Born and raised in Boston, Noam finished his undergraduate degree in anthropology and graduate degree in health in University of Michigan. As a project for his graduate study, he and his classmates designed produce packages that can be quickly turned into healthy meals, intended to be sold in Detroit corner shops to promote healthy eating. Unfortunately, the product turned out to be unpopular among consumers. Despite its failure, it brought Noam to the city of Detroit, where he stayed to continue exploring his passion for healthy food choices. His brainchild is Fresh Corner Café, a modification of the original produce packages. Instead of raw materials, Fresh Corner Café sells a variety of packaged, ready to eat simple meal like wraps, yogurt parfait, and salads at affordable prices in Detroit grocery stores. It has been very successful since its launching and Noam is looking forward to expanding the business in Detroit.
At roughly the same time of the birth of Fresh Corner Café, an incidence Noam had with a few high school kids inspired him to co-found Detroit Food Academy. As he was volunteering in a high school afterschool program, he heard about the limited and unhealthy food choices that the school cafeteria offers. A few of the kids whom he was working with came up with the idea of selling fresh mango on a stick as an alternative to the sugar filled desert in cafeteria. The innovative product was an instant hit among the youth and the students who came up with this ingenious idea reaped a windfall. Students’ creativity impressed Noam, who started to ponder the potential of youth in food entrepreneurship when they are taught the basic culinary and business skills. Detroit Food Academy was consequently founded. An afterschool program that aims to foster youth leadership and entrepreneurship, the academy pairs youths with experienced mentors and challenges them to develop their own triple bottom line food business. This is also the organization that Bryce and I are currently interning at and it is introducing its first student product onto the shelves of Whole Foods and other major grocery stores in Metro Detroit.
After learning his story and past accomplishment, we moved on to talking about the food landscape of Detroit. I told him how I impressed I am with all the booming food business here in the city. From local breweries to creative products like chickpea pasta and almond stuffed olives, Detroit food entrepreneurs are transforming the food landscape and making it more colorful every day. Noam, however, noted that, like all the other positive changes sweeping over this city, activities are currently concentrated in Midtown and downtown, but truly poor neighborhoods are still not reaping the benefits. When asked if he thinks there are enough infrastructure in the metro Detroit area for more healthy food choices to be introduced, Noam responded that as long as the food products are designed to be carried by gas station stores or corner shops in terms of price range and simplicity, there is definitely a good market in Detroit to be tapped into.
The conversation was inspiring and educational. Interested in the food industry myself and equipped with some background knowledge about the hunger-obesity paradox, I learned a lot about the implementation side of introducing healthy food options into food deserts. Detroit is a city with great potential for food entrepreneurs and I am sure Noam will be successful as he continues his endeavor in advocating healthy eating and food justice.