By Tracy Record
West Seattle Blog editor
A venture-capital-backed tech startup has just moved into the heart of the West Seattle Triangle.
Its primary product, however, isn’t meant for your screen. It’s meant for your plate.
Rebellyous Foods is the new tenant for the second floor of the 4600 37th SW building in The Triangle, where SK Food Group long prepared meals for airline passengers. Rebellyous Foods’ main product has something to do with wings, too – a plant-based replacement for chicken.
The company founded by former Boeing engineer Christie Lagally makes more than food. It also is inventing technology to make the production of plant-based “chicken nuggets” cheaper – so that it can compete price-wise as well as flavor-wise.
We talked with Lagally during a tour of their new HQ this week.
Rebellyous produces for food service, not direct retail, so you won’t find its products in the supermarket. But they’re ramping up fast to produce more food for more clients -they’ve been producing 1,000 pounds a month and expect soon to be up to 6,000 pounds. They moved to West Seattle earlier this month from a much smaller space at a commmissary kitchen elsewhere in the metro area. They have so much space, they are offering to sublease some to other independent food producers. (They have dry-storage space available too.)
Lagally, wearing a company-logo T-shirt with “NO HARM, NO FOWL” on the back, explained that their product doesn’t just spare chickens’ lives. The process is far less wasteful. And that’s why they’ve been working on new equipment for the production process; they don’t have to deal with feathers, bones, blood. Just a soy or soy/wheat recipe. (The wheat is Northwest-grown spring wheat, by the way.) Less costly production means a less pricey product, and that could make plant-based nuggets more attractive to more people.
Taste, of course, has a lot to do with it too, and Lagally says Rebellyous uses a lot of the same flavorings that are pumped into chicken. Some of her dozen-plus staff members work in an R&B lab on the north side of the building, looking across SW Snoqualmie at the >West Seattle YMCA (WSB sponsor).
So far, they have a dozen major food-service clients, but Lagally expects that to grow.
She says she was working at Boeing, as a 777 program engineer, and then at the Good Food Institute, before founding Rebellyous Foods. She was volunteering with the Humane Society of the United States, and the more she learned about the animal-agriculture system and its effects on the environment (among other things), the more certain she became that there had to be a better way. She met some people who were advocating to start a plant-based nugget company. And she realized that her engineering background could help solve some of the problems that had plant-based food at a disadvantage over the animal-based versions.
So here she is in her second year of trying to revolutionize the “chicken” industry and help save the world. Not too much competition right now, Lagally says, although there’s certainly an appetite for it – she says Beyond Meat had a test event with their plant-based “chicken” and “sold out in five hours.” If they can get more people to switch from crispy chicken to their product, it’s a boon for climate health as well as personal health – as scientists point out.
Rebellyous Foods also hopes to be a West Seattle community asset; besides production and storage space to sublet, they also are renovating community-meeting space – a big space with windows that look north/northeastward including a peek view of downtown.
Their sustainability commitment includes more than their product – they’re even recycling tools of the trade like workers’ hair nets and gloves.
We mentioned back at the start of this report that Rebellyous Foods – aka Seattle Food Tech – is venture-capital-backed. That includes Y Combinator support. Lagally is working to raise more capital as they ramp up production as well as creation of new types of equipment – three on the drawing board as we speak, that will be designed specifically for everything from the type of processing they do to the different types of safety requirements for a product that doesn’t involve, well, blood and guts. Her summary, in a recent social-media post: “We’re dead set on crafting the tools necessary for a real, global food rebelly*ion, and bringing the resulting deliciousness to consumers around the world.”
And it’s happening in the West Seattle Triangle.
WONDERING WHERE TO TRY REBELLYOUS FOODS’ PRODUCT? Again, it’s not available by retail. But here are some of their clients:
Swedish Cherry Hill
Swedish First Hill
Cornish College of the Arts
Georgetown Liquor’s late-night menu