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Impact: Olympic Athlete Lights The Way With GOODONYA

by Neal Bloom

By Carter Crockett, Ph.D.

Guest Writer

I am pleased to feature one of the first social enterprises in San Diego, GOODONYA, and its founder, Kris Buchanan. Buchanan was an elite athlete and member of the US Field Hockey team for more than a decade. Once she stopped exercising at extreme levels, she found her body came crashing down from what she describes as “too many toxic sports drinks, processed foods and sugar.”  In 2012, she went back to school and earned a holistic nutrition certificate and became a pioneer and advocate for the power of real, organic food – before it was cool to do so.

I recently spoke with Buchanan about GOODONYA at San Diego Startup Week where she spoke on a panel I assembled encouraging local social enterprises. An excerpt from our conversation follows:

Origin Story: The first GOODONYA café in Kearny Mesa was established in June 2001. It was located in an office park setting and was only open for breakfast and lunch, Monday through Friday. “This was our chosen model,” explained Buchanan. “I loved the restaurant industry and had many jobs in it as I grew up, but I didn’t love the ‘always on’ lifestyle it typically required, and it was good to have my weekends free.”

Over the years, Buchanan launched a number of products as well, including the The GOODONYA Bar and GOODONYA Hydrate. Over the past 10 years, Buchanan sold or closed the original five office park cafe locations and opened the organic, full-service restaurant on Pacific Coast Highway 101 in Encinitas. Now open seven days a week for breakfast, lunch and dinner, the GOODONYA Café has become a healthy hangout enjoyed by regulars and visitors alike. 

Establishing a Legal Entity: GOODONYA is registered as an S Corp business, but has taken steps to be more explicit about its social impact by becoming a Certified B Corp and a CA Benefit Corporation. According to Buchanan, “We were already doing many things to benefit society, so it was an easy choice to get certified in this way. But we also learned a lot about what more we could do by going through the certification process. We also wanted to help support awareness around the growing movement to use business as a vehicle to do good.”

Real Life Prep: Buchanan contends the challenge of running her business was powerfully influenced by the fact that she had been an elite athlete. “I used to think that running sprints during training sessions was stressful; then I tried running a restaurant,” she said.

While attending Serra High School in San Diego, her team lost only one game. As an Iowa Hawkeye, Buchanan went to the Final Four all four years she played. She then represented the United States on the Women’s Field Hockey team for more than a decade, participating in the 1996 Olympic Games in Atlanta and claiming a bronze medal at the World Cup in 1994.

“I don’t think you can be on a team that long without looking at leading a restaurant crew in the same way,” she explained. “I feel like a lot of business seminars try and teach team building, but being on a team for my whole life has really helped me in so many ways. I can always tell when an employee was an athlete – they have an ingrained work ethic and team spirit.” 

Impact Measures: The mission for GOODONYA is “To give you products that are created with integrity to help you feel GOOD.” There are a lot of decisions that go into fulfilling such a mission: careful selection of every ingredient, organic hand soap in the bathroom, health insurance for full-time staff, a matching IRA for all staff, and reformulating the Hydrate drink from a single use plastic bottle to a 20-serving powder in an environmentally friendly pouch. Planet and people are carefully considered in everything, not just profit.

“People might be surprised to know that we don’t spend time or have the resources to measure our impact. We aren’t doing it so we can promote such statistics. We just know we are doing the right thing,” Buchanan said.

Fortune Favors the Bold: “Opening a restaurant is certainly bold; it is not an industry for the faint of heart,” Buchanan explained. “It takes luck too. You might think a location is good but you never really know. When Whole Foods stopped carrying our drink, it was a blessing in disguise because we re-structured and now sell direct to the consumer. We reformulated it and now offer our drink in powder form. One pouch saves 20-to-30 plastic bottles and caps from filling landfills and ending up in our ocean. We are also now more in control of our own fate, our customers pay less, and we make more money with each bag we sell since we have cut out the middle man.”

Technology Challenges: “Certainly the modern, iPad-based POS systems like the one we use, Square, has helped our restaurant,” Buchanan said. “In 2001, we had an actual cash register. Systems cost $30,000 or more back then.  Square really helped a lot of small businesses up their game without such expensive systems. Also, selling direct has never been easier, thanks to technology.”

Sustainability for the Future: According to Buchanan, “Obviously you have to be smart, or at least possess a lot of common sense, which is what I bank on. But there is a tremendous amount of luck too. In the restaurant world I personally think it’s important to cater to who your customer is in your area. The menu I have in Encinitas didn’t work in other parts of San Diego.”

Buchanan also commented on the benefits to them and others that come from being financially sustainable: “As a business, we have been successful enough to allow us to donate to more field hockey teams and local schools than I can count. We also support the local LGBTQ community.”

Advice for Future Founders: “Read The E Myth by Michael Gerber.”

Leadership Style: “With my sports background I think I am a coach at heart,” Buchanan said. “If San Diego colleges and universities had field hockey teams, I probably would have coached as opposed to opening a restaurant.”

I suppose this is one reason we should be grateful San Diego universities have not offered varsity field hockey – we might not have GOODONYA, a pioneering champion of the organic movement and one of the first Certified B Corp businesses in San Diego (of which there are now more than 30 in San Diego County).

Please add your comments below and let me know (carter.crockett@gmail.com) who you would like to have featured next.

Editor’s Note: Impact is  a series brought to you by Carter Crockett and Fresh Brewed Tech that  features key insights from San Diego’s impact ecosystem, those with the grit to build a better world, one social enterprise at a time.


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