It was an honor to speak with David Lewis who is one of the three co-founders of Macro Bites, along with Jarette Atkins and Fritz Georges. During this period of racial awakening, the Young Atlas team is talking with black entrepreneurs to discuss the importance of ownership. In this interview David talks about the incredible challenges he and his partners had to face and the blatant discrimination Macro Bites dealt with. Furthermore, we discuss growing up black in America and the peer pressure that comes with that.
The Founders of Macro Bites From Left to Right: Fritz Georges, David Lewis and Janette Atkins
Young Atlas: We are in the middle of turbulent times, with the recent death of George Floyd. Where is your head at these days?
David: I’m all over the place man. Apart of me is obviously upset, I have black kids so I’m worried about what they are going to have to go through. Another side of me is not surprised, because this is not anything new. The visibility is a lot higher now. I am happy that a lot more people now are able to see it, and a lot of the closet racist people are being exposed. Lastly, I am motivated to do better and make a change. We have a lot of momentum now, so I am happy about that.
Young Atlas: What are you optimistic about in terms of how the death of George Floyd can spark a chord for much needed systemic change?
David: I feel like we will have a lot more allies especially this new generation that is growing up. Lets say somebody lives in a racist household, and they are teaching their kids bigotry. Their kids may try and get indoctrinated with that, but they have phones. They can see social media now and form their own opinion. I feel like white supremacists are loosing their hold, it was a lot easier back in the day when there was not as much visibility on it and they could teach the hate in a bubble. People would believe it.
Young Atlas: With the lack of black leadership in corperate America that leads to less lobbying power in Washington. What are your thoughts on that as a business owner?
David: I think thats going to change now, because people are realizing what it is and even people who may have more money or more power. The people that were “unconcerned” will now have more responsibility towards their consumer.
Young Atlas: How did you and your business partners meet? Can you give us a little back story before you guys launched Macro Bites?
David: The three of us: me, Jarrette and Fritz, we’re all friends since childhood. We all fell into the same stereotypical cycle of: selling drugs and committing crimes. A lot of our peers fall into this cycle. It was easy to get into it, it was all around us everywhere. Speaking for myself personally, that wasn’t event who I was. I was trying to be someone else. I was trying to be “cool”, I was trying to be like people I saw on TV and stuff I heard about in rap songs and videos, but it wasn’t really me. I still got sucked into it. In our culture its the cool thing. If your smart, read books and do well in school thats not cool when your growing up in our culture. You’re cool when you have money quickly, you have a lot of girls, you have power and respect. The people who had all that stuff were drug dealers and criminals. It was easy for us to get sucked into it. We all ended up in an out of the New Jersey prison system. Eventually, we all became fathers. We made a conscious decision that if we continue doing this, this is what our kids are going to be doing.
Young Atlas: How did you get into your specific industry?
David: Starting the business came about because Jarrette and I were both managing restaurants. We were great managers, but we were over worked an underpaid. We realized that no matter how good we were at our jobs we were still employees. It wasn’t what we wanted. Being as good as we were at it, we figured we could probably do this ourselves. Create our own business, control our own destiny and have something to leave our kids. You can’t pass a job along but you can pass a business along. We talk about it all the time, how do we build generational wealth? How do we make sure our kids aren’t working at KFC for minimum wage at their first job like we were? Being that I was a personal trainer, as well as being in the restaurant industry, doing meal prep delivery seemed like a natural segue. All three of us got together and decided thats what we wanted to do.
Young Atlas: What were the next steps when you all decided to start the company?
David: We formed our plans, me and Jarrette quit our jobs and Fritz kept his job. Fritz kept his job because we were unable to get loans. When people start businesses usually they have access to capital whether its a credit line, a loan or some other resources. I had decent credit, Jarrette had really good credit, but for some reason we kept getting denied for loans over and over and over again! All the major banks, all the credit institutions, denied us for credit cards. It was strange because we didn’t know why. The credit was there. Since our credit scores were at a certain number, we would get pre approved for loans. However, when we would get to the branch they would deny us there. It started to seem discriminatory.
Young Atlas: Its a pretty obvious question, but can you explain why you believe you were unable to receive loans?
David: I’m almost positive its because what we look like. When a branch manager would be sitting there ready to make a decision they all of a sudden seemed surprised when they saw us in person. We wouldn’t even be able to get a real reason in the branch, we would get a letter.
Young Atlas: So you would apply for the loan online, then when you showed up it was a different story?
David: So we would fill out the applications online, we would get the approval, but we would have to come in and give our licenses and thats when they would deny us. The reasoning from the banks was really vague on why we wouldn’t get approved. It just didn’t make sense. We quickly realized that we weren’t going to be able to get capital this way. Fritz started working over time. Jared and I put our savings and everything we had in the business, for example: our TV’s and traded down our iPhones. We already were all in so we did what we had to do.
Young Atlas: After you realized you had to come up with your own capital and were all in on the business what were those first few months like?
David: The biggest thing is, if you are starting under capitalized the amount you have to work is ten fold. For example, not having the money to hire a staff at first, we had to do all the work ourselves. That was the only way, there was no other way to do it.
Young Atlas: How did you build up your customer base?
David: So when we first started we were doing pop ups in: local malls, gyms, supplement stores and anywhere our customer base was. We would sample out our food and present our company info. We let everyone tase it, since it tastes amazing and thats how we acquired customers. We didn’t spend money on typical advertising. We went out into the community and gave food out for free. We kept the focus on doing charity, attaching ourselves to churches and other organizations that helped people that were in need of food. We believed that by doing good things and helping the community that would come back to us. People wanted to buy from us just because we were helping people out. We embraced the community! People still remember that to this day and are still our customers. There aren’t a lot of companies going into the housing projects and giving out food. We are a bridge to that market.
Below is a picture of Fritz and David Helping The Community
Young Atlas: What is your typical customer like?
David: Our number one customer is people who need to eat healthy food and don’t have enough time to cook it. There are a ton of folks like that, who come from underserved communities. The other meal prep companies aren’t even marketing to them.
Young Atlas: How has COVID-19 affected your business?
David: We were retailing meals in gyms and some personal training studios. We lost 40% of our revenue. It forced us to be more efficient with our numbers and cut costs where we could so we were able to survive. The gyms are scheduled to open by the end of this month, so we are happy about that! Hopefully COVID shows the importance of healthy eating.
Young Atlas: Any plans for expansion?
David: We just got a bigger kitchen so now we can deliver to the entire state of New Jersey! We are looking to also expand into the tristate area.
Young Atlas: What are some positive ways we can instill change for future black generations?
David: I think that with all the stuff thats going on now, with the spotlight being brought on injustice. We can make that clear from the gate to our youth, when your acting in this way, your playing into that negative stereotype. Thats why the supremacist that own the content we consume, are pushing that so heavily. They are creating self destruction, so that we can just do it ourselves. We need to educate our kids that all of the negative stereotypes that are constantly promoted are not cool. We need to make it clear, when people are involved in self destructive behavior, they are not the cool kids anymore. The kid who is starting his own business or the kid who is spending money in the community is the cool kid. It is very difficult as a young child to chose the right path when so many of your peers are doing the wrong thing. All the major goals we have as a race start at the young level!
Young Atlas: What we believe in is changing the education system when it comes to the curriculum they are teaching our kids. We believe strongly that students graduating from high school should be blessed with much more vocational training and learn more real life skills, like: how to build credit, what a mortgage is, how to save money, how to be a carpenter, and other vocational training. As a father what are your thoughts on how the education system is letting down our youth?
David: I agree. I think a broader view of that is, that’s intentional. We are not writing the curriculum for any of our schools. We aren’t in those types of positions of power to do that. I was a grown man, before I realized true black history, about loans and the broken system until much later in life. If we teach our kids these topics at a younger age, they will be thinking about how we can grow and change in a positive way. Not having control of our curriculum plays a major role. We cant really put any changes in place. I think you are right ! We learn about JP Morgan and the Rothschilds when we are kids, we have to learn about our people doing the same thing, because it then becomes more realistic. Building a business is more realistic then winning a grammy or going to the NBA, which is such a crap shoot even if you have the talent.
Young Atlas: What has it been like in this climate identifying as a black business owner?
David: Our company being owned by three black guys, we struggled at the beginning, how heavily do we want to promote that? We don’t want to alienate our white customers and make them uncomfortable because we are so pro black. We were nervous about that in the beginning. Some young kid looking at our page needs to see that, we are for the culture! If it makes some of customers uncomfortable then they don’t deserve to be our customers anyway.