Interview with the CEO of Epicurus 101

1) So, who are you and where are you from?

My name’s John Hofmann and I’m the CEO and founder of Epicurus 101.  I’m originally from New Hampshire.  After teaching math and science for a number of years in urban and prison settings I decided to go back to school and earned a doctorate in education at USC.  After graduation, I traveled for a year, started a consulting company called Hofmann Learning, then liquidated my assets in December 2013 to start Epicurus 101.

2) What inspired you to start this business?

Life has a unique way of turning tragedy into opportunities for personal and professional growth.  Without getting into the details, the loss of loved ones inspired me to reevaluate what’s important to me.  I thought to myself, “Wow, life is sometimes shorter than we think.”  So, I decided to sell everything I had and put my doctoral research in human values into actual practice.  I was on a mission to test my limits.  Concept to launch took 6.5 months.  I worked non-stop and sometimes averaged over 100 hours a week.  I’m still working long hours, but it’s better than the pace I started with.

3) Who built your vehicle?

This wasn’t a solo project, but I’m grateful to have the vision.  It would have taken years to build this all this from scratch.  The project involved taking a few great ideas, significant risk and lots of initiative.  But one person didn’t build this food truck.  This is an important point because, quite frankly, it would have been foolish to think that it could have been completed alone.  There were many hands that touched this project along the way and all these hands should be equally celebrated.

4) So this is the first 100% solar-powered commercial vehicle?

That’s what I’ve been told.  I definitely don’t think anyone’s ever tried pulling this much weight with a 100-watt solar panel.  I only need to pedal when I’m going up steep hills like the ones at the Rose Bowl.  Most of the time I choose to pedal for the exercise.  It’s actually a lot of fun.  I can fit into a parking spot, but parallel parking is a little tricky.  I’m glad that I didn’t have to drive this vehicle for my driver’s license test.

5) Why solar?

I was determined to build a better food truck that was more economical, environmentally friendly and provided a cleaner image.  People are used to seeing old delivery trucks that have been converted into mobile food facilities.  Besides, I can’t tell you how many times I’ve hit my head on those pop-up awnings, lol.  Solar-powered vehicles are the future of transportation.  If I had the capital, I’d design 100% solar-powered food trucks that also serve hot foods.

6) Do you consider yourself more of an inventor or a businessman?

The core of my being is 100% inventor.  I feel like I’m a businessman and entrepreneur by necessity.  I generally come up with a new invention for something every week, but this is the first time that I decided to go all in.  I’d be a full-time inventor if a company gave me free reign to design new products.

7) So, why sorbets and gelatos?

Sorbets and gelatos are simple yet difficult to master.  I’m confident enough to say that that my sorbets and gelatos are the best in the country.  My hope is that my customers gain confidence in my culinary skills before I launch my savory menu in December 2014.

8) What makes your product superior to other sorbets and gelatos?

I use whole unprocessed unheated raw ingredients.  The typical ice cream/gelato stores are dinosaurs.  They typically use powdered and canned ingredients, pasteurize and homogenize all the nutrients out of the food and use known carcinogenic binders such as carrageen and guar gum.  The difference in taste between my products and the competition is night and day.

9) So, how do you make your sorbets and gelatos?

My competitors have approached me and asked the same thing.  I tell them that I make them with both hands and lots of love.

10) So, What flavors are currently on the menu?

Right now I’m using seasonal fruits, so my flavors are Strawberry, Mango, Blueberry, etc.  Flavors depend on what’s fresh and available.  The menu changes almost daily.

11) What’s the back-story on the name?

So, Epicurus is a Greek philosopher who believed that food builds communities.  Epicurious is the Romanization of Epicurus.  People generally think that the Epicurean philosophy is all about wanton pleasures and extravagant living, but the actual philosophy of Epicurus is quite the opposite.  His beliefs actually center around moderation and the pleasure that’s gained through living a simple life. The goal of his philosophy was to liberate people from worry and to achieve peacefulness in mind, body and spirit.  Epicurus created cooperative and collaborative communities by demonstrating his doctrines through actual practice.  He was benevolent, modest, and loved his country.

I named this company Epicurus 101 because I wanted to revive his humanitarian spirit  (we donate 10% of sales to non-profits in Pasadena).  Our goal is to build a company that builds communities.  My vision for this company is to have a storefront (while still sending out food trucks into the community) and create an Epicurean-like garden environment where people can relax and have a truly unique culinary experience.

12) What have you learned from this experience so far?

First, I’ve learned that success in business entails thinking positive, focusing on your passions, believing in yourself, and building relationships with others.  Most importantly, you’ve got to believe in yourself.  It’s disappointing when people refuse a free sample of gourmet quality food that I made with love at 5am that morning.  Sometimes people even laugh or give a look of disgust.  I’m constantly reminding myself that they’re just not ready yet.

Second, being proactive is important.  If you’re not happy with an aspect of your culture, you’ve got to be willing to make internal and external changes.  In my case, I decided to do both.  I’m not only creating a new culture but I’m also providing opportunities for others to think differently.  It’s both incredibly rewarding and humbling.

Third, keeping a white vehicle clean in southern California is next to impossible!  Whatever I’m scraping off my food truck every day can’t be healthy for our lungs.  It’s actually pretty disgusting.

13) So you’re looking for investors?

Yes, definitely.  I have no doubt that this could become one of the most popular franchises in the country.

14) California is in the middle of an enormous drought, of course. So I wondered if you had any particular thoughts on that, and maybe global warming.  Also, is there any larger message you want people to know about?

Southern California wasn’t always a desert-like environment.  In fact, the earliest settlers described this land as an abundant water resource.  Desertification can be primarily attributed to overuse by humans and underuse by natural wildlife.  Research conducted by Allan Savory and others suggest that climate changes can be reversed…that is, if we’re willing to change our lifestyles.  In fact, these problems can be reversed starting tomorrow if world leaders are willing to take immediate action.  A good start involves relocating the majority of the USA’s bottled water companies which tap into California’s natural resources and return 6-9 billion gallons of precious water annually.  Another solution is to desalinate the endless supply of water in the Pacific Ocean.  San Diego appears to be doing this already.  The best solution may be to stop eating animals (chicken, beef and pork).  The meat industry appears to use the most water of any business in the country.  It takes 2,400 gallons of water to produce 1 pound of meat.  If the average american uses 100 gallons of water/day, then 1 pound of meat is equivalent to 24 days of water use.  This is a major issue that should encourage everyone to eat less meat.   These and other types of environmental evolutions involve reexaminations of archaic economic structures which harm our communities and make true humanitarian progress next to impossible.

Change takes time and understanding the complexities of our economic system is like peeling back layers of an onion.  My advice is to embrace change and make a positive contribution to humanity in your own way.  Epicurus said that:

Every person should examine their own genius, and advise with themselves what is proper to apply themselves to; for nothing can be more distant from tranquility and happiness than to be engaged in a course of life for which nature has rendered thee unfit.

I have no doubt that there’s individual genius within each of us.  All we need is a spark to get us going.