Student startup RefreshLA partners with Cafe Dulce to reduce food waste

Eco-friendly, deal-loving customers will be able to access leftover food from local restaurants at a discounted price.

Donut mind if I do! RefreshLA is offering Cafe Dulce pastries at a discounted price to USC students.

RefreshLA is a startup organization created by USC students that aims to reduce food waste. Their goal is to partner with local restaurants to offer their surplus food at discounted prices to customers.

The inspiration for the project came to USC senior Mallika Jain after taking a Viterbi course, titled “Innovation in Engineering and Design for Global Crises,” which focuses on tackling global issues through an engineering and business lense.

For the class, students needed to come up with a proposition to alleviate the burdens of the pandemic on local communities.

“We ultimately ended up deciding on food waste and food insecurity,” Jain said. “The fact that there was so much food waste and that so many people were going hungry, we just didn’t understand why that was happening and wanted to make a difference.”

The startup is run by Jain and three other students: senior Elizabeth James, sophomore Dea Kurti and sophomore Elina Xie.

RefreshLA’s first partnership is with village favorite Cafe Dulce. The coffee shop agreed to provide leftover donuts and treats to the startup for other students in the community.

Most days, Jain said Cafe Dulce has around 60-70 pastries left over. Much of the time, that food just gets thrown away, but RefreshLA’s hope is to minimize the waste.

“The whole goal of Refresh is to stop food waste. And so all of those donuts right now, it’s around 10 boxes a day that would be going to the landfill or to the garbage, are now being resold,” James said.

Students can buy a box of leftover donuts on their website for $6.50.

Every year, Recycle Track Systems estimates roughly 80 billion pounds of food in the U.S. is wasted. Food that could have been given to hungry families is instead sent to landfills. Feeding America said in 2020, food insecurity was up 50% from the previous year, affecting not only families’ health, but their livelihood as well.

“Our whole solution is not only helping food waste, which is helping climate change, but also helping small businesses kind of build themselves back up,” Jain said. “I think in general Refresh plays a lot of roles that not only are refreshing the environment. We’re refreshing small businesses and trying to get them on their feet.”

Currently, the service is only available to USC students, but the team hopes to expand their business to locals and low-income families in the future.

“I’m really passionate about using technology for social good, and so this opportunity of being able to connect people to get access to food at a low price, while also helping businesses and the fact that everyone wins,” Jain said.

USC students living in L.A. interested in participating in their soft launch can text @refreshla to 81010 to stay updated when new pastries are available.