Nicholl Doggett, assistant vice president of mortgage lending at Oak Brook-based Leaders Bank, poses with Chicago-based Moon Meals’ founder and CEO LaForce Baker.
When LaForce Baker, 30, founder of Chicago start-up Moon Meals, needed financing to promote his food product, he turned to Oak Brook-based Leaders Bank. In July, Leaders Bank furnished the company a loan through its Small Business Microloan Program. “The Leaders loan was a working capital loan that . . . enabled us to appear at trade shows, which can be rather costly,” Baker says.
At the time, Moon Meals’ all-vegan grab-and-go Fiesta Wraps were already sold in deli sections of all 189 Jewel supermarkets The company’s goals are even more ambitious – and national in scope. Before revealing them, let’s trace the humble origins of this innovative food manufacturer.
Growing up in a “food desert” on Chicago’s South Side, Baker discovered at around age 15 he could prepare healthy vegan versions of his grandmother’s tasty specialties. Several years later, as a late-night food industry worker, he found few healthy options. He began selling his healthy items to people working late evenings, spawning the name Moon Meals.
“I started wholesaling to mom-and-pop coffee shops, and got it up to 10 shops,” he recalls. “From there, I had the data to go to my first major retailer, Jewel.”
Jewel opted to give Moon Meals a tryout in three Chicagoland supermarkets. The product sold well, leading Jewel to roll it out to all locations. “We offer the Fiesta Wrap, which retails for $6.99,” Baker says. “It has a meaty-cheesy, spicy profile, but it’s all vegan. Featuring our own meat alternative, it offers 22 grams of protein.”
Baker is a past participant in Family Farms’ Good Food Accelerator. This educational program trains people to enter food manufacturing, connecting them to wholesalers and distributors. Leaders Bank is a corporate participant in the program.
“That’s where we met LaForce, at the most recent class in the spring of 2019,” recalls Nicholl Doggett, Leaders Bank assistant vice president of mortgage lending.
Backed by a Leaders Bank Microloan, Moon Meals is on its way. Says Baker: “The big dream is over the next two years, to be in at least 3,000 locations nationwide, with four items: Fiesta Wraps and three new products under development.”