The LaunchPad is pleased to welcome Derek Wallace ’00 for a chat on Wednesday, June 24 at 3 p.m. as part of our popular Tea Talk series in partnership with The Republic of Tea. Wallace is CEO of Kalamata’s Kitchen, launched via one of the most successful campaigns in its category in Kickstarter history, which now includes digital platforms, products, stories, a multi-book deal with Penguin Random House and an animated series in development with a major production studio. The brand is in the top 5% of all Shopify stores, has had 43 million+ impressions, and has been endorsed by celebrities such as Chrissy Teigen. Join via this Zoom link.
Wallace was a double major in the Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs and S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communication. Prior to founding Kalamata’s Kitchen with Sarah Thomas, he spent 17 years honing his skills in sales and marketing at a company that is part of the Berkshire Hathaway family. Through his career, he worked as a leader across business units on topics including sustainability, social responsibility, as well as diversity and inclusion. He launched an employee resource group called The Culture Council, which encouraged associates to take an active role in driving diversity and inclusion, with a focus on acting entrepreneurially to create a culture of empowerment.
Inspired by the idea of being an entrepreneur, he decided to leave corporate life to launch his own ventures in spring of 2017. Kalamata Kitchen is a brand that connects kids and adults to diverse experiences and cultures through the lens of food. “The experience is like Anthony Bourdain meets Dora the Explorer,” says Wallace. “It’s built around a fictitious girl named Kalamata who, along with her stuffed alligator Al Dente, courageously explores the world through food adventures.” The brand is activated through a series of stories, products, and experiences, with an expansion vision that creates even more visibility on major media platforms.
With a successful Kickstarter that funded his idea in four days, Wallace built a team to create a magical place where culture and culinary wonders come to life through a series of books, experiences, and products to entice children and their families to embrace cultural diversity through foods, flavors, and traditions from around the world and all walks of life.
Joining him as co-founder is Sarah Thomas, an author from a culturally diverse background who is an Advanced Sommelier in the Court of Master Sommeliers, and currently a sommelier at Le Bernardin in NYC. As chief imaginator and story-chef in Kalamata’s Kitchen, she drew on her own experiences from her family kitchen and her college experiences as a teaching assistant for intellectually disabled children in India. “I can remember the smell and sound of spices frying in my mom’s kitchen pretty distinctly,” she says. “There’s a handful of spices and aromatics that start the base of most south Indian cooking, and that smell and the sound of them sizzling in oil has always signaled the promise of something delicious.”
Together, they created the Kalamata Kitchen brand of stories, food adventure gear, live events and a nationwide guide to family-friendly restaurants as a way to grow a next generation of eaters who appreciate cultural and culinary diversity by understanding the traditions of people around the world.
“We created Kalamata’s Kitchen around a single truth,” says Wallace. “Food brings people closer together. And we believe that sharing food adventures does more than encourage you to try new things. We believe it brings about an appetite for empathy, inclusiveness and community in a profound, yet very simple way, by going on a food adventure together.”
Derek is very excited to meet with the SU community and encourage their entrepreneurial spirit. He is particularly passionate about talking about diversity and inclusion.
The conversation is open to the campus and community.