Rescuing Leftover Cuisine, a non-profit organization, targets preventing food waste and alleviating hunger. Co-founder, Robert Lee, is familiar with hunger. His parents emigrated from Korea, and growing up, Lee’s family did not have the luxury of food security, so food was never wasted. “Coming from my background, it made no sense to me that food would be thrown out when people are hungry,” stated Lee.
Lee attended New York University’s Stern School of Business where he came across the club Two Birds with One Stone, that worked to solve the “two birds” of hunger and food waste by bringing leftover dining hall food to homeless shelters in the area. “When I saw it at the club fair in the first week at NYU as a freshman, I thought it was genius. I thought this idea had to be everywhere. Why was it not everywhere? I became obsessed with the concept.” Lee joined the club’s leadership and worked to include every dining hall on campus and bring that food to more homeless shelters in the area.
After graduating from NYU, Lee signed a contract to work with J.P. Morgan, but continued to work with Two Birds with One Stone. “I thought about why this concept didn’t exist at the restaurants and cafés around our campus and other places not affiliated with NYU. We decided to take this idea and expand it, make the benefits of participating more apparent to food businesses,” explained Lee. He and his co-founder, Louisa Chen, took the idea to a venture competition at NYU where they won second place and received seed funding to get the organization started. “After about a year at J.P. Morgan, I realized I could learn a lot by taking this risk. I could make an impact.”
At Rescuing Leftover Cuisine, the focus is on rescuing food at the end of the supply chain; getting companies, cafés, and other food businesses to donate and bring those supplies to local homeless shelters and food pantries. “It’s food that would be sold to a customer. It is the same quality, same packaging, but instead of throwing it into a garbage bag at the end of the night, it is thrown into a donation bag,” said Lee. “Our pick-ups are around 50 pounds each. It may not seem like a lot of excess food, but many don’t realize that even that small amount feeds 45 people, enough for a medium-sized shelter. It is an additive effort, every little bit helps, and that’s how we’ve been able to rescue over seven million pounds of food.”
The pandemic’s impact on the food industry left Rescuing Leftover Cuisine to adapt as well, as many of their restaurant partners were closed either temporarily or permanently. “A lot of our partners immediately donated all of their inventory, which was amazing. The pandemic’s impact on the restaurant space made us look to other types of food supply, such as the packaged food business, that essentially had possible inventory that could be donated. Companies like KIND snacks became our focus,” explained Lee.
Lee and his team have known from their launch that partnerships with the restaurant community were a vital cog to accomplishing Rescuing Leftover Cuisine’s mission. “Our company helped our restaurant partners stay in business as well. We have programs where we partner with restaurants that create meals for the hungry for us to deliver. That’s been a large part of what we’ve been able to do to help the larger population during the pandemic. A lot of players came together to make this happen.”
The organization currently exists in several markets across the United States. New York City is home to their headquarters and Boston is its next largest location. “We have a national footprint now. It’s been a great journey but there is still a lot of work to do. There is so much excess food, and we want to be able to continue to delineate the advantages of donating food.”
“As we continue to move toward normalcy, we are looking forward to partnering with restaurants reopening and those just starting to incorporate a food donation program into their launch plan. We hope that we can be the group to rescue their excess food and show them how to reduce their costs of throwing out food along the way. We’re really excited about coming back to do our part and are in the early stages of creating a restaurant advocate group that your readers may join if interested, to help push our agenda forward. The second piece is growing into other markets. We want to be purposeful and targeted in where we grow and how impactful we can be. There is so much work to be done together,” concluded Lee.
For those who wish to get involved, please visit the Rescuing Leftover Cuisine website provides information about the organization and a Donated Foods Section allows for an easy way to sign up or contact by email or phone to work with someone directly in the set-up process.