Feb 21, 2024 - News

Red Rabbit will bring "culturally relevant" meals to D.C. school kids

Six kids sit at a cafeteria lunch table

Lunchtime! Photo: courtesy of Red Rabbit

Red Rabbit, a New York-based school food management company that specializes in nutritious, "culturally relevant" meals, is expanding to D.C.

Why it matters: Since launching over a decade ago, Red Rabbit's "food justice" model has proven successful: Give kids in underserved communities healthy, familiar meals — think pollo guisado over chicken fingers — and they have the fuel to thrive.

How it works: Red Rabbit currently partners with high-need charter and smaller public school districts in New York, New Jersey, and Philadelphia, and transforms their meal programs with the help of chefs, community organizations, and federal funding.

  • "We're more of a social justice organization," CEO and founder Rhys Powell tells Axios. "A lot of school food starts with nutrition, and we think that's the wrong way."
  • It's all about identifying what resonates with kids and teachers — whether that's jerk chicken in Caribbean neighborhoods or jollof rice in West African areas. "We interview students and ask what their families eat," says Powell. "How do they celebrate and uplift?"

What's next: Red Rabbit is currently in the research and development phase in D.C., targeting schools in Wards 7 and 8 — home to some of the city's largest food deserts — and making connections with community organizations like D.C. Central Kitchen.

A chef chops vegetables in a Red Rabbit kitchen
A working Red Rabbit kitchen. Photo: courtesy Red Rabbit

Flashback: Powell launched Red Rabbit in 2005 as a very different kind of company, serving healthy meals to busy private school families on the Upper West Side.

  • "After I got exposure to the school food industry, I realized kids in public schools were getting the short end of the stick," Powell says.

Zoom in: The company — now the largest Black-owned school food service in the U.S. — describes its cafeterias as pop-up neighborhood restaurants.

  • Their overhaul includes putting the same "cultural cues" in dining halls that are on plates, including local art and familiar hot sauces and condiments.
  • "If you just change the food and you don't change the space, it diminishes the amount of impact you can have," Powell says.

Between the lines: Many of the communities Red Rabbit serves are homogeneous, "but we do love those moments for cross-cultural conversation," Powell adds.

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