LA: Thrive Magazine Features Duke University Alums… Cook & Tellis the Healthy Alternative Entrepreneurs

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These entrepreneurs got junk food banned from vending machines in Los Angeles’ schools, overcame mind-blowing adversity, and have families plagued with diabetes and cancer. Now they’re changing people’s lives through a plant-based diet. They’re also changing the game.


THRIVE MAGAZINE INTERVIEW: How did you guys meet?

Kareem Cook: Claude and I met in college. We both attended Duke University in North Carolina.

THRIVE: How did you decide that you two should become business partners?

Claude Tellis: We ended up both going to business school at the same time. I went to The Wharton School of Business at the University of Pennsylvania. Kareem went back to the Fuqua School of Business at Duke. I decided then that I wanted to be an entrepreneur. Two years after graduating, I decided to make a move to Los Angeles and decided Kareem should roll with me.

Kareem: I always say I moved to LA for a woman. And I did. But not my woman. Claude’s woman.

Claude: My fiancé was living in LA. She gave me until February of 2002 to find a way to move out to LA, or she was returning my ring. We got here January 31, 2002.

THRIVE: So what was the plan?

Kareem: Well, Claude and I had written the business plan for a friend of ours, world-renowned dancer, choreographer, actor, producer, and director Debbie Allen to open up the Debbie Allen

Dance Academy. She offered us the back offices of the dance academy to use as a headquarters for starting a company. What company? Nobody knew.

Claude: But we immediately noticed all of these overweight kids walking around when we got to LA.

Kareem: Being from the East Coast, we had this preconceived and erroneous belief that it was going to be like the show Baywatch out here. Everyone would be in excellent physical shape. The moment we stepped out the car, we realized that we had been hoodwinked. First, you see it, then you read about it. There was a 40% child obesity rate in LA! We said to ourselves, “Some smart business people will come up with a way
to address this child obesity problem.” Claude mentioned an idea he had about healthy vending machines, and how effective that could be. We figured, why not do that in LA?

Claude: Problem was, we were here in LA, jobless. We decided to write a business plan and raise some money. We received a small business loan from a local bank. Debbie’s husband and former NBA player Norm Nixon saw what we were doing, thought it was noble, and joined us. A month after arriving in LA, we managed to meet with the head of the YMCA and embarrassed him by reminding him of their tenets and that those soda machines in the lobby were in direct contradiction. We walked out of that office with the contract for all the YMCAs in LA.

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