The past few years have seen an uptick in students launching food-related ventures from the Yale Entrepreneurial Institute (YEI). Now, two of them gaining traction in their markets—beef jerky and fast casual Chinese food, respectively—just received $100,000 each from the YEI Innovation Fund. The fund, supported by Yale University, Connecticut Innovations and Webster Bank, provides pre-seed investments to promising Yale startups that have participated in programs at YEI.
Chops Snacks was founded by two Yale undergrads, Luke Sellers (YC ’17) and Aaron Jones (’17), who saw an opportunity to grow a small beef jerky business started by Sellers’ father-in-law into a nationwide brand. What sets their jerky apart is the quality of meat they use—USDA choice and select beef brisket that is flavorful and moist. “We care about the quality of our meat,” says Sellers. “We use two of the highest cuts of beef available.” The jerky is already for sale at more than 450 stores across the South and Chops Snacks will be selling at Kroger and New Seasons Market in 2017. “This funding gives us resources to help do a push promotion at these retailers,” Sellers says.
Junzi Kitchen—cofounded by three Yale graduate students, Yong Zhao (FES ’08 Ph.D. ’15), Wanting Zhang (FES ’11) and Ming Bai (ART ’13)—has become an established presence in New Haven’s Broadway district. The restaurant is reimagining Northern Chinese cuisine in the form of bings (wraps) and noodle dishes that are made to order with a series of add-ons that include braised meats, Chinese vegetables, pickles, garnish and sauce. Junzi has also become a cultural hotspot, hosting a series called “Night Lunch” that features innovative dishes from budding area chefs.
“Through Junzi we’re exploring how Northern Chinese food can be a foundation for collaborations between chefs, artists and entrepreneurs,” says Zhao, Junzi’s CEO. “This is happening through pop-up events at Junzi Kitchen and a block party series we host that features chefs, artists and musicians.”
Junzi is opening its second location at Columbia University in Manhattan this spring where they plan to continue their community-building strategies.
“We’re inspired by the early success of these two startups,” says Richard Hunt, YEI’s Venture Mentor-in-Residence. “They were incredibly committed while working through the YEI Fellowship program and have continued to devote themselves to attracting customers and growing their brands. We expect great things from both Chops Snacks and Junzi Kitchen.”