Mollie Engelhart is a woman of many hats. A successful restauranteur and chef serving irresistible plant-based comfort food to the masses at her four locations across Los Angeles. A regenerative farmer growing clean food free of harmful pesticides. A board member of Kiss the Ground working to train farmers to reverse climate change. A movie producer, a wife to an immigrant and a mother to three.
John Shegerian: This edition of the Impact podcast is brought to you by The Marketing Masters. The Marketing Masters is a boutique marketing agency offering website development and digital marketing services to small and medium businesses across America. For more information on how they can help you grow your business online, please visit themarketingmasters.com.
John: Welcome to another edition of the Impact podcast. I am John Shegerian, and I am so honored and excited to have my good friend, Mollie Engelhart with us today. She is the Executive Chef and the founder of the Sage Plant-based Bistro and Brewery. Welcome to the Impact, Mollie.
Mollie Engelhart: Hello! Thank you for having me on the Impact
John: Hey, Mollie, I do this show really as a mission and because of great, great visionaries like you. You are not only powerhouse in the vegan entrepreneurship world, but also as a woman entrepreneur leader. You have done so much and I want to get into all that today on all your success and ongoing journey, but first, share a little bit about of the back story of how you got going? What were some of your initial inspirations? And how you even got to become a woman entrepreneur in, basically, the vegan plant-based world?
Mollie: Truth or a lie? No, the truth was I have always been entrepreneurial. I have been, you know, I was the kid with the lemonade stand at the side of the road. I have always been, my parents used to do craft shows with their clothing and I would go around all the other craft booths and say I could babysit your kids for this much an hour. I was always trying to like figure out how, what my way to make money. But my parents raised me to have a lot of moral compass that- well, a lot of due north and knowing what is right and what is wrong, and that we do not do what is wrong. So, I have always thought I want to build stuff, that I want to do stuff, but I never wanted to do that in a way that was harmful or impactful to the environment and the future, and people as a whole.
Mollie: My first business out of college was a recording studio. I was first working in Urban A&R at under Max Gousse when he was at Epic Sony. Then, I went on to opening my own recording studio. The music industry took a huge crash like just the budget when downloading music became a thing, which people that are not our age do not remember that when downloading was not a thing, but people used to buy CDs in the store and that was how artists made money. All the sudden, it all crashed and the music industry had to like re-evaluate how it made money, and during that time, I lost my first business and I was kind of lost. And then I went into doing poetry. I became a fairly successful poet and toured all around the country, and then I did not want to travel anymore.
Mollie: So, I started growing pot, and this is in the early 2000s. It was fully illegal still then. It was very lucrative and illegal. And so, I do pot for some years and then my brother-in-law, from my first marriage, went to prison and I was like, “Ooh, prison seems terrible” and I think I want to grow pot anymore. And so, I started trying to look at like, what could I do? It was, every weekend, going in my husband to go visit Trevor in prison. I was like, “Okay for sure, we got to stop doing what we are doing.” What can we do? At the same time, my best friend got pregnant. She was an actress and she was like, “I cannot just be living like, I got a commercial I can eat. I do not have a commercial, I cannot eat when I have a baby.” So, we decided to open my ice cream shop’s kind cream and that was our first food endeavor.
Mollie: And so, me and Mimi started. We started with the Studio City shop and then Pasadena. It is kind of all history from there. We started the Echo Park Restaurant and we grew over the years. After Echo Park we needed investors and that was when I met you. It was the night that the returns for Obama, the second election, right? Not the first election because I remember where I was the night he got elected the first time. I was in a trim house trimming marijuana, so I know that was not that night.
John: We were not together that night.
Mollie: That night, we were together. The second night, we were together and you had an iPad and I did not have a TV in the restaurant. And so, I was like, “Hey, can I-“ and you were the only person in the restaurant! So, it was a really slow night because of the election returns. I was like, “Hey, let me snuggle in next to you,” and we started watching. That was how we became friends and how you end up investing in my next restaurant in Culver City. Now, I do not have ice cream shops anymore. We just have the four locations for Sage working on a fist and we have a farm.
John: It was incredible.
Mollie: My journey to that was really-
John: Wait, we are going to get into the farm in a second, but I got to just tell our listeners a couple things about you. First of all, the first night I met Mollie, that night that she just outlined. She outlined after we started seeing the election return she started talking about her vision of building more of her Sage restaurants. I already had been in love with her food. Her ice cream is beyond amazing anything else I have ever tasted. Her food is, being a lifelong vegetarian and ten or twelve-year vegan, was the best food I have ever had in the plant-based world.
John: And so, when she started outlining her vision, even though I did not know her yet, except for just that one night, I literally bought into her vision and bought in- I was just telling her off the air, she is one of the rare people who now lead executed her vision fanatically but did what she said she was going to do. That is a rarity to have those duel pasts followed concurrently. You are a rare person, Molly. That is why today is really an honor to have you on. I know You are busy. I know you are ever growing and I know your mind never stops because I have gotten to know you over the eight years. You are literally, your energy is boundless and your mind is always on the go.
John: I am grateful to you not only because of the investment, the investment as I shared with you early on those kinds of investments for our family, my wife, myself, my brother. We believe in investing in people that are doing things we believe in. Whether it makes or not does not affect our lives all that much, but what it affects is how you have recreated the food world and how people see food, the plant-based food world in the Greater Los Angeles area and on the West Coast. That has been just so much fun bringing people into your restaurant and letting them taste your food for the first time if they are never been exposed to plant-based food. Literally, people are converts very quickly after they enjoy what you have put together meticulously over your career. So, I just want to tell you thank you because you really are an inspiration to me and so many other people that I know that have been involved or see you grow your chain. So, great job on every level and just gratefulness to you.
Mollie: Oh, thank you! I wish all my investors felt that way, but believe me, they do not all feel that way in early days when people were not making money. Nowadays, everybody is quiet because they are making money, but early days when people were not making money people did not feel that way. And so, I always appreciated that no matter what the quarterly returns said you guys were always like, “Great job! Keep going, blah blah blah!” That means a lot. I do not know if people know that ninety-six percent of venture capital money goes to male-owned businesses. And so that means only four percent goes to women-owned businesses. So, money does not flow as easily to women when they have ideas and they have visions. So, I am glad that there are people out there that are willing to invest.
John: Yes, and it did not flow. By the way, Molly, you are so right. Not only it did not flow in 2012 towards women, but even in 2020. That is why your appearance today on Impact means so much to me because to be able to highlight your vision, your journey, your success is ever more important. As a father of a daughter who is an entrepreneur, and now of a new granddaughter, we have got to make changes by just leading by action. It is no longer just about words. You are truly one of- you are still so young and you have so much more to give but your journey will be inspiring to so many other future women entrepreneurs. That is the importance and the impact that I also believe you make besides on the on the food-based stuff. So, that is great stuff, but you are right that we got to work on that money issue because it is not cool. It is not cool the way it goes now.
Mollie: No, and I appreciate that you have always been very supportive. I appreciate that because it is not easy to find people that are willing to invest in women, businesses specifically.
John: Talk a little bit about the food industry. Where are things, before we get into all the new things you have done and your soul, heart, by the way for our listeners who want to find Mollie and her great food, you go to two websites, sageveganbistro.com. or sowaheart.com, which we are going to talk about in a little while, sowaheart.com. Molly, food industry, where we now? Are we still all living in McDonald’s or as your success and the successes of Beyond Meat and Impossible, and all these wonderful new vegan foods that have come out even since I have met you as the world transforming and is it not or is it still pretty much, you know, we are still where we were.
Mollie: I mean, me and you may find a different opinion if like, I do not know that I think that Impossible is a wonderful food. I actually think that what is happening is the centralization of the food industry in the same way. The banking industry is centralizing. It is banking Industries are, is all like centrally controlled and the food industry is becoming that same way. We have multiple problems with the food industry. But the fact that people want to eat plant-based for their health, want to eat plant-based for the environment, want to eat plant-based for the animals. Those are like the main things. Those are all admirable things, but it has become that we are looking at it with such a macro lens- such a, like micro lens, microscopic part of the problem when we look at just veganism, like eating a beef versus Impossible order, whatever. But we have to look at the bigger issue.
Mollie: For me it is about people not being abused. And so, the food industry is filled with abuse and it is mostly abuse of migrant workers. Mostly abuse of immigrants that people pretend we do not want in this country. But it is this like free, I mean as free, that is inexpensive disposable work source where they work super hard for very little money and very dangerous jobs, exposed to very dangerous chemicals, get sick at higher rates with cancer, miscarriages and all of this, and many of them died before in time that they should, but mostly go back to their country of origin to die. And so, we have this like, disposable work force that is making all of our food and we all are like fat on the hog here in America. No matter what you are eating, whether you are eating vegan food or you are not eating vegan food, we are all like eating this cheap food. That is on top of immense suffering and just there like, and the vegans like, “I am eating oat milk and so I did not hurt any cows” like, “Great.” But what about the women that, you know, were touching the chemical and then what about the men that were spraying the chemicals in, you know, what about all of those people that are being harmed along the way?
John: So, your approach is holistic. You look at everything. It is not just about the food. It is the whole food ecosystem is-
Mollie: The whole thing.
John: Right, got it. Got it.
Mollie: What I think is that we do not tend to look at the whole thing. And so, when we look at it close up, like is it a ruin for Burger King to have Impossible Burger? If you are a vegan and you are on a road trip on the five, you think that is a rim, right?
Mollie: But like, do I actually ever want to support Burger King as an entity? No! Do I actually ever want to buy food with glyphosate or Roundup in it? No, I do not. So, for me, it is not a win. Me, my dollars going to Burger King not a win. Me, buying food that has a chemical in it that has from when we became aware that we were allowed to spray it on grain, we started spraying it directly on non-organic grains in 1996. The cancer rate is now fifty percent in adult. Fifty percent of adults will die of or fight a major- this is not including skin cancer. So, from 1996 until now the cancer rate went from like one in, I think it was one in seven, but do not quote me on that. You can look it up, but it was definitely not one out of every two, to one out of every two. There are lots of other things that have gone up and they are all based on inflammation. So, all of these diseases that have gone up are based on inflammation. All non-organic grains, everything, every buy the pizza, every- so, I do not care if it is plant-based or not are being sprayed with glyphosate. Glyphosate is Roundup. Roundup is a chemical that was originally actually invented to clean drains. When we were cleaning drains with it we realized it killed all of the weed when it would come out of the drain on the side of a building or something. So, we repackaged it with notes further investigation with the FDA and we made it into a weed killer. And when we made it into a weed killer it was used primarily in household. It was not even an agricultural fan or if you remember in the early 80s, there was some ads of a guy…
Mollie: It is a Round up and see he was fighting that one dandelion in his driveway, right?
Mollie: That was the ads. Okay. Well, from then in the 80s till now, we started spraying it. First we just started spraying it in orchard below the trees. That is bad because then the roots are taking it up, but it is getting processed through the Earth, through the soil, through the roots and up into the avocado or the orange. And then I do not know if you can imagine like, a field of wheat. It is all golden brown and ready to harvest and there is a machine that “chuck, chuck, chuck…”
Mollie: And it needs to have it, the shaft needs to be loose and it needs to be easy to get and need to be dead. So, imagine now if you have got it in airplane or in a machine and you sprayed the whole field with glyphosate, Roundup, the whole field would die, right? Because it is killing the plant. Now, fourteen days later combine it, harvest it, make it, and now that is your pizza. We have never investigated what is the impact of that? And there are some really incredible doctors doing a lot of great research on this. Dr. Zach Bush has done a bunch of research about how it is eroding our stomach lining and causing massive inflammation, about how the cancer rates is now every other adult is going to have a severe form of cancer, not including skin cancers. There are also connections to the rise in autism and there have been tests in rat with glyphosate exposure, and only in three generations they are no longer able to reproduce.
Mollie: So, to me this is urgent. This is like an emergency. So, we can talk about plant-based all we want, but if there are no humans or cows, or chickens left on the whole planet because we can no longer reproduce because of the high levels of this toxin that is in all of our food, then it does not really matter. And so, what I really want to get people to realize is that they do not- And people have a choice. If you start calling every company and saying “Hey, is your grain… have you been tested…” like, if people stopped buying Cheerios because it has the highest level of glyphosate in any food on the market right now, then maybe there will be an impact. People will say, “Whoa, whoa, whoa…” to the farmers. “Can we do it the old-fashioned way where we just let it dry out in the sun and then you harvest it when it is ready not, when you schedule it.” But right now, there is no pushback. People are just feeding their babies Cheerios.
John: Mollie, what can, you know, like I have on my desk here Jane Fonda’s new book. What can I do for our listeners out there? For me, I mean, I have heard about this problem with glyphosate, but what can we do? What can we do to push back and vote with our pocketbooks or otherwise our politicians? What do you suggest we can do so we can start joining as an army to fight push back on this, one of our food tragedies? One of them.
Mollie: I mean, the grain thing is just, do not buy any grains that are not organic. And we can sit here all day and say like, organic, is this elite? And…
Mollie: You know, people cannot afford it and blah blah blah. And that is true. But people can afford not to. I want mothers to put the same love that they are putting between the grocery store and the table. I want that to go from the seed to the grocery store. And because it does not matter how much love you put into that bread you bake your children, if it is filled with a poison that is going to erode their stomach lining and have them have all types of inflammatory diseases and cancer, does not matter how much love we put. And how about the person who is spraying that? How about the person who is harvesting it and breathing it in at the factory where they are cleaning the grain, and all of those people which I am going to guess are mostly migrants? And so, I really want us to remember the people all the way along the food chain. I want us to think about that. So, avoid non-organic grains. Do not just, “Oh well, let me just do this.” And that is the first thing.
Mollie: The second thing is where you can buy locally and talk to the farmers. I know here in Los Angeles there is a SNAP program. So even if you are on food stamps and whatever you can buy at the farmers market and the government pays for half by double. So, like if you were going to use your food stamps at the grocery store would be forty dollars, but at the farmer’s market you get eighty dollars. That is an awesome program. So, politicians and stuff, we can push them to make it so that fresh foods and vegetables are accessible to everybody. And then we really, really, really need to vote with our dollars. We need to call. We need to demand that we do not want Cheerios to have glyphosate in it.
Mollie: We Google what are the most toxic foods with glyphosate. What foods have it? You are going to see that all the beer, all the beer right now is filled with it because imagine what beer is made out of grain that boiled in water and fermented. I mean, we really have to think about it everywhere and it is confronting. My mom sent me this thing the other day, it was like about how people choose to not want to know because it is too confronting. I think that this time that we are in we can no longer put our heads down and say that we do not want to know, it is too much, it is too bad, it is too confronting. Because if from a farm perspective the United Nations and multiple other people are saying we only have sixty years of topsoil left. So, that is one issue. Zach Bush and these other people are saying we only have three generations that are going to be able to reproduce normally. So that is also sixty years. We are looking at a crisis in sixty years and you and me may not be here in six years or we may be here. But our children for sure will be here. And you need push. We need to care about that. I tell people if someone came to you and said your grandchild or your great-grandchild is going to die if we do not get this surgery, they are going to be incompatible with life without the surgery, we would be GoFundingMe, running around, begging, pleading, everything. But we are saying everybody’s grandchildren are not going to be compatible with life and we are like, “Agh! Just too confronting.” We cannot be like that. We have to care and that brings us to the next thing. It is like, I would go out on the floor of my restaurant. You see me come out and talk to you multiple times.
John: Yes. Oh, yes!
Mollie: I would tell people, “We have got to buy land. We have got to drawdown card and we have got to grow our own food. We have got to be independent. And you know, nobody, not one customer ever was like, “You know what, Mollie? You are right. Let me go buy some land.” So, I realized like, “Oh wait, I have got to buy land.” Like, I am not going to convince anybody for my soapbox and still living in my little comfortable plan community in Granada Hills. I actually have to do it. And so, that is why I am farming now because I want-
John: Talk about that. Talk about what you have done as a regenerative farmer. What your involvement was in terms of- I know you are now a movie producer, you are board member of Kiss the Ground, a very important organization which has been on our podcast before. Can you talk about what regenerative farming really means? And how that interrelates with the glyphosate issue that you just discussed, well discussed?
Mollie: Regenerative agriculture is a kind of catch-all term for growing food well. Pulling carbon, more carbon out of the atmosphere than you are letting up. So, if you are pulling out a cabbage and it is however much carbon, but in the process of growing that cabbage, you put more carbon down. So, you have negative, there is less carbon in the air after growing that cabbage not more carbon in the air. It is pretty simple and we do not think about it as like, plant, take carbon out of the air, turn them into carbohydrates, feed them to microorganisms in the ground, and the microorganisms store the carbon as carbohydrates in the soil. That is a simple process. It is like almost too simple for us to like remember that is this process.
Mollie: And the balance of this has been happening for years and millions of years on the planet and we, humans, have put this out of balance. We have taken too much carbon out of the fossil fuel- foil reservoir and put it into the air. But a huge place of where the top eight inches of topsoil is missing tons and tons and tons of carbon because of tillage, where we open the ground between every crop. So, you grow cabbage and you till it all and then spray it, and then plant something else, and then till it all. So, the microscopic organisms, the fungi, the viruses, the parasites, the tiny bugs, all that live in the soil are getting disrupted and killed over and over. And then whatever they are storing goes into the air. Also, with tilling, we just blow away tons of our topsoil into the ocean and we cannot get it back time and go like, “Oh, let me get that topsoil back out of the ocean.” We do not have a vacuum cleaner for that.
Mollie: So, we are losing topsoil. So, no-till is a big thing in regenerative agriculture where you till as limited as possible, as least amount of disruption of the soil so that the, especially the fungi, they have very long pieces and when you till it gets broken up. And then when you put it back together, the bacteria, which are shorter pieces, overrun and then it is not in balance. And so, in order to have balance you want to not disrupt the soil as much as possible. And then there is kelp farming which draws out down tons and tons of carbon and helps with oil acidification of the ocean. There is bamboo farming where the bamboo, the roots keep getting bigger and bigger but you are cutting the tops off. So, the carbon is staying in the ground, and the bamboo is growing very, very fast. There is eating more perennials. There is using animals in Holistic Planned Grazing. Holistic Plant Grazing is probably the largest, most widely accepted way that we can reverse climate change in a major way. There is huge swath of the world that has been decertified by us over farming them or overgrazing or just drought. The way to bring those areas back that it has been proven in lots of different places is by bringing bovine and hooved animals and pushing them through in a holistic way like the way that the elk or the gazelles or the buffalo would move through an area. Well, there is fresh grass. They eat it, eat about forty to sixty percent of it down, poop, pee, and move on. And then come back after the next rains or after the next time when it grows back.
Mollie: This is called Holistic Planned Grazing. There are lots of cattle farmers that have brought back huge swath of area that were just decertified. Now, the vegan, they will say, “Oh well, we should not have that happening because we do not want animals to be our partners in agriculture.” And my argument would be, “Okay, but we do not want to not have a planet for animals at all either.” So, this is like, this is a way that we can bring back. And I feel like the vegans and regen people have got to be able to come together on no pantry farm, pastures like, and drawing down carbon reversing climate change and better treatment of animals. Like those things have got to be where we can come together.
Mollie: And let us fight against the big factory farms on the 5 Freeway when you are driving up, and the CAFO, and the chickens in the terrible conditions. So, the way it works basically as you would move these animals along through in a holistic way where the grass grows up behind them and then they come back to the graph. And as you do this cycle, you bring back. And the roots of the grass stay in the ground even if it is dry season or whatever. They are still in the ground with the microorganisms. They are still there and then they come back to life when there is rain. This is the way of the world for tons and tons of time. And then we got too many animals, smoosh them all together, did not move them around, and we made areas into deserts that do not need to be deserts. This is a huge way. Now, we could just, vegans could fund raise and have cows that get to get moved around for free and that is a non-profit. Vegans could do that if they wanted to do that. But I would say the easiest lift is to enroll ranchers. Enroll people that are already growing cows in transitioning into this way and renting or leasing or making agreements with government agencies or whoever is responsible, private entities that owned this land that is turned into desert and bringing it back.
Mollie: Those are just one or two or three or four cover crops. There is another way where you do not leave your ground uncovered between the crops that you are growing for money. You keep the ground covered. You keep the microorganisms fed, because remember microorganisms can only eat through the acts that are in the soil, can only eat through the actions of the plants taking down carbon out of the atmosphere through sun air and then turning it into carbohydrates sugars for those microorganisms to eat. We have to think about all of this when creating food not just like how treating the soil like a medium and a hydroponic grow room like, “Pour more nutrients on it, pour more nutrients on it.” And that we have to realize that healthy soil equals healthy humans. We have not even discussed the microbiome in our gut that is being destroyed by glyphosate, but the same, that microbiome exists in the soil. And the reason we are getting sicker and sicker is we are getting more and more disconnected from the soil.
Mollie: Think about just a hundred years ago, all of us had farmers in our family. All that for eating cabbage that just got locked off at your neighbors or your local farm, got rinsed off and brought to the little grocery store, not HTPP killing every little bacteria and virus like, we are crazy. We think we can vaccinate and sterilize against all the viruses in the world. There is like the one, I mean, it is three to the ten, so that is how many viruses, whatever that is. Three with ten zeros does not have a number name.
Mollie: So, what are we going to do? Like the vaccine schedule for kids would be every 10 seconds to get a vaccine. We cannot vaccinate against everything. We need to live with the microbiology. We have to realize by the grace of God in the form of microbiology, we were enabled to live. The viruses, bacteria, the parasite, the microbiome is what gave us the ability to live. And viruses update us. They tell our DNA what needs to happen next. We are getting more and more disconnected from nature and more and more just disconnected from the soil. And healthy soil is imperative for healthy humans. As we are more disconnected from the soil, allergies are going up. All types of things are going up because we are not living in conjunction with these microorganisms. We are only fifty percent us and fifty percent other stuff.
Mollie: But if we try to eliminate all that other stuff then what are we?
John: Before we go into your restaurant chain, which is just booming. Can you talk a little bit since we are on the issue of farming, regenerative farming and all these important topics, talk a little bit about your new venture Sow a Heart. I am on your website. It is amazing. For our listeners out there, please go to www.sowaheart.com. Talk a little bit about what you are trying to do here. Your vision here. I love it. I am blown away by it. Explain to our listeners how it came about, what you are trying to do with it, and how they can be involved and support this great venture.
Mollie: So, I like I said, I was telling everybody I heard Graham Faith did a TED Talk and I said, “I had felt hopeless, like there was no plan. There was no way we could get out of this.” I just, I have said this a lot of times that I just did not want to say like, “Well, I drove a hybrid, and I drank an oat milk latte, and I used my own cup when I went to the coffee shop.” Like, “I use my own bags at the grocery store.” Like, that is what I was going to tell my children when the planet is burning down in flames. That was not enough and so when I heard about Graham Faith and I heard about regenerative agriculture- You know when you hear something that is like, the truth or it is like, cut-you-though-like-a-knife, like something that is real, is more like powerful almost than something that is like, maybe partial truth or part- I remember being totally moved by him. I was telling everybody, everybody needs to come toast. Everybody needs to be doing cover crops. Everybody has to do no-till. Everybody needs to buy land and drawdown carbon, do for us, food for us. I am like telling everybody. And everybody is like the same as me, driving a hybrid and using their reusable bags thinking that they are doing enough. I just realized that I had to do it. That nobody was just going to do it because I was saying it was a good idea.
Mollie: And so, I took every single penny I had, everything that I had and went all-in like, that when I closed escrow on my farm, I only had like seventy-five dollars left in my bank account and I had not taken every single thing. I was at Coachella and it was everything and I was like, “Well, we hope Coachella goes good,” because I am not just for stealing money from the restaurants until after we reconcile Coachella. Some do ask me on to my house like, “Hey, why did you do it that way or that seem-“ and I am like, “Oh, I had no money when I moved in here, so-” And then I had to wait until I sold my house to be able to, you know, have any money again. But anyways, I just did it. I just said we have to do this for my children. We have to do this. So, I closed escrow on my farm. I have no idea. I am not a farmer. I have no idea what I am doing. I just start in the wee hours of the night while breastfeeding crying babies. I just start researching and just start trying stuff.
Mollie: Two and a half years later, it is unbelievable what we have done. The soil infiltration like for four cups of water in our soil when we got here, it was more than four minutes for four cups of water to infiltrate. We are at nineteen seconds right now, which means that on my farm versus the farm next door that spraying rice and has just dirt exposed, whatever. So, for them four cups of water is going to take four minutes to infiltrate into the soil and mine is a nineteen-seconds. So, when it rains I am taking all that water and putting it down into the- so, forget even about everything else I am saying, just about California and water, should we be not drawing everything down into the aquifers that we can be. So, my farm versus the farm next door, it is nineteen seconds for four cups of water on my farm and more than four minutes on a farm next door on the bare soil. So, just in two and a half years, we have made that impact and we are growing food for the restaurants and we have been growing food for the restaurants.
Mollie: And then COVID hit. I have a couple other farmers that we supported since even before I had a farm, that have been growing food for us. They are small Latino family farmers and they came to me right after everything happened with COVID. They said, “Well, when are you going to be ordering the normal amount?” And I said, “I do not know what- I do not know. I do not know what is going on.” And so, it took me about two to three weeks to get my restaurant set up. We pivoted and we started doing a like groceries and all the different stuff that everybody did in the beginning there. I got everything free. And then I could breathe for a second and I said, “Okay guys, let us start a delivery to LA the produce from your farm in my farm. We will be a collaboration box.” And at first it was, literally, me like, “Okay, I am going to be on Santa Monica, this and this.” Who can then move me to pay, but now it is more organized. You have apps and stuff, delivery routes and everything. And so, we did it. We just started doing these boxes. So, one way that people could support and also know that they are getting food that has no pesticides, no herbicides, no fertilizers other than good compost then they could be really happy to have that box getting delivered to their house. And we deliver in all areas of LA and in Ventura County five days a week each day…
Mollie: It is different areas or different neighborhood. And so, that is one way that you can support. And Kiss the Ground has a film coming out September 22nd on Netflix. So, please watch it and understand more deeply and profoundly the impact we could have with regenerative agriculture.
Mollie: And we are in the process of trying to buy this additional hundred and sixty acres that has been organic since the 70s and it wraps around the back of my old property. We would like to make an Agro-tourism Bed and Breakfast, just eight bedrooms. People could come and have an experience beyond a farm and have vegan meals or vegetarian meals. All the food coming from the farm. They could go out. They could pet a cow. They could go on a hike. They could wait in the river and have that experience so that we can get related to our food. Because maybe we would not need every pepper to look perfect. If we realize we look at row of peppers and realized only fifty percent of them look perfect and the other fifty percent look weird. Well, maybe we would be more willing to eat those weird peppers if we realize that everything does not need to be perfect. Maybe we would be willing to eat watermelons with seeds in it. If we understood that nothing that is not fertile has ever been high- like we do not want anything that not fertile. Really, we want food that is fertile. We want it has all of what it needs, you know.
Mollie: But we do not understand anymore. We are so disconnected from our food. We are so disconnected from the earth, so I want to create a place where people can come and get connected. It is going to be very nice and it is going to be where people can come. But it is also not going to be like, so chichi that people- We are going to tell people to bring a sun hat and bring shoes that can get dirty. You are coming to a farm and the farm experience.
John: That is so wonderful.
Mollie: And hoping with that, that I would inspire more people. I am hoping with this Agro-tourism thing I will inspire more people to take the steps that we need to do. I think there is a lot of people that want to farm and do not have money. I think there is a lot of people with money that do not want to farm, but maybe want to feel like they are doing something good with their money. I think we got to get those people linked up. I mean even me, I am struggling at this other piece of property because with agricultural loans, you need forty percent down and this is more of the centralization of the food system. If you need forty percent down on a arg-land and it is two million and five hundred thousand dollars, you need almost a million dollars down. Most people do not have that, you know.
Mollie: So, it is very, very hard to get on to land. Even if you want to stir it and do the right thing. And that is set up all for the big corporations to win if we treat farm land like a commercial land, build a commercial building or something, then only people that have that kind of money can do it. And then what happens is the family farm disintegrates if one child wants to stay on and the other one does not. The one child cannot buy out his sibling when the parents died. And so that is how we lose hundreds of farms a day here in the United States.
John: Well, are you raising money now for that?
Mollie: I am trying to figure out what I am going to do. I do not know. I do not know exactly. I do not know what I want- people. I am looking for people that are interested in doing it because they want to make a difference in the world. And we will try to make money with it, but I do not want to be pressured by people that are like, “We need to get this possible. We need to get this profitable.” And then we become the same as the corporations who say they are doing it right and then are cutting our corners.
John: So, you are looking for the right investors and if people are interested they could contact you with sageveganbistro.com or at Sage. They can reach out to you. If they are interested for the right reasons, I am just throwing a line out there for our listeners.
Mollie: Yes, for the right reasons.
Mollie: That is why I pause because we have people that have come up to me that make- I mean that I have invested in my restaurants and are doing well with those Investments. And I have said it is very different to be investing in this, what I am doing with the farm and so far I have just been doing it with my own money.
Mollie: I am really wanting to make a difference. I am the only restaurant in all of Los Angeles, and I do not know maybe anywhere, but for sure and all of Los Angeles, I am the only restaurant that has four locations and a hundred percent of my pre-consumer plant material is going back to the farm. So, that means every time we chop up broccoli, we chop up cauliflower, we chop the heads off of cabbage or bottoms off the cabbage, the heads off of carrots, heads off of tomatoes, all of that every day is being brought back to the farmstead to earthworms and fed back out to the plants and coming back to the restaurants as food. Rather than going into the landfill and turning into methane. And methane is just as harmful as carbon in the global warming thing. And so, I am super committed to have doing the right thing. You and other investors could say like “Well, how much do you pay for someone to drive compost away from the restaurant?” Or whatever, and they could be mad about it. So, I want to make- and in the restaurant cases they are making money and there it is okay. But I do not want to be pressured by anybody to not do the right thing.
Mollie: And that is where I am standing. That is why I have not been actively going out to get money in the traditional way because I do not know who those people are that have money that just want to draw down carbon and if we can make money doing that then let us do it. But if not, we are going to keep trying down carbon.
John: As you said, Mollie, those people are out there. But the ROI on that is the long haul. It is the ROI to making the world a better place and buying into your vision instead of making another dollar for them to just put in a bank account or give to their children or give away or whatever. It is the ROI to making their community and the world a better place. And that itself is a huge ROI and there is those people are out there. So, if you are listening today- Yes, go ahead.
Mollie: I always say the only bank account that matters is your soil. How healthy is the soil? I can look in- we are going to Bank of America or Chase or whatever, but that number does not mean anything. It is not. It is the whole world market can change that, the government can hand out a bunch of money during a pandemic and that can change what that value is. But my soil is going to be able to grow food and food is a tangible food. That is nutrients dense enriches the tangible value. And that is what I am investing in. My children may be mad when it comes their turn, but I hope not. I hope they see the value of what I do.
John: They are not going to be mad. I am not going to let you- we are not going to end this interview until we talk about your amazing Sage Vegan Bistro restaurants. You have got four already. When I met you, you had one. You are now looking to talk a little bit about the growth in the explosion of what you have done by building this really amazing chain.
Mollie: So, we focused heavily on farm-to-table. We always have whether it is my farm or other farms before even I had a farm. We are getting healthy food from very local sources. I really pride myself on making food that anybody could like, I think you could bring your grandpa, your dad, your mom or anybody, and before COVID when you could have more than six people at a table. You could have- mom could get her kale salad, and grandpa could get a whiskey on the rocks, and the kids could get “mac and cheese,” and the teenager could get a pizza. There is going to be something for everyone. My food is satisfying and flavorful and salty and spicy and delicious. Like I do not make bland vegan food. I was raised vegan and I have eaten enough bland vegan food for everybody for the whole rest of the world. Like nobody has to ever just eat grilled vegetables with salt and pepper on it ever again. As far as I am concerned I have eaten enough for everybody. So, I really-
John: Where is the fifth one? Where they located now? Where they located now, where is the fifth one going to go? Talk a little bit about your footprints for our listeners. COVID is, one day, God willing, going to be behind us. We are going to be vaccinated and there is going to be some herd immunity and like, say, where can they go and have your delicious food? And I know you are have pick up because I stop by your restaurants all the time and just order out now and pick up and eat in my car or take it home. So, where can your listeners get your great food now? What four locations? Where are you are looking to do a fifth?
Mollie: Right now, we have a dining on the patio everywhere except for Echo Park. So, Culver City, you can dine on the patio, curbside or delivery and then Echo Park we just have curbside and delivery. There is no patio dining because we do not have a patio there. Pasadena, there is patio dining, curbside and delivery and then our newest location we opened during the pandemic! We opened Agoura Hills and Agoura Hills has patio. It has like an indoor patio. That sounds weird, but it is like a covered patio. That is like, it is a kind of mall. And so, there is a thoroughfare with a glass roof with big plants. And so, it is like indoor/outdoor- It is outdoor, so we are allowed to eat there. But it has a glass roof and big plants. So even if it is raining you can eat outdoors in Agoura Hills location.
John: That is awesome.
Mollie: We also have curbside there and delivery and so, I just pride myself on super accessible food. Food that is not going to be hard for anybody to understand or interpret no matter what their normal day food is. That my food is really everybody can understand it. You can get pizza. You can get tacos. You can get salad. You can get [inaudible]. You can get pastas, homemade raviolis. It is all very, very accessible and it is all made with nutrient-dense foods, super high-quality foods, and super local foods. We are doing everything we can to have the footprint of the restaurant be the best that it can be.
John: No one I have ever brought there is not been blown away, whether they are vegetarians plant-based or whether they are just regular eaters. Everyone just loves the community you have created, the team you have created, the culture in your restaurants. And the food is just amazing. Can you talk a little bit about, before we say goodbye today, your YouTube channel? It is great. It is very descriptive. It really helps people get more of this messaging you are talking about today. Share a little bit about where they could find you and the importance of your YouTube channel.
Mollie: My YouTube channel is Chef Mollie and that is the same as my Instagram as well. So, you can find me on either of those. We make videos every week, whether they are cooking videos, how to make fermented foods, how to grow things, the importance of different aspects of agriculture glyphosate, all these different things. We make videos every week and we put them up just trying to give people tools and information and in an accessible way. Sometimes I read these studies or sometimes I listen to these podcasts and it is such good information, but so dead that it is hard for people to get all that. So, I try to take it out and make it something that is very, very accessible for people. And we show a lot of the farm, of my kids. It is basically everything from cooking to mothering to farming and we put up new videos every week. So, please check it out, subscribe, follow, share. I would appreciate that so much.
John: Awesome. For our listeners out there, to find Mollie or to back her in one of the new ventures she is talking about, you could find her at sageveganbistro.com or at sowaheart.com. She is a movie producer. She is a chef. She is a mom. She is a wife. She is my friend, and she is a great evangelist for women entrepreneurs out there that are making the world a better place. Mollie Engelhart, thank you for joining us today on the Impact podcast.
Mollie: Thank you so much for having me and I appreciate your friendship and partnership over all of these years.