Food Entrepreneurship and Resilience – A Funky Fresh Take With Trueman McGee

Funky Fresh Spring Rolls

In Edible-Alpha® podcast #40 Tera interviews Trueman McGee, Owner and head “Roll Master” of Funky Fresh Spring Rolls, a company that produces uniquely flavored, hand rolled spring rolls that are baked or grilled (not fried) with fresh and local ingredients. Funky Fresh has been selling at farmers markets, sporting events, festivals and through catering, but recently opened up a temporary retail location at the Grand Avenue Mall in Milwaukee, WI. The company has plans to distribute frozen versions of their product to grocery stores in 2019/2020 after opening a few more retail locations and a “Funky Fresh Fun Factory” to mass-produce rolls. Right now, Funky Fresh will likely sell 100,000 spring rolls in 2018.

Trueman’s desire to lose weight combined with the need he saw when providing healthy nutritional options to his personal training clients after workouts gave him the idea to launch Funky Fresh Spring Rolls. Shortly before starting these businesses, Trueman had hit a low point in his life after being laid off and only having a mason jar full of change to his name. That experience of resilience and overcoming adversity has served him well as an entrepreneur, with Trueman reflecting that all experiences are like “gathering pennies” that add value to your life.

Originally, Trueman had wanted Funky Fresh to go directly to grocery store retail in part to avoid the all-consuming nature of owning a restaurant. But, grocery stores have competitive shelf space and margins where it is difficult to get trial, potentially limiting his cash flow at the early stage of his business. He began selling at Farmers Markets, which in addition to early cash flow have functioned as market research, allowing him to talk directly to consumers about the price point and what flavors are most popular.

Funky Fresh’s current restaurant space in the Grand Avenue Mall affords them a great location and lease terms, including the lease only being for a few months, while they are trying out the fast-casual restaurant concept. Trueman is looking to expand into another location within the next couple of months on Milwaukee’s north side once their current Grand Avenue Mall location shuts down for remodeling. Trueman has financed the business with free cash flow, winning competitions (like the 2017 FedEx Small Business Grant Contest), a Kiva loan and a small outside equity investment.

Now, Trueman is focused on creating systems and getting other key individuals like Funky Fresh’s 12 employees to serve the growing demand. Managing employees is challenging, and Trueman has an open book management policy to motivate employees to work hard and care more deeply about the business. Trueman reflects that entrepreneurship involves hard work and sacrifice, and that he couldn’t have done it without the entrepreneurial support of SCORE, Cheryl Mitchell with the SBDC, Brad Rostowfske/Tera through the Wisconsin Food and Beverage (FaB) Association Accelerator.