What if we told you that a local entrepreneur started his career making lemonade in the bathtub of his dorm room? Well, Patrick Steptoe of Vegan To-Go did just that!
But before then, Patrick Steptoe was born and raised in St. Louis, Missouri, with his mother, LaVerne, and grandmother, Sue, as his guiding inspirations.
He went to the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff on a basketball scholarship, and he says, “This is when the entrepreneur bug first bit me.”
He’d received a recipe for lemonade from his grandmother and began making fruit-flavored lemonades in the bathtub of his dorm room, which he then sold to athletes and students on campus. Thus began his journey into the healthy eating and beverage industry.
After college, he moved back to St. Louis and briefly owned a restaurant serving meatless soul food, but he eventually decided to get out of the restaurant business to start manufacturing healthy products that reached a wider audience.
Patrick moved to Charlotte six years ago to pursue his dream of launching a plant-based food company, and Vegan To-Go has been in business for three years now.
Keep reading to learn more about Patrick, Vegan To-Go, and his journey to entrepreneurship!
CharlotteBusinessResources.com (CBRBiz.com): What inspired you to start Vegan To-Go? Are you a vegan yourself?
Patrick Steptoe (PS): I was inspired to start Vegan To-Go by the rise in obesity, childhood obesity, diabetes and high cholesterol that directly affected my family and my own health. I lost my father from diabetes, my grandmother from obesity challenges, and I witnessed how today’s kids are suffering from obesity because of the high fat, low quality foods they consume. After college, I ballooned from 220 lbs to 320 lbs, at which time I became pre-diabetic and had extremely high cholesterol. I had to make a change, which led me to research and begin a plant based diet. I ended up losing 90 lbs over two years and saved my life. I am a vegetarian at this time.
CBRBiz.com: Opening a business in the food industry is always difficult, but did starting your business present any unique challenges? If so, what were they, and how did you overcome them?
PS: The first challenge to overcome is having faith in yourself and your business concept/idea. I faced the typical challenges most entrepreneurs have faced when trying to raise capital and get people, specifically decision makers, to take me and our products seriously. I’ve overcome many of the challenges I’ve faced through research, being persistent and never being afraid to ask for help. I’ve learned that problems don’t solve themselves; you have to put some effort into finding your own solutions.
I’ve learned that problems don’t solve themselves; you have to put some effort into finding your own solutions.
CBRBiz.com: Tell us more about your ingredients. Where do you source them, and what is the process like?
PS: We use NON-GMO ingredients. When you read a Vegan To-Go label, you can easily pronounce all the ingredients because we use real garlic, onions, adobe peppers, soybeans, etc. We source our ingredients from specialty food suppliers throughout the U.S.
CBRBiz.com: Did you have to undergo any special training or certification before opening Vegan To-Go?
PS: My culinary training came from my grandmother teaching me to cook, but we do have a certified chef on our team who specializes in vegan and vegetarian products, nutritional analysis and recipe formulation.
CBRBiz.com: Which of the local resources have you utilized during your journey as an entrepreneur?
PS: We have utilized local printing companies for our labels, local graphic designers for our logo design and local shipping companies to deliver our products.
CBRBiz.com: What three tips would you give entrepreneurs hoping to start their own business in the food industry?
PS: Tip number one is to believe in yourself and your idea.
Two, is to research, research and research to make sure you understand the industry, the competition and how you can be successful.
The third tip would be to make sure you are over-capitalized to be able to weather the storms that come from being in business, specifically the food business.
Tip number one is to believe in yourself and your idea.
CBRBiz.com: Where do you see Vegan To-Go in 5 years? 10 years?
PS: In 5 years, I see Vegan To-Go having product distribution in several grocery stores like WalMart, Publix, Whole Foods, Earthfare, Lowes, etc. as well as expanded food service distribution in schools, colleges, sports concessions and airports. In 10 years, I see Vegan To-Go becoming a well- known regional franchise system like Showmars, The Flying Biscuit or Cracker Barrel.
CBRBiz.com: What or who has influenced you along the way?
PS: The drive to be successful and create a healthier change in the world is the “WHAT” that has influenced me. My family, my Pastor and great stories of entrepreneurs like Ray Kroch of McDonalds and Howard Schultz of Starbucks are the “WHO” that have influenced me along my journey.
CBRBiz.com: What has been your proudest moment to date?
PS: When Harris Teeter accepted Vegan To-Go products for placement in 200 stores. That was an awesome feeling of accomplishment.
CBRBiz.com: What’s one thing people might not know about you or your business that you’d like for them to know?
PS: Vegan To-Go products are available in the frozen section in Harris Teeter stores. If your local store doesn’t carry Vegan To-Go, there is a customer request form available at the Harris Teeter customer service counter.
CBRBiz.com: Is there anything we didn’t ask that you’d like to add?
PS: I believe that even though it is difficult to be an entrepreneur, that any success in life or business worth accomplishing is going to have obstacles and challenges. The beautiful part of this process is learning to use the obstacles and challenges as teachable moments that inspire you to keep moving forward. Use the obstacles and challenges to build your mental strength, propelling you to get better as opposed to letting anything or anyone stop you from achieving your dreams.
The beautiful part of this process is learning to use the obstacles and challenges as teachable moments that inspire you to keep moving forward.
This was such a fun interview. We don’t know about you, but we’re dying to try Vegan To-Go–the meatless chili and meatballs look delicious! For more information, visit http://www.veganto-go.com/. Have a question for us? Tweet it to @CBRBiz!