FreshFry. Jeremiah Chapman on the right, Jacob Huff, cofounder and COO, on the left.Jeremiah Chapman on the right, Jacob Huff, cofounder and COO, on the left

According to FreshFry Founder and CEO Jeremiah Chapman, cooking oil is the largest nonfood expense in restaurant kitchens, costing an average of $3,000 per year.

The company’s solution: a cleaning pod that removes water, acids, metal and other impurities from vats of oil. Chefs simply toss a pod—which looks a lot like a cornhole beanbag—into their oil and let it sit overnight.

Louisville Future caught up with Chapman to learn more about the startup.

Your company started with a disaster. Describe it.

Chapman: I used to take old oil from the Wendy’s on the UofL campus and make biodiesel from it. By the time I got it, it was extremely nasty. One day I was driving a ’97 Pontiac Grand Prix across campus. I picked up three five-gallon buckets of old oil, and it spilled in my car. I was just done with it.

So you shifted to cleaning cooking oil.

Chapman: I got the idea from my grandmother actually. She used to ask me to fry potatoes to clean oil when we were frying at home. I started researching that and came up with the idea to use a plant-based way to clean oil, just like my grandmother did, but to do it in a more efficient way.

What’s in FreshFry pods?

Chapman: We use the byproduct of plants, the parts we can’t eat. We activate that and put it into a form where it can be placed in a pod and put into a fryer. It’s a second-use product. It’s diverting from landfills and also reducing the oil usage and labor in the back of restaurants.

How did your first sales call go?

Chapman: I was working on it nights and weekends for a couple of years in college. Then I went to Mayan Café, and it failed. It failed because I’d never tried the product in front of a potential customer. What we found out from that point is that if you’re innovating without talking to a customer at the same time, you’re probably not going to get it right.

It sounds like things have gotten better since then.

Chapman: We have nationwide distribution through Sysco. We were launched as a Sysco-branded item in 2018—the number-one item in that cohort. We’ve been growing since then.

Why did you decide to offer free product to Louisville restaurants during the pandemic?

Chapman: When you zoom out you just realize how big everything is; you can freeze and not know what to do. What we decided is ‘Let’s not freeze; let’s just be a helper where we can.’

People are having to make decisions about whether they should keep employees or if they should get unemployment. We know that oil is a large expense. We know that people don’t have the time to train individuals at this point on something complicated. That’s the beauty of our product. You get a box of pods, and you have everything you need.

What difference did winning a Vogt Award in 2014 make?

Chapman: Before the Vogt Award we had a concept; after the Vogt Award we had the minimum viable product that Mayan Café first rejected. That’s a huge acceleration path.

Speaking of Mayan Café, who was your first customer?

Chapman: Our first customer was Mayan Café. That was the best part. We failed, and he said try again.

What’s one piece of advice you’d give to other entrepreneurs?

Chapman: I’m a huge believer in airing out the failures, because there’s a success in the attempt. The failure’s just telling you which way not to go; it’s not telling you that what you want to get to is impossible.