Belinda DiGiambattista didn't like what her 2-year-old son was eating for lunch at his Brooklyn, New York, day care center. It was a weekly rotation of the same, not-so-interesting stuff: mac and cheese, chicken fingers, and fish sticks. "It wasn't bad food," she recalls. "But it was boring." DiGiambattista got inspired, and in February 2008, after being laid off from her product strategist job, she used $50,000 of savings and, with a co-founder who is no longer with the company, launched Butter Beans Kitchen.
The company focuses on bringing nutritious, balanced, kid-friendly lunches to small and medium-size private and charter schools in New York City. DiGiambattista, 41, pitches her company to school administrators as a way to solve two challenges she says all schools face: "satisfying parents and meeting budgets." Because a school lunch program is expensive and complicated to set up, and most full-service food programs won't deal with smaller schools, Butter Beans hits a perfect niche market. Eight years in, it feeds 2,000 children and teachers per day.
Lunches are prepared in the company's 2,500-square-foot kitchen in Queens. Each day, two vans deliver entrées (one meat, one vegetarian), grains and vegetables, sandwiches, and salad-bar staples to schools throughout the city. The next day, Butter Beans' cafeteria attendants heat up meals like antibiotic-free chicken Marbella and vegetable lasagna, and divvy it out, buffet style. Parents of participating private-school students pay an average of $7.50 per day (prior to Butter Beans, these private-school kids brought their lunch or bought it outside the school); at charter schools, for as little as $3.76 per kid, Butter Beans serves all students.
The company, No. 2,108 on the 2015 Inc. 5000, expects to earn $2.75 million in revenue this year. It also offers summer camps and cooking classes for children. While DiGiambattista had to clear some hurdles--"One parent complained that we weren't serving hot dogs; others didn't like the vegetable meatballs and wanted to know where the beef is," she says--she believes her business model has room to grow. "Society has not reached the tipping point of parents making healthy choices," she says. "But I've seen parents more concerned with making healthy choices since I started Butter Beans."