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Why Kimbal Musk’s budding food empire leaves out NYC and SF

Melody Hahm
·West Coast Correspondent

Kimbal Musk shares the entrepreneurial spirit of his older brother, Elon Musk — they founded two companies together. He was also an early investor in Elon’s X.com, which eventually merged with PayPal (PYPL). Musk serves on the boards of Chipotle (CMG), Tesla (TSLA) and SpaceX. After his success in Silicon Valley, he took a slightly different route and signed up for culinary school in New York City before founding The Kitchen, a farm-to-table restaurant chain.

But one thing distinguishes The Kitchen from many other farm-to-table establishments — none of its 10 restaurants are located along the coasts.

Musk made the intentional decision to build The Kitchen out of Boulder, Colo., and decided to grow solely in middle America.

“We’ve decided years ago to focus on middle America — the heartland is what we call it — and we’ve seen a massively underserved market. We’ve seen a market that needs what we have to provide, so there’s both the mission there as well as the economic opportunity,” he told Yahoo Finance at South by Southwest in Austin, Texas.

Of course, given Musk’s storied background in tech, he said he would love to have a presence in New York or California. But, ultimately, The Kitchen belongs where his mission — to provide local food to America’s smaller communities— can come to fruition.

“I have a lot of friends in New York, San Francisco and LA, and for ego reasons I would go there, no question,” he said. “But for mission reasons, I don’t think I’m going to make much of a difference. I also find when you have a really good mission like that, we can attract people from around the world and across multiple industries to help us succeed in the heartland.”

Musk and his team have developed robust relationships with local farmers who provide them with produce for their menu. And what began as a single restaurant 13 years ago, The Kitchen has now spun off a nonprofit called The Kitchen Community, which builds outdoor gardens in schools that teach kids science through the growing of food, and Square Roots, an urban farm accelerator that teaches young entrepreneurs about the ins and outs of building a business in the food industry.

But Musk’s vision, however philanthropic, is shaped by a business-minded approach, and his attitude matches the pace of his counterparts on the coast.

Our restaurants are very successful. If we weren’t profitable we wouldn’t serve as much of a role model. Social enterprise space needs successful, profitable valuable companies so it can show investors and other entrepreneurs the right path,” he said.

By building upon his foundation in both tech and culinary expertise, Musk is developing a sustainable, profitable company that can thrive in an underserved market.

Melody Hahm is a writer at Yahoo Finance, covering entrepreneurship, technology and real estate. Follow her on Twitter @melodyhahm.

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