Change the World

With Wen-Jay Ying

Introduce yourself! Who are you?
Wen-Jay Ying, boss at Local Roots NYC! I founded my company in 2011 to create an alternative way of living in NYC and to make a change in our food system. Other than food, my biggest passion in life has been music – I grew up playing the violin and piano like any good Asian and then I ended up playing the bass guitar and violin in about 5 different bands. 
 
What is one thing no one really knows about you?
When I was a kid, I thought drinking water was gross so I got all my hydration from eating a ton of cucumbers and watermelon.
 
What’s the best advice you’ve ever received?
Be the change you want to see in the world.
 
What would you say to 16 year old you?
Don’t have a Sweet 16 just to fit in. Save that money and invest it in your future company or travel the world.
 
What is your greatest fear?
Not making the right decisions necessary to grow Local Roots NYC, and letting down our customers and farmers. 
 
Have you ever had anyone doubt you? How did that make you feel?
No one has said “you’ll fail”, but there are always small comments that make you realize how hard it is to be a successful value-based food company. It just motivates me; I want to show everyone that Local Roots can truly change our food system, care for our fellow NYers, support our farmers, and show people that a business can care about their customers as much as we as individuals care for our friends and family. 
 
What message do you think every woman should hear?
Being a woman gives you an advantage as long as you think it does. 
 
What is it like to be a businesswoman?
It’s fun, empowering, spiritual, hard, stressful, complicated.
 
What is your favorite thing about where you live?
The trees, how quiet it is, the historical architecture, and the proximity to the water.
 
What do you love most about yourself?
I’m curious.
 
What is the biggest lesson you’ve learned along the way?
It never gets easier so it’s all about changing your mindset and lifestyle.
What motivates you most?
Knowing that nobody will execute the work we do in the same way. Our fellow NYers and farmers believe in us and we can’t let them down. The food industry is so fucked up that most people only know a small percentage of the truth. We need to help fix this problem and we’re going to do it in a fun, educational, graceful, community-oriented way. We want a transparent food system to be sexy and approachable! 
 
How do you manage your work-life balance?
It’s always a struggle, but I’m learning to create more boundaries. I’m trying to do Muay Thai consistently, see friends more, dive deeper into my Buddhist practice, and partake in more cultural experiences so I always feel appreciative of NYC instead of stressed by it. 
 
What is your favorite meal?
I love meals made by for me using Local Roots ingredients. I lean towards curries or food with lots of layers of flavor and texture.
 
Do you have a mentor? If so, what did they teach you?
I have a few people I look up to and view as mentors; they all work in the food space. I really look up to Top Chef judge Gail Simmons, Executive Director of Hawthorne Valley Farm Martin Ping, and Matt Stinchcomb – founder of Good Work Institute and former co-founder of Etsy. I don’t actively meet with them but just pay attention to their grace, hard work, kindness, and innovation. 
 
What is one thing people would be surprised to hear about you?
I used to hate vegetables. I would hide them in a napkin and throw them out when I was a kid so I could trick my parents. 
 
Why did you start your company?
To change the world. To have a job I love. To build community. To create an alternative grocery shopping experience for NYers and a deeper connection between eater and farmer.
 
Were you scared to start your business? 
I was scared what others would think but I didn’t see any other option. I have a hard time doing things I don’t love and I’ve never felt so passionate about anything my entire life. However, starting a business seems so damn easy looking back.
 
What is the best thing about being a founder of a company?
The people. I get to meet really interesting people that share the same nerdy obsession over food, farming, soil health…I also truly love my staff. We make jokes, we work hard, and we care a lot about building a food movement.
 
If you weren’t doing the job you have now, what would you be doing?
It seems really hard to imagine life without my current job. Perhaps managing an event space that focused on art, food, and community.
 
What is something on your bucket list?
Walking a pilgrimage through Japan.
 
Where do you find inspiration?
NYC + farms

More About Wen-Jay

Wen-Jay Ying is the founder and CEO of Local Roots NYC, a small business that has revolutionized the way New Yorkers shop for food. Subscribe online for 3 months of food that comes direct from a farm within 2 hours of NYC. Pick up at a neighborhood bar, cafe or have it delivered. It’s a customized farmers market brought right to you. 

Wen-Jay believes the way we eat can change the world and is dedicated to healing our local food system. She was awarded Entrepreneur of the Year by former Mayor Bloomberg, New Yorker of the Week by NY1, Ones To Watch by Cherry Bombe, and was a special guest invited to attend the 50th year anniversary UN Global Goals Gala due to her work in the field of sustainability and agriculture. Ying has spoken on various panels and Sirius Radio about food, food waste, and female entrepreneurship and is a guest instructor at the International Culinary Center. Her social impact business journey can be seen in Viceland’s show Hustle.

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