Right around the time in 2014 that Memphis was named the most obese city in the U.S., a local philanthropist approached Kimbal Musk with an idea. If Musk, a social entrepreneur who runs the Kitchen, a farm-to-table restaurant group and nonprofit, could help overhaul the city’s food system, he’d supply the funds. It was a big ask: Memphis is defined by its abiding love for fried chicken and a rich barbecue culture; each summer, it hosts the largest pork-cooking contest in the world.
A few conversations later, Musk accepted. After all, taking on outsize challenges runs in the family. Musk was 26 when he and his brother, Elon, sold their first tech company for $300 million. After they founded the startup that later became PayPal, Kimbal went on to culinary school and opened his first Kitchen restaurant in Boulder, Colorado, in 2004. He embedded himself in the community, pledging to buy most of the restaurant’s food locally and to involve kids in the growing process by constructing learning gardens on public school grounds. His commitment had dramatic effect: Over 12 years, as Musk coached local farmers on how to scale their businesses to meet the demand of his growing restaurant group and other farm-to-table outposts, Colorado’s local food economy increased from $4 million to $20 million.