Though from wildly different places, Romy Raad and Natalie Neumann met in grad school at Parsons, and they stumbled on a shared love of fresh and flavorful ingredients—as well as seriously averse reactions to processed foods in America.
After the Lebanese and German entrepreneurs suffered from the preservatives and chemicals in the fare they encountered in NYC, they started investigating ingredients and how food affected them. Noting their eerily similar issues they started working on a holistic food service that would fix their own issues.
Along the way, they crafted Metabrew! Part coffee, part fat, and part superfood, the drink packs all the energy you’d ever want…and none of the nasty come down. Read on for more about the awesome alternative and how these two international powerhouses are helping power up your day—and their own startup.
SBS: How did Metabrew start?
Natalie Neumann: Romy and I met in the strategic design and management graduate program at Parsons. We were both not used to the food here, but instead more familiar with healthy, unprocessed, natural ingredients common in Lebanon and Munich (where I’m from). Both have what America calls the farm-to-table approach. Romy developed IBS, and I got all sorts of weird reactions from food I usually could eat. I went vegan for a year and a half. So, we both started researching the food industry and why things are made in certain ways here. We started looking into different diets and lifestyles. We also both had funny sensitivities to caffeine: Romy can’t really drink coffee, and I would over-caffeinate every day.
At that point, we started putting together Metamenu, a holistic meal concept. We tried to find an ideal meal plan for people to feel better. One part of that was Metabrew. And from all the testing we did, we realized we could take this small part and develop it. It was always the strongest factor—always the part that made the most significant and positive impact.
SBS: How much caffeine is in Metabrew?
Romy Raad: It’s about the same amount as a cup of black tea, which is about 65 to 75 milligrams of caffeine. That’s less than a standard eight-ounce cup of coffee, which might be 90 to 100 milligrams of caffeine. We started with a coffee-based drink, but it’s one that works for people who are both sensitive to caffeine and also those who need a lot of caffeine. We can reach a bigger audience. And, it tastes great.
SBS: Is there an overarching aim for Metabrew beyond a drink?
RR: We are a startup company of functional beverages, and we have purposely-designed drinks. We’ll have a tea-based version in less than a month.
We hope to empower people to make a small change in their day and feel different. We obviously won’t tell you Metabrew will help you when you eat it with fried chicken! But it’s a simple thing to integrate into your life that doesn’t require a lot of effort to feel the difference. When it comes to healthy food, people are hesitant to try things or consider changing their diet. You can feel better and energized without compromising on flavor and ingredients.
NN: One thing we learned is a lot of healthy snacks and beverages don’t taste pleasant. It doesn’t have to be like that. We want to teach people that healthy food can be super-delicious. The whole landscape and perceptions are changing.
SBS: What’s the concept of Metabew?
RR: We combined MCT oil with caffeine to time-release the effect of caffeine in a gentler version. It’s a moderate amount of caffeine and fat that provides energy. We combine that with superfoods, like cashew and cacao, and those add benefits and full flavor.
We also do a lot of work behind the label in terms of different suppliers. We work with those who have similar values in their way of doing business. For example, the coffee supplier we chose makes the cold brew just for us. We tested 40 or 50 different kinds of beans, and we chose this one specifically and made friends with supplier. They roast them just for our production.
SBS: What are the challenges and happy surprises in creating this unique business?
RR: They happen on a daily basis. The day can start on great note, and then later you wonder what happened! It’s an emotional rollercoaster. But the rewards are high.
Some challenges we face are finding a distributor and having to scale. Right now we’re doing everything ourselves outside of outsourcing to a co-packing source. They produce Metabrew for us versus when we used to make it by hand. Now we have to find a distributor for New York and the East Coast region.
We also need funding in order to scale. But as hard as it is, we’ve always found ways to keep the business alive. As designers, we’re good at finding ways through things…to iterate.
NN: I think one overarching challenge always is working against an old-fashioned industry. There are huge players and standards that go against our values. Even in the natural food and beverage space, the standard is to add natural preservatives. Some might not be harmful or proven to be harmful, but they don’t do anything good for you.
Our routines help us overcome challenges. For example, we do yoga a lot. Today we had a great yoga class, and we came out much more relaxed. We also have team meetings if we’re stuck with something.
SBS: How does the combination of fat and caffeine work together? Why did you choose these ingredients?
RR: In the beginning, we worked with a holistic nutritionist, a doctor who works with cancer patients and health coaches all validating our recipe. There are also studies on MCT oil. We had these sources.
NN: It’s also personal. I used to drink six to eight cups of coffee a day. Caffeine in moderate amounts isn’t bad for you, but we’re obviously used to drinking so much… and you always want more. You start with one cup a day and, at some point, after an hour, you want another cup. There’s that constant cycle of constantly feeling over-caffeinated, anxious…and then you crash. Then, you need to do the whole routine again. Energy drinks do the same thing.
Metabrew goes against all of that. The caffeine lasts for so much longer because your body is digesting the caffeine much slower because of the fat. Originally, we came across it in The Bulletproof Diet, which includes a lot of healthy fats, protein and veggies, but no sugar. It promotes coffee with coconut oil and grass-fed butter. We tried it on ourselves, and friends also participated. It wasn’t the perfect drink for us, though, because you need a very stable stomach. It felt like it was designed for big guys working out all the time.
So we started playing around with the idea of other types of fat combined with caffeine. That really sparked the idea of Metabrew. But we also wanted it to be vegan-friendly. It took us over a year to perfect a recipe through feedback loops, experimentation and finding that right amount of healthy fat, even for a sensitive stomach.
SBS: How do you ensure the team and partner relationships you want for the company? How do you keep things running smoothly—and happily?
RR: We have team meetings that bring everyone together. Even though we might work from different places and have a flexible schedule, you have to be more communicative than usual. Those weekly meetings help the team stay motivated. It also builds trust that we give real responsibility to our whole group. We trust each other, and everyone is an important piece of the puzzle. We don’t always agree on everything all the time, which is good because it pushes us further. But we agree on values.
NN: We also started from a baseline. Romy and I are complimentary in nature. She is an extrovert, a people-person. I’m more the introvert. Together it builds a whole spectrum of qualities. We also did a lot of work in beginning in terms of what values we want to build as a company. We work on doing things right. If not the first time or second time, we try over and over until we get it right. Coming from design, we know how to reform, iterate and evolve.
SBS: What’s the feedback you’ve received about Metabrew?
RR: We’ve heard all sorts of things like, ‘I got through my four-hour meeting, and I crushed it.’ Or people who have a hard time getting their workouts done will contact us and tell us they finally felt motivated and went for that run or did that CrossFit class. A lot of people have also told us they don’t crave as much coffee.
Romy’s NYC Faves:
Healthy Restaurant: Hu Kitchen
Splurge Restaurant: Traif
Fitness Studio: I enjoy exploring classes with ClassPass
Yoga Studio: ShaktiBarre
Fun Activity: Morning Gloryville or Daybreaker sunrise and daytime parties
Calming Activity: Looking at the NY skyline from a rooftop
Book: Tools of Titans by Tim Ferriss
Online Health and Wellness Resource: Well+Good
Romy’s SBS Mantras: Be Bold and Be Happy. Anything is possible with a positive mindset and a courageous spirit.
The best, zaniest part of being Romy: Making hugging a company rule.
Natalie’s NYC Faves:
Healthy Restaurant: Siggy’s Good Foods
Splurge Restaurant: Blue Hill Stone Barns
Fitness Activity: Running on the East River path
Yoga Studio: The Bhakti Center
Fun Activity: Biking
Calming Activity: Cleaning
Book: The Upcycle by William McDonough and Michael Braungart
Online Health and Wellness Resource: Well+Good
Nightlife Activity: Members Campout
Natalie’s SBS Mantras: Be Brave and Be Kind. Bravery is what you need to lead a startup, and kindness makes the world a better place.
The best, zaniest part of being Natalie: My love for hula hoops and glitter.