I too was surprised to learn local foundations financed Kimbal Musk’s entree into Memphis to the tune of $10,000,000 in “community bonds.” Shouldn’t we be leveraging local talent to serve up local food? Is this another Conduit Global-type scenario where we spend our time and money recruiting an unreliable tenant to our midst? Well, in a word, no.

First of all, I’ve met Kimbal and his team, and these guys are no joke. Kimbal has made his money; he could continue doubling it every few years in the tech world like his brother Elon. Instead he’s chosen a different path, and he’s attracted some of the most luminous folks I’ve encountered to travel that path with him.

To spend time with The Kitchen team and their Learning Gardens philanthropy, is to understand what it takes to foment real change. This is not some isolated restaurant or initiative. This is a concerted, deliberate approach to changing the way people understand and consume food. They are taking what they learned in disparate businesses from tech to marketing to global trade and applying it to local food ecosystems.

The team is not starting from scratch here in Memphis and they know it. They have spent the last six months building relationships here with city builders from across the spectrum of government, philanthropy, healthcare, restaurants, finance, law and farming. If you play in these sandboxes, expect to meet them soon, and expect them to listen. They are going about their mission with unique mix of humility and vision.

There are many who believe Crosstown and Shelby Farms should have found local restaurateurs and the schools should have developed gardens with existing pipelines of talent. I’d ask them to take a step back and look at the big picture. Kimbal’s team isn’t here to replace local. In fact they couldn’t do what they intend without the decades of work locals have already completed.

They will bring fresh perspective, energy and ideas to our already robust infrastructure of local food. They will bring national attention to Memphis. They are evidence we’ve arrived as a city where it’s okay to invest $10,000,000 in 100 schools and three restaurants located in places that three years ago no one, local or not, would have even considered. They offer a chance to invigorate an already vibrant core of individuals and businesses making Memphis a model city for the next generation.

In Memphis, we offer a lot of lip service to attracting and retaining talent, to being innovative. Then when it stares us in the face we get all squirrely and don’t know what to do. Well here’s a suggestion. Take it on faith, y’all, that Kimbal Musk is not here to pillage our city. He is exactly the kind of person, with the kind of vision and power to execute, that we need right now if we have any hope of becoming a world-class city. Our number one enemy is poverty. Food and all that it means economically and for health, is one way to address poverty. Let’s give this guy a little love.

 

 

Cool as a cucumber.