New Recipes for Success

Green Growing

How one entrepreneur is reshaping his community with better food.

By Patrick L. Kennedy

City Fresh Foods CEO Glynn Lloyd (CAS’90) showed a natural flair for entrepreneurship while still in high school, when he made $100,000 with a landscaping business.

Remember lunch in your grade school cafeteria? You may have enjoyed the chicken nuggets and Salisbury steak at the time, but in retrospect, those cheap, processed, frozen foods weren’t particularly healthy.

Now imagine you’re a child whose family relies largely on that lunch (and possibly a similar school breakfast), for free or a reduced price, in order to keep you fed. And even if your mother could afford to buy more food on her own, your neighborhood lacks a decent supermarket or other source of fresh produce.

That’s the way it is for many in the Roxbury and Dorchester neighborhoods of Boston. “Fifty percent of the calories these kids eat are from the federal school lunch program,” says Roxbury resident Glynn Lloyd (CAS’90). “Diabetes, hypertension—we’re seeing rates a lot higher than in other neighborhoods. It’s really an epidemic.”

Lloyd is the founder and CEO of City Fresh Foods, a business with a mission to change all that. The company prepares and delivers 11,000 fresh, healthy meals a day, primarily to the public market—low-income schoolchildren and elders. City Fresh uses local ingredients in season, from New England grass-fed beef to salad greens and tomatoes grown in Dorchester urban gardens. The staff work with dietitians to create tasty yet less fatty and salty versions of their customers’ preferred ethnic menus, offering fried chicken with candied yams, fish in coconut sauce, and other Southern, Caribbean, and Latin fare. What’s more, Lloyd employs 78 people from the community, offering good pay, benefits, skills training, and even profit sharing.

As a BU student from Sharon, Massachusetts, Lloyd did volunteer work in Roxbury, his family’s old neighborhood. After graduating and spending two years in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, as one of the first Teach for America recruits, Lloyd returned to Boston and taught GED students in Dorchester. “I was supposed to be doing career counseling and I said, ‘You know what? We need to create our own jobs.’” He helped the students open and operate a fruit stand.

“I saw food as one of those first basic necessities that we should have more control of,” he says. “As I learned more about the food system, peeled back the onion, it became clear that we had a sustainability issue as far as how we grow food, how we distribute food.” Lloyd decided to “create a local business that not only deals with the [economic] inequity issue but also is wiser environmentally.”

That was in 1994. “Clearly, since the beginning of City Fresh, that conversation has gone a lot more mainstream. We’ve always been a little ahead of the game.”

Glynn Lloyd visits with elementary school children in Dorchester enjoying a City Fresh Foods lunch. Photos by Melody Komyerov

Despite early setbacks (such as a ceiling collapse within days of opening), Lloyd soldiered on with a small catering company and got a contract to provide ethnic-based Meals on Wheels for homebound elderly clients. He soon brought his brother Sheldon (CGS’84, SMG’86) into the business, and City Fresh began to grow. Lloyd returned to BU part-time to earn a certificate in small business entrepreneurship through the InnerCity Entrepreneurs program, which was founded and run by Arts & Sciences Professor of Sociology Dan Monti, now retired. “They call it a streetwise MBA,” says Lloyd.

Today, City Fresh Foods is doing $5 million a year in sales. In its 11,000-square-foot commissary in Roxbury, cooks start at 3:30 every morning, preparing meals from 27 different menus. Packers load the hot food into temperature-controlled bags, and 15 trucks (including one that runs on vegetable oil and, in the past, one electric truck) take the breakfasts, lunches, snacks, and dinners to charter schools, parochial schools, public schools (as well as to youth camps in the summer), child care and senior centers, and elders’ homes.

Over the company’s 18 years, the Lloyds have expanded their client base, and now serve urban and low-income children and elders as far west as Worcester, north to Gloucester, and east to Provincetown (at the tip of Cape Cod). They have added Russian and Italian menus.

Furthermore, City Fresh recently won a contract to provide lunches to the prestigious private school Buckingham Browne & Nichols in Cambridge, “and we’re looking to expand in that arena,” says Lloyd. “Here’s a population who may be willing to pay some extra money for this type of quality, and also understands the importance of fresher, local, nonchemical foods. At the same time, they’re supporting urban economic development. It’s a win-win.”

The bottom line for Lloyd is employment in Boston’s inner city. “We have not laid anyone off since we started. It’s been consistent, steady growth, even in these crazy economic times we’ve been having. So we offer a sense of stability for a lot of people.”

Those who’ve worked for City Fresh for more than a year share in the profits, sometimes earning as much as an extra $1,000 a year, and the Lloyds’ long-term goal is worker ownership. They encourage employees to learn new skills and move up the ladder, providing them with ESL classes, computer training, and career coaching. Former employees have even gone on to found their own businesses in the community, such as a bakery that sells whole-grain pizza to City Fresh.

Lloyd also employs local and urban farmers: City Fresh’s sister company, City Growers, owns a quarter-acre of land in Dorchester and another two acres in nearby Milton, which produce lettuce, arugula, beets, potatoes, tomatoes, cucumbers, and carrots.

The Dorchester plots are the first step in a city effort to rezone land for agricultural use, at Lloyd’s prompting. “We have a lot of vacant land and people looking for jobs” in the inner city, he says, while not far away are “high-end restaurants and hotels and retailers who want fresh, local stuff. Let’s figure out how to connect those folks with this product.”