Josephine Chu and Yolanda Hawthorne founded Zenful Bites in May 2012 on the principle that everyone should have access to fresh food, the means to buy it, and the knowledge to prepare it. To that end, Zenful Bites partners with local nonprofits to run food education programs for children in underserved areas of DC. The programs teach children where their food comes from and engages them in healthy cooking, building the foundation for more wholesome eating throughout their lives. Children learn to prepare dishes that include vegetables and fruit that perhaps they are unaccustomed to eating. Many of these classes are provided pro-bono, so Zenful Bites sustains and expands this work, in part, by offering catering services for local businesses and events.
Through Zenful Bites catering, Chu and Hawthorne provide nutritious food that can be tailored to accommodate a variety of dietary needs such as vegan or gluten-free. Their menu items include chili-glazed tofu with seasonal vegetables and Napa cabbage-carrot slaw with cilantro lime vinaigrette. Zenful Bites emphasizes healthy food preparation and also goes a step further and sources its food from local farms that use sustainable, organic farming practices.
With a full-time staff of two, Zenful Bites is a small business with a big mission. Chu says that as an entrepreneur, there is sometimes tension between the ambitious mission of her business and staffing and resource realities. Her company’s small size makes it a challenge to take advantage of pricing deals and the economies of scale that may benefit larger companies. Despite these challenges, Zenful Bites remains focused and is growing steadily, with community partners such as the DC Central Kitchen, ECO City Farm, Think Local First DC.
Chu says that her role as a co-founder has taught her to always be willing to try different things—from marketing tactics to education programs—then evaluate and adjust as needed. She also advises women entrepreneurs to connect. She says that Washington, DC is a great place for female food entrepreneurs thanks to resources like:
Pineapple DC, a Facebook (and real-life!) community of DMV women in food; and
Washington, DC Women’s Business Center, which offers workshops and individual sessions with its staff to troubleshoot business issues.