Pleese Cheese with Kobi Regev Founder, feature #71 of Together Talks
Updated: Oct 25
"Together Talks" feature #71: Pleese Cheese presented by KLS, freight company
Some Background on Pleese Cheese
For today's edition of "Together Talks" campaign, KLS had the opportunity to learn about Pleese Cheese from Founder, Kobi Regev. Pleese Foods Inc. is helping people transition from traditional dairy with Pleese, a plant-based cheese made from a unique blend of beans. Pleese offers boldly delicious culinary inspired flavors that deliver the most perfect mouthwatering melting experiences in sandwiches, topped on plant-based burgers, grilled with paninis and of course on pizza.
Recognition with Authenticity
In 2019, Kobi founded a plant-based cheese company to compete with the entire $30B dairy cheese industry. When asked how a small guy would compete with big conglomerates in the space with multi million dollar advertising budgets, Kobi didn't flinch when answering, "They aren't from New York and they don't know pizza. If they were any good, I wouldn't have to get into this industry."
The company excels with their ability to learn quickly (DNA of their Founder), remaining nimble and adaptive, and assessing the feedback from the customers. Kobi said they have made countless improvements over the years to the product. The top word on their logo is AUTHENTICITY, which Kobi says is the fabric of the company makeup.
Their #1 product is amazing, he told us and is extremely proud of what they have accomplished. In addition to that, they have spent the last few years developing products not yet brought to market. When those hit the shelves Kobi and his team are excited for the consumer reactions. The first step in their ambition to scale Pleese Cheese and bring it to new heights.
Kobi shared with us a moment where he knew he was on the right track, and his hard work was paying off. It was prior to the first official product run at the manufacturing facility. Kobi had flown in Food Scientists that he had to pay $10,000 per day to oversee the pilot production. Prior to Kobi's flight arrival there was a production error. Out of everyone at the facility only Kobi was able to provide the solution and solve the issue. He shared with us that on his way home that day he realized he was one of the top minds in the plant-based cheese space, and officially an industry expert.
Jeweler -> Cashier -> Founder
Kobi's parents have worked together for 40 years in the Jewelry industry. He had worked in television, but due to family circumstances he transitioned to working within the family business. Kobi admitted to not liking wearing jewelry but he was determined to understand the process to figure out the why people liked and wore jewelry in order to maximize his potential in selling. He spent his first six months in the factory learning how it was made, studied gemology, and ultimately how that transferred to consumer desire. He was able to piece all of this together to understand the value of why someone was purchasing to jewelry.
Kobi met his now wife and knew he wanted to start a business with her. He thought back to watching his parents and respected the positives and negatives of that journey together. Kobi wanted that for himself one day. He wanted to pair that desire with his personal desire to learn. He described to us his personality as someone who is humble, understanding in order to reach the top you have to start at the bottom. He provided us the perfect example of this when he left the jewelry industry to work at a pizzeria at 30 years old, as a cashier.
Starting at the bottom he was determined to being open to learn. Kobi says he is someone who is extremely detail focused and wants to learn. When Kobi made the decision to change his lifestyle and eating habits that is how he and his wife saw the opportunity with plant-based food. Kobi did what he does best, he dove in and tried to learn everything and every detail.
As he shared with us, "It is crazy to think about it now but I went from a Jeweler to one of the top experts in the plant-based space."
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Scaling with a strict cause
Kobi mentioned that as with most start-ups funding is always the issue, but specifically in the plant-based space. The support is another challenge that Kobi hopes his company can educate and bring awareness to. Bringing support to the industry, companies, and hopefully increasing the market for funding can make a huge impact for companies like Pleese Cheese. The ability to scale the company while not easy, is something that Kobi and his company are extremely determined to do. He told us, "One way or another we will find a way to make it happen."
The product was not created for Kobi to consume out of a dietary ailment, but as a lifestyle choice. About 9 years ago he made the choice for his health, but realized that there are others who don't have that luxury. "I was a traveling salesman and could not walk through an airport and find something to eat without cheese. I thought this was terrible for me, but imagine if I was actually lactose intolerant, what would I do?" That moment was pivotal for Kobi and contributed to Kobi and his wife focusing on inclusion when creating Pleese Cheese. Providing an option for people with dietary restrictions to include them.
Kobi described the culture of the company as "rebels with a strict cause". They are passionate about pizza, proving to people you can actually have a dairy free product that tastes good. But most importantly they don’t take shit from anybody. They are true to themselves which consumers always appreciate about him and the company is again their fabric, authenticity.
With the passion of Kobi and his company he said there are hurdles to overcome and he commented on gatekeepers in the space. One thing he has had to learn that despite the optimism and passion for change, for improvement, for making a difference he has had to develop the ability to learn the language of the gatekeepers. That was unexpected to him but has become a welcomed challenge he loves conquering and overcoming.
Further cementing their ability to be authentic, with every case sold Pleese Cheese partners with the National Forest Foundation to plant a tree in a national forest. Kobi loves the opportunity to do good and create positive change as part of the company's impact.
Creating for inclusion
When Pleese Cheese was invented Kobi began by using cashew cheese. It is better than store bought options, but something bothered him internally knowing while dairy free was solved, his product was secluding nut allergy consumers. Although unintentional he felt like he was alienating a segment of consumers. Around this time they were considering opening a pizzeria and the biggest customer base for the location was local schools. Kobi had called a school to offer samples and the school asked what the cheese is made of, when Kobi answered nuts the immediate response was "NO". Realizing the product wasn't an option for schools and for kids really influenced Kobi.
He proceeded to Google search patents and came across there were two options for plant-based cheese, soy or nuts. With nuts out of the equation he wondered what options he'd have with beans to produce dairy free cheese. He began experimenting with different beans and recipes. Fast forward and Kobi said his biggest moment of pride is going into over 100 locations to grab a slice of pizza and knowing that they are using his product, his creation, Pleese Cheese. It started as an idea, turned into a dream, and now a reality daily, in multiple states.
Kobi enjoys the opportunity to create something out of nothing and breathe life into it. It makes him incredibly happy to develop. He referred to the scene at the end of the movie Wallstreet that always resonated with him, "Create instead of living off the buying and selling of others", that is where his motivation comes from. Until creating Pleese Cheese he worked in a lot of sales roles, but always had the creative bug. And now he has created the product that solves the problem for a New Yorker who can't consume cheese, but won't live without pizza.
Kobi shared with us the impact that the product has divulging that locations have seen a 25% increase in sales (primarily made up of new consumers) once adding a plant-based cheese product. A specific example was a customer in Utah who had to open a 2nd location due to the demand. Kobi wants to educate locations that there are consumers wanting and demanding options for dietary restrictions. Businesses could be losing 1/4th of additional sales by not providing an option for this segment of consumers.
Bootcamp, Pizzeria, Pivot
His wife and him participated in a business bootcamp in Harlem. Went through the course, with their initial thought involved planning a pop-up shop or restaurants (all prior to pandemic). During this bootcamp all they knew was they had a homemade recipe, but didn’t know how to scale it in any capacity. This group provided them the idea first and then the framework to not just keep it in one location should they open a pizzeria. As a result, they made the decision to go into the food service industry as a way to reach a larger demographic.
Kobi shared he has doubt daily about if going away from the physical location was the right business decision. He said he still will find an open space and think it would be perfect for our pizzeria. What is hard for him to let go of is the customization of creating the experience when owning a physical store. But he did credit how much more flexible his life is by having a product versus a physical store.
He shared with us that when his wife and he created this company it wasn't so they could live uncomfortably. But they created a product and a company to change consumers' minds on what a dairy-free product could be. Bringing that idea to fruition and executing on the claim is such an incredible journey. Kobi shared, "seeing the smile on peoples' faces when they taste it is really meaningful."
Kobi told us that there are things daily he learned and fears he has to overcome, the way he explained it, "What you write down in your business plan and the amount of time it actually takes to bring those ideas to action are completely different." He explained the difference between creating a company prior to having kids, everything goes into the company. Once you have kids the perspective changes and the amount of risk you're willing to take as a Founder. He shared with us there are moments he wishes he took a stable, safe job over starting a company, but then he has moments where his two children eat the product and interact with the company and it brings all the validation he needs. Those moments shift his perception knowing all of this was worth it if he can have that type of reaction from just two individuals.
He also credited his journey as a parent and the parallels to running a company, "I'll have a moment with my 5 year old daughter where she says she can't do something or doubts herself. I'll sit with her and remind her there was a time you couldn't burp on your own or eat on your own, let alone walk, talk or dance. Look at you now." That mindset is something he tries to translate to running his business, remember how far the company has come, how much he has grown, what can still be accomplished.
Kobi plans for the future to increase exposure. He told us he has grown up with a million ideas, but Pleese Cheese was the first time he focused on one idea and he credits it for the biggest education he could ever hope for.
Grew up with a million ideas, Pleese was the first time focused on one idea. Has become the biggest education could ever hope for. He hopes to one day take the company to new heights either through partnering with a suitable company to acquire a portion and grow with them. Or the second option would be to grow the company to the level where they can acquire companies to grow the plant-based sector.
Piece of Advice / New York "slang"
We ended our chat with Kobi asking for his piece of advice in which he shared, "Always be true to you, don’t be so egotistical that won’t take advice from people. But at the end of the day trust your gut, even if it is different from what your brain is telling you, always trust your gut."
And a bonus point he shared with us his favorite compliment he can receive which is always super exciting, "Hey that ain't horrible!"
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Klimson Logistics Solutions - Together Talks with Pleese Cheese feature #71
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