that. And it's just, I try to mentor quite a few businesses and, um, you know, they, I can tell which ones have the passion to really push this through or, or not on that


Theo:

Right.


Bryan:

front. So,


Theo:

Yeah.


Bryan:

so what's next? What's next for Theos? I mean, you're, you're pushing forward. On the beat side of it, you've got several different flavors and lines, but is there


Theo:

Yeah.


Bryan:

more to come? Are you happy with where it's at or what's on the future here?


Theo:

I mean, well, am I happy with where it's at? I wish, you know, but when you're on the inside, you only see the things that could be better. So,


Bryan:

Yeah.


Theo:

and you know, I wanna share this with the whole country. I want it to be nationally distributed and multiple retail chains and, you know, be the first beat jerky in every grocery store. and prove to people that deliciousness and real sustainability is a thing, with a big nutritional component as well, obviously. I think what's next? We have a pipeline of about... 16 skews of products that all fall under this thesis of vegetable forward, you know, simple regenerative organic That go into multiple sections of the grocery store We're going to be doing a line extension of beet jerky flavors Releasing another vegetable jerky with a whole new another


Bryan:

Very


Theo:

agricultural


Bryan:

cool.


Theo:

product But you know, we have vegetable replacements for seafood and you know refrigerated meat Things like that, I mean, the easiest part of this whole venture has been developing the products. I, you


Bryan:

Yeah.


Theo:

know, like I used to cook, you know, under like insane standards for hundreds of people a day. It's like making one thing is not that hard.


Bryan:

Yeah.


Theo:

Scaling it and sharing it with everyone safely and efficiently with good margins is really fucking hard, but like,


Bryan:

Yeah.


Theo:

yeah, I, you know, that we're excited to share more. Um, But for now, we're really trying to establish ourselves, not grow too quickly. A lot of people crash and burn with jumping on every opportunity they get. We're trying to really establish strong relationships with strategic partners now and grow those. We've said no to surface level, very nice cash grab opportunities because


Bryan:

Yeah.


Theo:

we want to be very careful and not spread ourselves too thin. my business partner gets the main credit for that because he's really fucking smart in a lot of ways I'm not


Bryan:

Yeah. Well, that's where it's so important to have that co-founder, I think. And really, once you've gotten over that initial hurdle, I think it's so important to figure out where do I want to take the company? Like, what does it want to be? Like, you can cash out if you want, or you can grow it and do it like you said and try and get in every store. So.


Theo:

Yeah, well, you know, my dream some days to open a food nonprofit, a farm and food center that, uh, you know, would give healthy food access and education to people that don't really have that available. I mean, even Chicago alone is like one of the biggest food deserts in the country,


Bryan:

Yeah.


Theo:

like half the population here. And it's like, it's not only access, it's like knowing what to do with you know, inputs and how to cook and, you know, a lot of people don't have time that are working really hard. And I think it'd be really, yeah.


Bryan:

just picking up a can of beans and knowing that's got too much sodium in it.


Theo:

Right, so I think it would be really cool someday to pivot to, if I can have the, you know, the financial freedom to do so, to do something a lot more community oriented and really try to kind of get my hands dirty again and support people and give them dignity through food. So that's the plan.


Bryan:

Well, I was very impressed with your website. It's a beautiful looking website. It was super easy to order. I'm so excited to taste it and see what that flavor hits my tongue. So I'll definitely get you some feedback for sure.


Theo:

Please.


Bryan:

I checked your map, and I do see obviously you're all over the Chicago area. But I'm in Charlotte, so I'm hoping some people are listening to this and are going to help. spring you up in the 15th biggest city in America here.


Theo:

Yes, let's go show it.


Bryan:

And how do people find you and where can we tag you and learn more about your awesome product?


Theo:

You can of course go to theosplantbased.com and order there. Also from amazon.com if you type in Theo's Plant Based Beet Jerky, you could get some bags there. We are on social media at Theo's Plant Based. You can see me doing a bunch of dumb shit online. And we are in Every Whole Foods in the Midwest. You can find us in the functional snacks section, which is near the kale chips and the dried fruit snack options. So every package has one big ass upcycled beet in it. It's got a compostable package. The beets are dried at a low temperature which keeps all the nutrition from the raw beet to the final product. So I think you'll like it and if you don't hit me up and I'll give you your money back.


Bryan:

I love it. I look forward to trying it. Thank you so much, Thea, for spending a few minutes with us. How else can the community that we have at Plant Based on Fire support you? Buy more beets.


Theo:

I think buy more beets. I think, you know, I think I always tell people like Don't put your money towards buying my stuff if you really care about you know, the environment and The food industry go to your local farmers market fire find your organic farmers and give them the money. I don't need it. So That's what you should do risk.


Bryan:

Yeah, well, I mean, I think there's a lot of people in transition that need those bridges and I think you're supplying some great products that can help people make that jump into exactly that kind of lifestyle. So again, thank you so much, Theo, for jumping in with us for a few minutes. That's all the time we have for this episode of Plant Based on Fire. So thank you so much again for sharing your insights with us, Theo. And until next time, keep the fire burning.


Theo:

Keep the fire burning. Thank you guys. Take it easy.


Bryan:

Thank you.

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