SAN DIEGO — From the Greatest Generation to Baby Boomers and Gen-X, Millennials have recently become the most talked about generation.
The Pew Research Center defines “millennials” as anyone born between 1981 and 1996. Millennials are also characterized as "Generation Me," but some young San Diegans are shredding the stereotype.
Two San Diego State University students - 27-year-old Kristian Krugman and 23-year-old Mustafa – working at True Food Kitchen in Fashion Valley began their business by taking the leftover cooked rice that would normally be thrown out and began feeding the homeless in downtown San Diego.
"We're like wait! 'Stop Chef! Don't throw it away, we'll take it.' He looks at us like we were crazy, and he goes 'what are you guys going to do with 50 pounds of rice?'” said Mustafa.
Now, Krugman and Mustafa have created their own vegan cookie company that tackles food waste.
"We thought how do we make food waste sexy? How do you make it fun and enjoyable, and we thought everybody loves cookies,” Mustafa said.
"We started our company Soul Much, where we actually take the rice and turn it into flour," Krugman said. "Takes about a day, so they'll produce it, it'll be saved by the end of the night, the following morning, we collect it, immediately dehydrate it, and mill it into a flour."
The upcycled idea impressed Joe Sneed, True Food Executive Chef.
"Hearing their story, I was just blown away by the entrepreneurial side of it – the re-purposing food side of it. I think they’re two amazing girls. They have their own business. I love every part of their story,” Sneed said.
One cookie is made of one pound of leftover rice. The pair has chocolate chip, chocolate espresso and carrot ginger turmeric cookie flavors. The two millennials have milled down 10,000 pounds of food into gluten-free goodies but not without challenges, such as not making enough money to pay all their bills.
"So currently not right now, we still are in that startup phase, we are still growing our company and figuring out the finances,” Krugman said.
Each week, the Soul Much co-founders sell their cookies at farmers markets like Ocean Beach’s on Wednesdays.
“We are hitting the pavement every single week, so that’s luckily been able to generate some revenue, and we’ve been able to stay afloat, we actually got our own production facility in less than a year,” Mustafa said.
They are also selling “Soul Much” via social media and their website.
Those in the age range 23 to 38 years old are oftentimes known for their use of technology and socially conscious opinions.
The art of an online presence is something 28-year-old influencer Yovana Mendoza-Ayres has mastered. With 1.2 million followers on Instagram by sharing healthy food and fitness tips, Mendoza-Ayres, who goes "Rawvana" online amassed appeal after daily documenting her diet.
"I began to post what I ate everyday. I was really consistent with it," said Mendoza-Ayres.
She say she went from drinking alcohol, taking anxiety and depression pills and smoking almost half a pack of cigarettes a day to quitting and dramatically changing her lifestyle to fasting - primarily eating vegan food and becoming a yoga instructor.
"I would post Instagram videos and photos every single day. Eventually people were like we want more information, why don't you start a YouTube channel?" Mendoza-Ayres said.
So Mendoza started 2 YouTube channels - one in English and one in Spanish, which collectively have garnered close to 2.5 million subscribers.
Mendoza-Ayres says every year the growth has been exponential, allowing her to rake in six figures annually with paid advertisers. She has a hired a team of 5 employees that help shoot and edit recipe and fitness videos shot from locations in Chula Vista, Tijuana and Costa Mesa.
But Mendoza-Ayres’ millennial success came with controversy this year when the vegan vlogger was found eating fish and blog sites blasted her.
“I changed a few things in my eating habits. I was particularly plant based for many years, and then I started incorporating some animal products because I was listening to my body. It was something that my body was asking me for, and yes I did get a lot of backlash, but I really try not to take anything personal,” said Mendoza-Ayres, whose apology videos on YouTube got 4.7 million views.
Mendoza-Ayres advises other millennials to keep moving forward, focus on a core of 1,000 followers and surround yourself with successful millennials as she does. Her brother Nahum Mendoza III is a pro-golfer, sister Jackie Mendoza, a Billboard music featured singer, and her husband Dorian Ayres is an alkaline water bottle entrepreneur.
The Soul Much co-founders Krugman and Mustafa feel they have made sweet success with plans of making their cookie company their livelihood with hopes of upcycling more than 1 million pounds of food waste.
“People in our generation are seeking meaningful work, so I don't think that we are okay anymore with just getting a corporate job or something that doesn't fulfill our purpose. The startup life is not for everyone, but finding something that really feels so in line with your mission. I think that is the most powerful feeling in the world,” Mustafa said.