Haluk Ural is a Richmond resident and longtime CrossFit devotee, two facts that led to the natural birth of his clean meal prep business, Human Food RVA. Back in 2012, his gym was in the midst of a nutritional challenge where members were broken up into teams and tasked with achieving specific fitness goals. When they’d meet on Sundays to create a plan for the week, Haluk would make a healthy dinner for everyone. People loved it so much that they started bringing tupperware to take leftovers home. After he overheard one of his peers say that they would pay for his cooking, Haluk’s wheels started turning. Soon enough, Human Food RVA was founded.
Fitness isn’t the only local community that Haluk is entrenched in. His brother-in-law is Jason Alley, a prominent Richmond chef and restaurateur who owns the restaurant Comfort and has introduced Haluk to many players within the restaurant scene. Those connections empowered him to secure permits and get his gluten-, dairy-, and sugar-free meal prep business off the ground quickly. In fact, since Comfort was closed on Sundays, Haluk was able to kickstart Human Food RVA “at the drop of a hat” after Jason allowed him to use the kitchen. In turn, he gives back to the community by providing pro-bono consulting to friends in the industry. Prior to founding Human Food, Haluk had a decades-long corporate career in experiential and brand marketing. Since restaurants in Richmond have been struggling due to lost business from Covid-19, he’s been helping operators and chefs to bridge the gap between the standard restaurant service that they’re used to providing and bringing that experience home to diners.
“Richmond is not a very big town,” Haluk says. “There’s a joke that there’s less than seven degrees of separation. Everybody knows everybody through some sort of connection.” Although the pandemic has forced him to stay home more often, he is a regular at Joe Sparatta’s Heritage and a fan of hitting the Richmond brewery and food truck scene, including Jason’s recently opened Bingo Beer Co., a local hangout that’s both a brewery and an arcade. And while his gym, RVA Performance Training, is the most popular pick-up point for his pre-made meals, Human Food clients can opt to receive their orders at the ice cream shop Charm School Social Club or Stone Brewing, where he has relationships. “I wanted to make clean foods available for people who don’t necessarily go to the gym,” Haluk explains. “It’s also a fun balance. When you’re picking up your clean eating for the week, you know you’re going to be good for the week, so you might have a little treat on Sunday,” he adds.
Customers can also pick up—and visit Haluk—at Hatch, the incubator and shared kitchen space he currently operates out of. Haluk joined Hatch a little over a year ago as an early member alongside Nightingale, a fast-growing ice cream sandwich company that ships nationwide, a barbeque food truck business, and a cookie baker. Now, Hatch has over 40 members, including other meal prep entrepreneurs and a food truck corral. “It’s really allowed for a lower barrier to entry to get into the food scene,” he says. “So the guy who was making frozen burritos in his kitchen at home, but didn’t have the connections that I had now has an outlet where he can cook in a certified kitchen.” There is a lot of diversity amongst Hatch members, which fosters a collaborative environment instead of a competitive one, empowering local food entrepreneurs like Haluk to share tips amongst each other—from which labeling software to use to the best flexible subscription platform (hint: it’s Bottle).
While Richmond’s restaurant scene has been building and bustling for some time now, it’s only recently, thanks to infrastructure provided by companies like Hatch and Bottle, that small food businesses like Human Food RVA have started to gain traction and awareness amongst consumers. It’s an exciting time for Haluk to be doing what he loves: feed his community with delicious, wholesome food. “My goal with this business isn’t to grow to be some national, Blue Apron-style model, but to live a lifestyle where I’m comfortable and happy, and get to do the things that I want to do, like travel,” he says. He’s also hopeful about the growth of other local food businesses, whether that be a seasonal produce farm or a natural sausage company. “There's not a lot of connection between business acumen and food entrepreneurship here in Richmond. And I think that's a huge opportunity,” he says. You can bet that Haluk will be an essential voice in making that happen.