Made in New England: Meet Curt Griffing of Raw Food Central
For raw foodie Curt Griffing, it’s all about keeping it simple and authentic. That’s why his raw, vegan, organic snack company Raw Food Central doesn’t overcomplicate health food. In fact, all the products are made with whole foods like raisins for sweeteners, and you’ll never find an ingredient you can’t pronounce on the back of the package! We got to chat with owner Curt to discuss healing himself through food, his frustrations with chemicals and preservatives, and a day in the life of a raw foodie. (Believe it or not, he doesn’t own a stove!)
R.K.: What made you start your brand? How did you first get the idea?
C.G.: Originally it goes back to when I was 23 years old, when I came down with crippling rheumatoid arthritis. I started reading books about health and nutrition, and was going to a specialist and he finally said “There’s some good news and bad news, but the bad news is there is no cure for it.” I talked to the doctor about nutrition and diet, and asked if I could change anything I was eating, and he said absolutely not. That didn’t make sense to me! I read one book that said when you cook your food you kill it, and it made so much sense to me. That day I left his office and said I’ll never go back to a doctor again.
I did more research and talked to others who have healed through diet and lifestyle. I went home and and cleared out anything that was in a can, box or jar and went to the produce department in the grocery store. My refrigerator looked like a garden! I started eating raw food, and over time I kept getting better and better, and eventually got rid of all my medications. One day about a year and a half later I woke up and said “Wow, the aches and pains are gone.” It’s now been almost 40 years being 100 percent raw and vegan.
In 2001, I opened up a storefront in Windsor, Connecticut that was educational; I taught classes and showed people how to make meals and why it’s important to change their diet. I was selling some snacks to students, and people loved them. A couple years ago, my brother approached me about going into business together and creating healthy, raw snacks that tasted good too. Now we’re across the country!
R.K.: How do you source your ingredients?
C.G.: We make all our products from scratch! My recipes were created back when I was in Windsor on my own [at the storefront]. We try to get local ingredients as much as possible, sourcing kale from New England farms in the summer. In the winter, we start going south and look into organic farms in Mexico.
I had a cashew ranch salad dressing people loved, so I modified it to flavor the kale and onion rings. Sweeteners come from raisins, and everything is made with whole foods. The back of the package is all food—ingredients you can recognize. My motto is to keep it simple.
R.K.: What did you have to learn the hard way? Any particular challenges along the way?
C.G.: It’s a learning curve definitely! You learn as you go. If we knew what we know now, we’d maybe be ahead of the game. You keep searching and searching for cheaper prices to keep your costs down, and at the very beginning you do what you can. Buying in bulk is very important. When you keep searching, there are better and better prices out there!
R.K.: Has there been a benefit to starting your business in the New England area that you don’t think you’d get elsewhere?
C.G.: The fact that we’re local is the main benefit. People like to buy local things! We do a lot of store demos and food expos, slowly making our way outside the local territory. We’ve met a lot of great people and contacts along the way!
R.K.: What would you love to see in the New England food and wellness scene that you don’t now?
C.G.: Less ingredients that aren’t whole foods, and more whole food based products! There are so many plant-based foods out there that don’t need chemicals or preservatives, but they put them in there to extend the shelf-life. That’s defeating the purpose! Even things like pickles, you don’t need coloring agents… when you ferment things naturally, it just takes longer. We’re sacrificing health for speed.
R.K.: What are your favorite local health food products?
C.G.: Believe it or not, I make all my own foods, and don’t go out to eat. I have my own organic food co-op, so I buy my produce in cases. We go through a case of bananas a week! So in my refrigerator is just tons of fruits and vegetables, and I rarely go to the store. I don’t have a stove in my house, but I have two fridges! I’ve been living this way for so long that it’s normal. In the morning, I’ll have a big smoothie, a bunch of fruit for lunch, and a bucket-sized salad for dinner with my own dressing. My whole family eats this way including my wife and three kids!
R.K.: Who has been the greatest influence or role model in starting your business?
C.G.: Probably my brother Barry who spearheaded this with me; he’s very business savvy. I know a lot about health and nutrition, but he knows a lot about business. It’s a good combination!
R.K.: Where do you hope to see your brand in the next two years?
C.G.: More sales! It’d be nice to be in every state and have all the big chains sell our products. We’re in Whole Foods in certain regions, but it’d nice to be nationwide!
R.K.: What advice would you give someone looking to start their own wellness or food business?
C.G.: Unfortunately, this takes money! The biggest thing is cash flow. Also hiring a good staff, and a product that tastes good too doesn’t hurt. I had my storefront but I could never have taken it to this level without some financial help.
R.K.: Here at The W.E.L.L. Summit we like to say “Your vibe attracts your tribe.” How would you describe your vibe?
C.G.: I guess because I’m true to what I believe and what I live, I walk my talk. So those who have come here to work, they start eating more and more raw food. We have kids that we hire, and eventually they’ll start bringing in raw salads for lunch or eat smoothies for breakfast. I’ll make a cheesecake out of cashews or bring in fresh pineapple, and they realize raw food can taste good too.
I bring that health vibe to the company, but don’t expect everyone to eat raw like I do. Any little change they make it great!
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