Interview: Husein Rahemtulla, Whole Food Supplier

Husein Rahemtulla is the co-owner and co-founder of Fresh Prep, a meal delivery initiative based in Vancouver. Fresh Prep is built on the guiding principle of serving fresh, quality produce to customers who are seeking healthy alternatives to complement their busy lifestyles. Stepping foot into their modest (work)shop on West 10th Avenue, it is clear that Dhruv and Husein are passionate about reviving ‘slow living’, a mindful and meaningful way of living, through their advocacy for whole foods and sit-down meals. The message is simple: taking time to cook your meals allows you to appreciate the energy that goes into fueling your body and sheds light on the importance of spending more time with loved ones.

Those who frequent the Westcoast neighborhood of Point Grey are familiar with the bustling student community nestled in the woods of the University campus, and perhaps even more familiar with the time spent on the daily commute to and from ones workplace and their homebase. With the increasing density of the city’s growing population, Vancouver offers an incredibly diverse range of ingredients stemming from various international kitchens. Nevertheless, many Vancouverites are struggling to find balance between leisure and work, and dread the evening errands following a long working day. While there are plenty of reasons to opt for a pizza dinner by the couch, the quick calories are no longer cutting it for the average Millenial. This generation values experience as much as they value their smart phone, and the strong desire for human connection and slow living naturally follows the impending exhaustion of modern life.

If seeking the opportunity to fuel your body with fresh, whole ingredients any day of the week, a customized meal package prepared and delivered directly to you is as easy as it gets. With these two foodies in the lead, together with their spirited team of suppliers, Fresh Prep is ready to make a difference for modern households in Vancouver and inspire us to take a fresh approach to mindful consumption and slow living.

Why food?

Husein: Dhruv (my business partner) and I have known each other since primary school, and probably since that time we regularly discussed business ideas, and more often, as we got older. In our last years of university we developed a really keen interest in business. It didn’t have to be food, but when we talked about preparing food, we thought it was a process that could be done much more efficiently and more honestly. So we came up with this concept and thought ‘let’s address both of those ideas’ and we just went with it.

And how do you think Vancouver has reacted to the introduction of your concept?

So far, we have managed to retain a lot of returning customers. We haven’t invested very much in marketing. At the beginning, we introduced the idea through simple marketing and we gained a few customers immediately who still continue to order through us now. We were happy enough with that to start with, so we introduced memberships. Our customers usually order a few boxes each week, and while we continue to iron out a few details (for the business), the orders keep coming in which keeps us pretty busy. People who have a membership with us really love it. We hope with more marketing in the coming months that the positive response will keep coming.

And how do you see the future unfolding for Fresh Prep?

We hope it’s going to be a huge impact on the food industry. We feel confident that it will become increasingly popular. Eventually we want to open another location and a warehouse where we can pre-package the orders. We plan to retain the pricing we use now to make it accessible for different groups of people. I think it makes a lot of sense for people to make use of this service; time-wise, it’s an efficient use of your time, and cost-wise, it’s super reasonable and it almost feels like we’re handing out money. (The customer) saves on their time and in return saves their money.

I take it you believe that people’s most valuable commodity is time.

Definitely. That’s what we want our customers to save. And from the aspect of food, we want to deliver only real quality, fresh products. Saving time and delivering quality ingredients are the key to our business model.

Your colleagues are also your close friends; how do you view your working relationships with the rest of your team? How do you choose who you work with?

(laughs) We’ve been very lucky so far. We started with Becky, (together with myself and Dhruv). I can’t say enough good things about Becky. From the very beginning she’s been an awesome person to work with and a great additon to the team. From there, we hired a few more people to help out with the daily preparations and packaging. I guess it’s been interesting; everyone here is really good friends and that made it a really positive environment to work in. That’s we want to build on in the future.

How would you describe the diversity in roles within your team? What are the skills and strengths they bring to the company?

Dhruv is the financial guy and looks after our cost analysis from the business angle. I guess my specialty would be coming up with new creative concepts. Becky comes up with new recipes each week. That said, we definitely take on both aspects and keep it collaborative. We value everyone’s opinion when it comes to making big decision or taking next steps.

When was Fresh Prep officially open and ready to take on orders?

Dhruv and I started in December 2014. We launched a website and told people about it and that same month we rented a basement space in Chinatown. I don’t know how much of this I should share… (laughs). Right above our space was a tailor who had used the space for his business for about 60 years and that was the only other commercial operation in the entire building. That feels like a very long time ago, now that I think back on it. We left the building in April 2015. It all started up pretty quickly from there. Dhruv left his job and I had gotten back from South America around the same time.

You mentioned earlier that it felt like a natural next step for you.

Yeah, I guess it was the right time to do it. I had considered going into naturopathy school, but I wanted to go through with this because I couldn’t face the thought of doing another four years of school before trying something more exciting, more independent.

There must have been a lot of motivation for this company to take flight because all three of you quit your full-time jobs to get involved and try something new.

I think the motivation is for the company to become successful, because you don’t want to leave something for nothing. I do feel pressure to succeed financially. A lot of people were doubtful about it and suggested that I stay cautious and pick a safer option.

What is safe?

A corporate job. There’s a lot of motivation in that sense (because it wasn’t an option for me). I wouldn’t feel particularly bad if the entire project fell through. Dhruv and Becky could very easily step back into their previous functions, so the risks are not that rigorous. I know for a fact that both of them really love being here. We all love working with food and we’re really passionate about the products we sell.

Which recipe from your current seasonal menu would you recommend?

I really like the baked penne with the Italian sausage and cucumber salad. It’s one that we’ve had from the beginning. A couple of the original recipes have been re-worked, but that one will always be a classic. We’ve also had really great weekly specials. Becky comes up with them every week and we introduce them on the menu. Dhruv and I unfortunately don’t get the chance to try them all because Becky tests them out at home and we usually deliver all our stock to customers.

They must fly off the shelf.

They really do.

Do you use herbs and spices in your recipes?

We supply everything (to the customer). If the recipe requires a quarter teaspoon of chili powder, then we include that in the package as well. For pepper and salt, that depends on your own taste. In terms of spiciness, we don’t add much heat, the recipes are usually more bland and you can add on stuff at home if that’s how you like it. I think they are flavorful in a different sense, not necessarily spicy. Last week we introduced eggplant pitas with za’atar yogurt. Za’atar is like a blend of spices from Lebanon, mixing cumin, sumac and thyme, and it’s a really interesting combination that you don’t find very often in Vancouver.

Given that Vancouver is a cultural melting pot, are there any particular cultures that inspire your recipes?

We get our inspiration from all over. I think we are inspired by Vancouver’s diversity, because the general food supply is already pretty international.

What is your favorite time of day?

4 AM. No one else is awake and I can wonder in the world without anyone else to disturb my plans (laughs).

To take over the world?

Something like that.

What does happiness mean to you?

Happiness means freedom. Being free to do what you like and allowing yourself that freedom to pursue it. I think there is a tendency for some people to equate money with freedom, in terms of having the means to do what you want, but that’s not how I see it. Mostly just freedom to hear yourself and engage with the world in a way that is honest to who you are. It’s more about the daily process of being aware of the capacity of what freedom offers.

Image courtesy of Fresh Prep.