Former 98point6 CEO goes from telemedicine to fried chicken – with a recipe for fighting climate change – GeekWire

The Mt. Joy Chicken Sandwich will be available at a pop event in Seattle from October 14-16. (Photo of Mount Joy)

Before co-founding the Seattle telehealth startup 98point6 in 2015, Cape Robbie was thinking about whether to use his technological know-how to pursue an idea related to health care or something focused on the environment.

Healthcare won out, and Cape spent six years running 98point6 as CEO, where he helped the startup raise nearly $250 million and meet increased customer demand during the pandemic.

Cape was kicked out 98point6 by the company’s board last year in a surprising start. It gave him another opportunity to revisit the desire to work on something good for the planet.

He moved into a chicken sandwich restaurant.

Before balking — or, bawk bawk — at the idea, Cape doesn’t just peck blindly. He’s passionate and applying lessons learned from his years at Microsoft and as a startup founder and leader.

Robbie Cape, then CEO of virtual primary care startup 98point6, accepts the Healthcare Innovation of the Year award at the GeekWire Awards in 2019. (GeekWire File Photo/Kevin Lisota)

“Most people dream of a restaurant or dream of some type of food that they want to perfect,” Cape said. “And what I dreamed of, as a technologist, was something that I could do to have an impact on the environment.”

The dream is Mount Joy, a fast-casual restaurant chain that will rely on sustainable farming practices and locally sourced ingredients to disrupt the agriculture and food industries from start to finish. Cape teams up with a heavy hitter in Ethan Stowellthe Seattle restaurateur behind establishments such as How To Cook a Wolf and Tavolàta.

The inspiration to set things in motion came as Cape watched the 2020 documentary ‘Kiss the Ground’, a film narrated by actor Woody Harrelson about the practice of regenerative agriculture and its potential to combat climate change by improving soil organic composition and removing carbon from the atmosphere.

“My brain was on fire with thoughts about this form of farming,” Cape said, reiterating what he said. Seattle Met magazine in an article last week. “I was mostly like, ‘If it’s so great, why aren’t more people doing it?'”

Cape said that as a meat eater, he was particularly interested in how regenerative agriculture applied to raising livestock. Seeking answers on how to combat industrial farming techniques in the United States, he researched and contacted countless farmers. He was surprised when he met one who told him the best way to get more farmers to farm sustainably: start a fast food restaurant.

Cape was struck by the irony that perhaps a demand for cheap, mass-produced food could help end the problems it created.

How “cheap” cheap food is will likely be relative to location and demographics, and Cape said it will have to be better for the planet and for workers up and down the food chain – farmers to processors and restaurant staff.

The attention to meat provenance is reminiscent of another Seattle startup, Crowd Cow, which was founded in 2015 and is led by longtime software veterans Joe Heitzeberg and Ethan Lowry. Backed with $25 million, Crowd Cow operates an online marketplace for sustainably raised and processed beef and other meat products.

“What I dreamed of, as a technologist, was something I could do to impact the environment.”

—Cape Robbie

Seeking a food industry professional in Seattle, Cape, who had never met Stowell, coldly contacted the restaurateur’s website and landed a first meeting.

“The concept I pitched to him was a fried chicken sandwich that’s good for the environment, where if you can multiply that by thousands [of restaurants] we can change the way food is produced in the United States,” Cape said.

Stowell, who once teamed up with another tech vet, Matt Bell, for a restaurant inside Bell’s Seattle car geek haunt The Shop, said it took a number of meetings to get comfortable and say, “Let’s do it.”

“He’s got something he’s very passionate about and he’s smart,” Stowell said of Cape, whom he saw not just as a random techie coming up with a restaurant idea, but more like “a startuper with a plan. “. ”

Stowell is already the CEO of his own company, and he can’t wait for Cape to run things at Mt. Joy so he can watch and learn, too. As the operator of 20 restaurants, Stowell finds it hard to imagine expanding to thousands of U.S. locations for Mt. Joy, but he’s confident he can help set up the infrastructure and systems to do it.

Seattle chef and restaurateur Ethan Stowell. (Photo by Geoff Smith via LookatLao Studio)

“There are a few things we need to do. We have to make it delicious. We have to respect the price they expect. And we have to tell the story,” Stowell said. “We need to let people know that when they buy a Mt. Joy Chicken Sandwich, it’s doing something good.”

With Stowell on board as a partner/adviser, and before anyone had even fried or tasted a sandwich, the pair began to build a team that includes chef Dionne Himmelfarb as culinary chef, and the state farmer of Washington Grant Jones, the agriculture chief working to build a supply chain.

“That’s my first lesson – it’s all about the team,” Cape said of the startup best practices and technology he relies on.

After that, it’s all about culture – collaboration and relationships between team members will ultimately be at the heart of any success, according to Cape. The third lesson is that the vision and mission should be the overall beacons.

“This process of reinventing some industry fundamentals is something I’ve always been taught to do. It’s something we’re absolutely doing now in Mt. Joy,” said Cape, who sold the Cozi family planning app to Time Inc. in 2014 and previously spent 12 years at Microsoft.

“We need to let people know that when they buy a Mt. Joy Chicken Sandwich, it’s doing something good.”

—Ethan Stowell

Cap also attracted Justin Kaufman to his new team. The former 98point6 software engineer is now co-founder and chief technology officer at Mt. Joy, and Cape said Kaufman wants to reimagine the entire tech experience people have with restaurants.

Some of the technologies Kaufman is working on include: mobile apps for iPhone and Android that allow customers to place orders; a kitchen display system to provide chefs with a view of orders coming due; a scanner app to track orders; a backend service to automate ticket printing as new orders arrive; a guest notification system for contacting customers with order updates and soliciting feedback.

“One of my greatest hopes is that we’ll be able to use technology to build meaningful relationships with our customers,” Kaufman said. “I go to a handful of restaurants several times a year, and every time I walk in, I’m a first-time customer when it comes to the restaurant. I believe technology can change that experience for the better.

Beyond working with Cape again, Kaufman wanted to work on something impactful.

“I feel a sense of helplessness when I think about what I can do to really make a difference on climate change,” Kaufamn said. “When Robbie told me about his idea, it was the first time I felt like I could be empowered to do something that could make a difference.”

Mt. Joy is transparent on its website about where everything on the menu comes from to minimize its carbon footprint. A list of over 40 items includes pasture-raised chickens sourced from within 100 miles of Seattle, plus other items such as bread rolls, vegetables, ice cream, spices and more, and where to eat. where they come from.

Mt. Joy will host a pop-up this weekend, Friday from 4 p.m. to 9 p.m. and Saturday-Sunday from 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. at Capitol Hill Tavolàta, 510 E. Pike St., where they will serve a menu various $15 chicken sandwiches, fries and milkshakes.

Cape hopes to have a permanent location at Mt. Joy in Seattle by the end of 2023. Demand will dictate scale beyond that. Cape said Mt. Joy has raised a small amount of money in the form of a Simple Future Capital Agreement (SAFE) and the startup will seek to raise additional funds before the first restaurant launches.

After leaving 98point6, Cape said he spent two or three weeks thinking about what he wanted to do next, whether that be starting a new business, joining an existing healthcare company or taking the job. call from Amazon or Microsoft.

“I believe that more entrepreneurs need to focus their efforts on the environment. And it’s not because I’m a climate alarmist,” he said. “It’s because that’s what people are concerned about right now, they’re looking for ways to make a difference. We need to innovate around these opportunities.