Want takeout but don’t like containers? Here’s an answer

MINNEAPOLIS — Forever Ware’s pitch to Namaste Cafe was simple: Use our reusable containers for your customers and cut down on disposable containers going to landfills.

So was the answer two years ago from Namaste owners Nadine Schaefer and Saujanya Shrestha. Sign us up.

Schaefer said she has searched for ways to decrease the amount of waste produced by Namaste — especially disposable containers — throughout its 17-year history.

“It’s more for the good cause and the environment,” she said.

For other users of Forever Ware, it’s a reusable container option that also helps distinguish the business from competitors.

Forever Ware works this way: Restaurants and coffee shops pay between $25 and $200 per month to license Forever Ware’s software that allows them to check out and track stainless steel containers and mugs that contain identification tags for tracking. Merchants also pay 5 cents per checkout. Customers, meanwhile, pay a $5 refundable fee to start using the containers that they can return (and check out new containers) at restaurants and coffee shops that also use Forever Ware.

Twin Cities entrepreneurs Nolan Singroy, Natasha Gaffer and Nick Krumholz, who started Forever in 2020, hope to expand the pool of users with the aid of $77,000 from Hennepin County, $7,000 from Carver County and $21,000 from Launch Minnesota, an initiative of the Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development dedicated to supporting early-stage companies.

“Forever Ware’s project filled a gap in our community,” said Amy Maas, a waste reduction and recycling specialist and zero waste challenge coordinator for Hennepin County. “Some restaurants have reusable dishes within the restaurant, but the story changes when that food leaves the building for delivery or customers order to-go. A reuse system didn’t exist. We liked the idea of a simple system that multiple restaurants could opt into to prevent takeout packaging waste, and especially single-use plastic items. We wanted to bring this to our residents and therefore funding innovators and early adopters could help make this a reality.”

Earlier this year, the Energy Department reported only 5% of plastic waste in the U.S. is recycled, leading to more government entities, like Hennepin County, to turn to companies like Forever Ware to decrease waste.

Hennepin County’s grant program funds projects that prevent waste in the business sector. Areas of focus include replacing disposables with reusables, food waste prevention and innovative projects around research and development.

In addition to grant money, Relish Works, a food-focused business development and workspace operator, earlier this year invested $75,000 in Forever Ware in exchange for 3% equity in the company after selecting it for its Safe for the Food Foundry startup accelerator.

Coupled with grant money and the investment from Relish Works, Forever Ware has raised about $50,000 in angel investments, Singroy said.

The owners hope their system will save individual restaurants thousands of dollars in expenses for disposable, plastic containers while diverting pounds of those unwanted containers away from landfills.

Since 2020, Forever Ware has grown to more than 450 active users in Minneapolis and 900 users nationwide in states like Illinois and New Hampshire. While the startup is making a profit, albeit small, it needs to increase its volume of users to increase revenue, Singroy said.

Boosting sales for Forever Ware is the recent launch of its shippable reuse starter kits, filled with branded containers and tech tools for businesses. Those tools include a separate app that tracks checkouts, inventory, integrates with point-of-sale systems and automates reordering if more containers are needed.

“With stainless steel, it can be used a couple a hundred times,” Singroy said. “It saves from a carbon footprint perspective.”

Restaurant and coffee shop owners in the Twin Cities view the product as a wise investment.

Peter Poire-Odegard, owner of Roots Roasting in St. Paul, opened his coffee roasting business four years ago. Besides the Forever Ware, his other containers are compostable.

Gaffer, Forever Ware’s CEO, is a longtime customer, and Poire-Odegard began using the reusable containers in September 2021.

Roots has added an average of one customer per day to the reusable program, he said. With 80% of his sales to-go orders, the software system has been an added benefit with little cost, he said. In the last three months, a third of his shop’s 11,000 to-go sales were checkouts using Forever Ware.