In this episode on The Radcast, host Ryan Alford talks with Austin Evans, the Founder of Lean Kitchen Company, a healthy meal prep franchise with over 20+ locations.
In this episode on The Radcast, host Ryan Alford talks with Austin Evans, the Founder of Lean Kitchen Company, a healthy meal prep franchise with over 20+ locations.
These are the topics in today’s episode:
Keep up with Austin Evans by following him on his personal Instagram @austin_evans7
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Austin [00:00:00] I don’t know how much entrepreneurship can be taught. It's something that's in your blood.
Ryan [00:00:04] Exponential growth comes with discomfort.
Austin [00:00:06] You have to have a level, but you have to have an option. A lot of people are so caught up in wanting to be the man or the woman.
It has to start somewhere, has to start sometime. What better place than here? What better time than now?
Ryan [00:00:20] Hey, guys, what's up? Welcome to the latest edition of The Radcast, Ryan Alford your host. Welcome back to another episode. We live in the studios here of the Radcast, which is the home of radical loneliness, coolest motherfucking greatest ad agency in the United States of the USA. I'm here today with a bad ass motherfucker. I told him I was going to curse at least six times before introducing him. Welcome Austin Evans.
Austin [00:01:03] I appreciate it.
Ryan [00:01:05] Good to have you. He is the co-founder of Lean Kitchens, an ice cream mogul. As we learned in the previous episode, we'll get to that. He’s a good dude all around. I'm glad you're here.
Austin [00:01:20] Yeah, thank you. Looking forward to it, I always like seeing if I can shed a little of my experience or should I've learned from other people. So hopefully people get something out of this.
Ryan [00:01:32] I think you will. But where's home? Austin
Austin [00:01:37] Kansas City, Missouri, right in the middle of the country.
Ryan [00:01:41] How far is Kansas City from St. Louis?
Austin [00:01:46] About four and a half hours, we just try to drive over.
Ryan [00:01:53] There must be something drawing me to Missouri. We're talking to a potential client there in Missouri and I have never done business in Missouri. But there's been some gravitational pull here. We have you on the podcast. We've got a new client coming to Missouri. I don't know what it is, the Midwest is pulling us in. Well, let's start in Austin. Let's start from the beginning. We'll also get into the lean kitchen if you're out there. This is meal prep and delivery of meals that's become very popular and you guys are crushing it. You've got 20 plus locations and growing. And let's get to all that. But let's give everybody a little bit about your background.
Austin [00:02:41] Absolutely. So I was born and raised in St. Joe, Missouri, just north of Kansas City, grew up and had this entrepreneurial tick. I don’t know how much entrepreneurship can be taught. It's something that's in your blood. A lot of people have tendencies, but I grew up very entrepreneurial. And my friday nights were spent watching Shark Tank with my dad bullshitting about business. I'm forever indebted to that man for the stuff he stopped me with business. And so did all the little knick knacks stuff growing up that you want to do. I mowed grass. Growing up, I did all the little knick knacks stuff you want to do. I mowed grass. I bought Red Bull vending machines for businesses. I was going to get rich off of Red Bull, which I used for a while when I was 17, then sold insurance for a little while. I didn't enjoy that much. I guess I wanted to do something for myself, so I franchise a store out of Colorado called Fit Republic and open a supplement store. So like a GMC Supplemental Nutrition Wellness, I treated people in a different way with way better service than a GMC. It seems as if some of the stories you hear, on both ends of the spectrum, decide that they don't know shit and just sit there, doing anything or the side that tries to throw everything down your throat. It's buy three, get two free, buy four, get three free, and the whole goal is to walk out of there, high five and associate high five in the back because they just sold you five hundred dollars worth of stuff. You never get five hundred dollars. The results will come back.
Ryan [00:04:15] Oh yes. I've been on that supplement junkie ride many times. My wife makes fun of me, we have cabinets at my house, they're like the land of misfit supplements. It's where they go to die, like stuff that doesn't work.
Austin [00:04:30] I definitely do things different than that. We started giving shit about people, like helping them know how to eat, making meal plans. For people coming in for fat burners, instead of just selling them a fat burner, that won't help them. Instead, we would advise them on a meal replacement and not tell them to drink five shakes a day. Hey, let's get your diet right. Let's take multivitamin greens and then you create a lifetime customer. You create a customer who wants to come back and you treat people the right way. You actually help them get results. And through that, people started getting really good results. We had people down forty pounds, seventy pounds, one hundred pounds. And it was like, how can we help people further? Well, just like you and I were talking prior to the show, if people could be eating healthy conveniences everything. And there's a lot of meal prep companies popping up, but none of them were doing it right. And I'm sure there's one or two location outfits out there doing it right but a lot of it was either kind of healthy TV dinners. It just wasn't done in a way that I thought was adequate. So we started doing our own prep. I knew that I wanted to scale fast and so I have a business partner, J.R. He helps me a ton on the kitchen side of things and I do the growth side of things. And then it became, let's scale this thing. Let's make it where other people can open their own. We became the first meal prep franchise to teach people how to open up their own commissary kitchen and distribute to their satellite stores. I'm totally fast forwarding past all the shit you go through but it took off. And now fast forwarding a lot, here we are with 50 locations sold, 27 currently open and everywhere from Greenville, South Carolina, all the way to Spokane, Washington.
Ryan [00:06:27] Wow. Great growth and interesting. I want to get into some of the franchise stuff. My wife and I have tried everything from making home kits to, you know, I'm not going to name every competitor in this space, but it's gotten a little crowded. I remember Blue Plate or all the names that have become my head spins. I will probably tease you about what makes the lean kitchen different, but I don't know how consumers are supposed to tell them apart.
Austin [00:07:10] Yeah. So to answer the generalization question, a lot of meal prep kits like your blue aprons, they are going to buy the stuff and they're going to ship it to. You're going to break it down and cook it. So that's a lot of prep that has to go into that. That's kind of a different realm if you ask me. Then there are stores that you go into and you pick your meals off the shelf - that's kind of the model of the kitchen, we also offer delivery, and then there are TV dinners - that's the frozen meal that's cheap and whatever it is. That's a general differentiator between them. How Lean Kitchen is different is that our food tastes awesome. I don't want somebody to say, oh, it's diet food. So I'll be frank, because I think there's value to get out of this for other entrepreneurs. We figured out really early what our identity was. I was franchising to a guy and he was mentioning a competitor and their prices were double than ours. And we're really reasonable, like eight to ten bucks. There are sit down cafes where you can get a good salad for sixteen dollars, by the time you add a drink and everything else you are sitting down for twenty dollars, or there are places like ours where you can grab one or two meals, heat them up, and leave or order all your meals for the week and have them delivered. We also offer meal plans, for example ten meals for 85 bucks or a cheap TV dinner for only four or five dollars. I had a franchise prospect who said, man, this expensive place is really good and I like their steaks a little better than yours, but I said it's a whole different thing like, and so I covered that. When you want to bring your wife out to dinner, you can go to McDonald's, good luck or you can go to Cheddar's. I love Cheddar's. Me and my wife get to go like a couple of nights a week because I think it's really good value. It's good food. It's not expensive. Or you can go to a capital grill, McCormick. So I'm looking to be that really good value where you go and it's a good quality item. Maybe I think we are the best when you consider value for sure but I'm not using fresh cut, expensive steak. I'm using a nice value and I'm making it taste good. So we figured out our identity and that's where we are. I'm looking to serve the masses, a very quality product that isn't cheap and isn't overpriced.
Ryan [00:10:10] Lean on your wallet. Lean on your belly
Austin [00:10:16] Yeah It's not an expensive franchise.
Ryan [00:10:18] Exactly. Lean all the way around. I like it.
Austin [00:10:22] Yeah.
Ryan [00:10:23] I know you've got a podcast you're working on and starting and maybe we can build into that but we would like to hear about the entrepreneurial path you followed and, perhaps, some of the speed bumps that you encountered, as you called it on your show, as well as any advice you'd give to anyone out there who might be going through the same thing.
Austin [00:10:57] Yeah, absolutely. I'm starting a podcast called Speed Bumps, the whole premise of it is learning from your mistakes. My journey has been a whole lot of mistakes, just like any other entrepreneur out there, I'm sure of yourself also. It's trial and error. Everybody wants a roadmap of what to do, but if you're really doing something new, if you're really going to have an impact, chances are you're doing a lot of things that are unique or haven't been done yet at the scale you want to achieve. So the biggest lesson I could give anybody and that I've learned myself is you don't know what you don't know. And everybody's ego gets involved. You have to go to some level to be good at it because there's a level of confidence. You have to have an ego, but your ego has to have action behind it or else then you're just an idiot. And a lot of people are so caught up and wanting to be the man or the woman that they want to be that they don't want to bring people in to help. So I'm a big fan of you don't know what you don't know. And I am not afraid to ask questions. I'll ask questions if I'm doing something. It doesn't matter if it's trying to learn franchising. It doesn't matter if right now I'm building an ice cream cone, developing a piece of land, I ask so many freaking questions because I don't know shit about something. So one of the biggest lessons I think people can learn from is when I went through franchising. We started selling a lot of franchises and It was taking off. And then I started feeling that I'm not supporting these people. I don't know what I'm doing. I was in over my head, quite frankly. My business partner, J.R. and I, through mutual contacts,connected with the CEO of another company that franchises over 205 locations in three countries. I reached out to that CEO and asked him if they would help guide us, maybe manage us, take us under his wing. And you know what the answer was initially? No. I got told, you're too small. And then he decided to come here to Missouri and he again said, you're too small. He was then in Pittsburgh, so I said, I actually have a meeting in Pittsburgh on Monday. It was like Friday and I didn't have a meeting in Pittsburgh. And I told him. He goes, Sure, if you want to come in, I'll meet you. So I flew there that night and walked out of the meeting and finally sold it on the idea of coming on board. So he consulted with us for a long time and then the company really grew and took a really good path. And throughout 2020 costs were going down, our sales were going up. And he ended up saying, hey, this has serious legs. I want to be a part of it long term. So now he's a minority equity partner in the deal and we get his experience. Do you know who Jesse Etzler is, Ryan? He’s an entrepreneur who said this one time that I want to grow big fast and I don't have time for experience. And that's exactly how I feel. I don't have time for that shit. So what do we do? We bring on a guy who's been franchising longer than I've been alive. And now here we are. We've been franchising for three years and we're behaving like a company, franchising for fifteen years.
Ryan [00:14:18] I like it. Exponential growth comes with discomfort.
Austin [00:14:23] And you can’t be afraid to ask.
Ryan [00:14:27] Yeah, exactly. We had Christopher Lochhead, who's a wizard and an old school legend in marketing and category weight. I'll give you a little tip, category pirates: look him up, read a couple of his books and listen to the podcast that hasn't released yet, but a lot of wisdom there about radical growth. The opportunity arises when you define and reimagine a category that is crowded, it has been crowded historically, but you're zigging when they zag and you're kind of leaning into that. So congrats on all that growth. What are any other speed bumps, as you like to call, or any tidbits you brought in with the consultant? I'll call him a consultant. I know he's more than that. Was there one or two tips that were like, oh, shitlike that, that's amazing, or was it more complicated than that?
Austin [00:15:32] More complex than that because of the avenues. But I'll tell you one of the big things I've taken from him that's been really cool. It wasn't necessarily something he told us. He maintains equanimity, which means keeping your cool under pressure and when things get tough, when you're under high stress, he keeps his cool dude, has an extreme level of equanimity. Before he was the CEO of the current company, he was the CEO of TCBY Yogurt. This company grew from four hundred stores to over four thousand and then reduced to two thousand, and he survived it all with a ridiculously high degree of equanimity. The guy is cool as a cucumber no matter what the situation. So over this past year, we have all the shortages going on in every industry. We have a polypropylene shortage going on. Polypropylene is like basically the plastic material that our containers are made out of. We just got through this and he was just cool as a cucumber man. The guy is just Mr. Cool through every situation and he is such a nice guy. So I think that was something I took away. Growing up, I saw my dad work in business, I grew up around a lot of people involved in business, and man, I've seen people whose feet read screaming through their teeth whenever something goes wrong. And then it's like the higher and more successful people you deal with, they're just cool as a cucumber.
Ryan [00:17:13] That's a good one. That's a big one, it takes time to kind of learn that one. I think that's a learned skill more than some. Some people are more innately calm than others. But it took me some time and I'm not sure of it. I get hot headed like anyone else and I internalize a lot of it, but I know there's a moment when, you know, nothing good ever arises from it. And there's a fine line between passion and emotion.
Austin [00:17:45] Yes. I agree. There's definitely a fine line with compassion, emotion, but it takes that passion to get going. I think that's why I was a hothead, and I'm sure you were a hothead, and if you asked Jim, who came on with us, I bet you Jim was a hothead 40 years ago. So it's something we all go through, but do you grow through that, do you grow to where you have that degree of equanimity, do you grow to where you handle all the situations, do you go to where you let your ego down to ask questions and to take on people who know better? I think those are all important facets of growth.
Ryan [00:18:33] Where does your drive and ambition come from? You obviously seem and I think the best entrepreneurs are curious creatures. But what are some of your other inspiration points?
Austin [00:18:58] I definitely seek and find inspiration and lessons through all those guys. Andy Fasullo, Jesse Itzler, Ed Miles, the list goes on. But I'm trying to figure out something for myself. I'm not sure if this will answer your question, but I'm at a point where I'm very happy and that's more important than anything. And with money comes the freedom which creates happiness. Not that I'm saying I have a lot of money, but I'm saying this thing is going to be growing and going better. It's like what do I want long-term, what's your number that you want this coming year, what's your number that you want to be worth? That's what I'm constantly trying to figure out. I guess the inspiration for me is that I want to figure out how to be long term happy, and we took our first family vacation a couple of months ago, their first time seeing a beach, their first time being on a plane, and the first time you go on a family vacation, it kind of hits different because you're not getting drunk and having fun, you're doing it for your family. And when you see that, it was kind of a turning point, even though it was just recent.
Ryan [00:20:29] Yeah. Well, I can relate to that. I have four boys, five, nine, nine and eleven year old. We have a blended Brady Bunch family, my wife and I met, she had a two year old and I had a two year old and a four year old when we met. And then we had one together. So his, hers and ours is definitely a different perspective. Whether it's a girlfriend or a wife and you're going on vacation and you take the kids on and do different things, it's definitely different. I think that's what a lot of people are seeking, finding balance. But, you know, it's more about comfort. I describe it as freedom and comfort more than money. Yeah, money allows that and it empowers it.
Austin [00:21:21] I think the majority of the world is caught up in just chasing the money because they think the money is going to give them everything. Money does provide a tremendous level of freedom. I'm not the person that grew up around people who said money doesn't matter and they talk shit, money is your God, this and that. Those are all the people that never had money. If you are grateful and you just stand on your pedestal, say money doesn't matter, you probably don't have any. But you can't just be seeking the money for this ridiculous level of freedom. There's so much money that goes into it. And I think if people would be more conscious about trying to become happy rather, I'm not trying to sound like the freaking Buddha.
Ryan [00:22:14] Austin Evans, also known as Zen Master.
Austin [00:22:19] I mean, there's definitely you have to be seeking the right things. I think that's an interesting kind of journey that everybody should be looking at.
Ryan [00:22:26] Yeah, I agree. What's up? Where's everything headed with Lane Kitchen? I mean, you're twenty plus open stores already. Twenty seven. You've got fifty franchises, total sold or locations that will be coming online. You know what the number is this year. Where are we trying to get to?
Austin [00:22:49] I want to just keep growing at a great clip. I could have sold a hundred right now. I sold everyone who wanted the franchise. But I don't just sell to anybody and everybody because that's just a quick way. That way it's all going to fall real quick. So I want successful stories. I want successful operators, franchises that are kicking ass and they want to continue opening more like that. We've had franchises that are buying five more locations, three more locations, because they're doing well. That's important. But as long as we continue healthy growth and it’s people who are doing well, sky's the limit. I want to keep going. I guess I said I want one hundred a while back by 2022 but I think that successful ones matter more than just having the number.
Ryan [00:23:47] Coming back to the franchising thing. I know John, your consultant, an investor now, like he had brought in those things. Is there someone else out there who might be buying, looking at franchising, or who already has a business they're considering franchising, anything you could point them towards three or four key things, one or two?
Austin [00:24:26] Yeah. If you're out there, you're looking to franchise your business. You have to realize that you are no longer in whatever business you're in. So if you have a sandwich shop, we're going to go to the most generic franchise ever. You own a sandwich shop and you want to open a franchise because the five people who have done well said they would open one of your shops. As soon as you start franchising, you are no longer in the sandwich business; you are now in it at your original business and your franchise company merely provides support. You're in support. Franchise companies fail left and right. Almost, i don;t know the number, but I'll bet you it's 75%. They fail because they fail to recognize they are now in the support, marketing, and analytics business. They think they're in the sandwich business but they're not. So you are from Greenville, I love Greenville. I took my wife to visit our franchise in Greenville. We have a franchise store owner there and he is killing it. He's a great guy. He'd be great to come on the show. Just a little different avenue than me. He's franchising a business. He's just a regular guy. But me and my wife went out and visited them recently and we loved it. We could move there in a second. You have a restaurant in your town, I won't mention the name, but it's killer, and if he franchised, he'd do so well. When I was in town, I was talking to him about franchising. He asked me about the franchise. What should I do? During our conversation, he's been telling me all these things he wants to add to his business. He wants to do this and also has an avenue that he wants to plug in because he thinks it will work well in the restaurant. And I said, dude, chill, you need to put all that shit for later and franchise what you've perfected. And the reason he wants to keep adding new things is because it's new to him and it's new to his staff and it's new to his local customer base. But what I was trying to make him realize is this is new to the whole country. What you're doing is a unique food item. Roll it out everywhere and grow the shit out of it because it will stick. Stop all the new stuff. And he was like, Really? I really want to do that, though. I mean, we've perfected that. No, you haven't. Perfect that later. Roll with what you have and then just focus on the support and everything. So if you're thinking about franchising your business, perfect what you do and cut all the new shit out. Make sure the systems and processes, instructions, and scalability are set up to get that to people, for instance, Google Drive, Dropbox, whatever you use. And then you're going to need to hire a support system. You need to have somebody who's constantly in contact with your franchises. They have to be constantly in contact with them. And we provide marketing to our franchises. I mean, that's the biggest thing about if you're trying to franchise your business. It's a whole different industry.
Ryan [00:27:29] Well, you become a B2B business and not B2C if you're franchising and your core business is B2C.
Austin [00:27:39] If you decide you want to franchise or license what you're doing, you already know what you're doing here.
Ryan [00:27:50] I'd already be doing that. Don't give away the secret yet. I'm kidding, but yes, keep going down that path. I want to hear this.
Austin [00:27:59] Yeah. You're no longer in the how can I give my customers good media? You are in the how can I get the people who come online as a radcast professional or whatever it is to understand how to talk to customers, how to onboard customers, how to market to get new customers, you have to support them.
Ryan [00:28:22] Exactly. It’s all systems and processes. I've learned and this is not a secret or anything yet and we haven't launched it, but I have been considering franchising our agency. It's about systems and processes, as well as marketing which we have mastered, but being a marketing agency may not be an easy thing but is one of the easier ones in the past.
Austin [00:28:52] I think you have a killer opportunity there. And I think that we can sit here and talk about it for two hours and a media company could sit and listen, and it's a whole different ball game.
Ryan [00:29:03] Execution is almost everything.
What does the future hold for Austin? I mean, it just sounds like we're leaning into Lean Kitchen, pun intended as much as possible. In other words, you have enough on your plate there, so sometimes when you talk to people they say, "Well, it's not clear what the next steps are, it seems like your past has gotten out.". But what else is on the way?
Austin [00:29:31] Yeah. So I have diversified like the recent ice cream stores I have. Currently, I own three lean kitchen stores and two ice cream stores, which I got into because the first was a local icon, but the business was mismanaged and I saw a great opportunity there. Our first year of opening led to quadrupling, maybe tripling, their best sales year ever, and then I found another ice cream cone building exactly like mine in Canada and bought it on developing lows. So I had the bandwidth to take those on and good management in place and stuff. I would keep opening stores myself, but I need to focus on the franchise and I will give you the long tail answer because there's probably people just like us who are entrepreneurial. They want to take on everything. But bandwidth is the most important thing. And what can you handle? And then do you have the people to help you handle it? And so definitely I've stopped opening my own stores. I'm not doing more ice cream stores for the foreseeable future. My plan is to lean hardcore in the kitchen and see what we can do with that. Moreover, any money that is left over is taken off the table, invested smartly, and used to diversify into passive investments. When I say passive, it's like I'm talking about the stock market, real estate, and things like that. Do you also invest like that?
Ryan [00:30:58] Oh yeah. About 20 grand in 30 days.
Austin [00:31:04] That's the theory
Ryan [00:31:09] It's almost like day trading. I mean, I put it in and watch it for a week, take some out, put it and take it out, and we'll know
Austin [00:31:22] Yeah. Once Tesla put Bitcoin on their balance sheet, I thought, well shit, I can do that. So I put Ethereum on the balance sheet. So that has worked out well so far. That was good.
Ryan [00:31:34] It's the Wild Wild West and cryptocurrency for sure.
Ryan [00:31:42] Where do we find all things Austin Evans, all things Leane Kitchen and the like?
Austin [00:31:48] Yeah, austinrevans.com is my website. I do some blogs there. I'll be starting with Speed Bumps podcast and having guests probably on your cell phone and then and then for lean kitchen, leankitchenco.com if looking for a badass franchise. Every market I talk to, they're always like we can use that everywhere. But everyone's looking to get healthy and looking for convenience. And then Austin_Evans7 on Instagram.
Ryan [00:32:15] So you know where to keep up with Austin Evans. A lot of great things are happening with one of the fastest growing meal prep companies in the US, Lean Kitchen. Austin Evans, It was great having you.
You know where to find us. We're at theradcast.com at the.red.cast on Instagram. I'm Ryan Alfrod on Instagram and Ryan.Alford on TikTok. We'll see you next time on the Radcast.