ROW, ROW, ROW your … machine. For what would have logged 26.2 miles. That’s the bib-free marathon Caryn Africk completed in her Lake Forest back yard as a one-woman fundraiser.
More than $16,000 went to the adoption agency The Cradle, based in Evanston, after her three hour, 43-minute feat on her seat. Maybe it was fate with a maiden name of Rowe.
This passion and dedication should come as no surprise to those who know Africk, a lifelong health advocate and driven entrepreneur and philanthropist. Nor should they be surprised at the creation and great success of Cool Beans, the Lake Forest-based company she co-founded with Tyler Mayoras, Mike Brennan, and Eric Schnell in 2018. It offers whole food, plant-based, minimally processed ingredients and delicious globally-inspired flavors, all wrapped up snug in a gluten-free wrap.
Cool Beans’ three plant-based frozen wraps—Spicy Chipotle, Tikka Masala, and Moroccan Gold—can be ordered online (eatcoolbeans.com) or found in some 800 grocery stores across the U.S., including local Sunset Foods, Plum Market, Pete’s Fresh Market and Foxtrot stores and online at Vegan Essentials.
“Interest in whole, plant-based food is exploding,” says Africk, who also founded the marketing and business consulting firm Merit Advisors following her departure from Hewitt Associates in 2006. “More and more people are saying, ‘I just want to eat healthier. What’s good for me? What’s convenient?’ There’s vegan food out there but too much, way too much of it, is over processed junk food. People are opening their eyes to the health benefits of beans, and the feedback we’re getting about our wraps is, ‘I love the flavors.’
“When you bite into a Cool Beans wrap,” adds Africk, “there is nothing mushy about it, nothing processed. You see the beans, you see the sweet potatoes, you see the other wonderful ingredients.”
About Cool Beans, the name of the company: It is also something Africk and legions of others liked to utter to express approval or delight.
“Surprisingly,” Africk says, “we were able to trademark it for our company. I was shocked. And delighted. It’s not only a great name; it also describes our company’s fun, high-energy, cheeky vibe. Our health and climate, along with what we eat, are serious stuff, but we have to have some fun along the way, right?”
Africk doesn’t just get stuff done. She GETS STUFF DONE, consistently and resolutely. She’s been a GSD’er her entire life. Soon after she got her exercise physiology degree—a brand-new major at the time—at the University of Michigan, she sometimes taught 17 health and fitness classes per week in and around Evanston. She then started a corporate health and fitness program and was Director of Employee Benefits at Packaging Corporation of America because she had convinced suits and bean counters that healthier employees would mean lighter employees and medical costs.
Merit Advisors’ clients benefit from Caryn’s GSD approach especially when they have complicated and messy challenges that need strategic, marketing, and focused attention. Caryn has worked with start-ups, high growth, and large companies. Her interest in food trends was fed while working with Peapod to build their meal solutions business.
As a Board member and Co-Chair of the Development and External Relations Committee for the YMCA of Metropolitan Chicago, Africk lends her skills to helping the children and families across Chicagoland. The Y’s focus on healthy living, early childhood and afterschool education and youth violence prevention means so much to Caryn.
Africk’s late father, Ted, was born with an unusually high amount of Can Do in his DNA and passed that along to his daughter. A fighter pilot, Ted inherited his father’s business and grew a successful marketing business.
“I realized I had marketing in my blood,” Africk says. “My dad was a remarkable man, a man with perseverance and resilience and creativity. He was that guy who always said, ‘I can figure this out.’ He instilled that kind of thinking in me and in my siblings.”
The pandemic attempted to bring down Africk and Cool Beans. It failed.
“With COVID it’s been a hard year, personally and professionally for many of us,” she admits, adding she’s been blessed more than many others. “For Cool Beans, we did have to make some adjustments—cut expenses, alter our supply chain, revise our sales plan, and be patient. Grocery stores were not taking in any new products, since they were focused on keeping the stores stocked with staples. As they should!”
But Africk cited a study that found sales of plant based fare increased 27 percent and sales of regular food decreased 15 percent in 2020. Cool Beans is “chillin” at the intersection of three of the fastest growing markets in grocery— frozen, plant based, and gluten free foods.
“Tyler (Mayoras) is the originator of the Cool Beans concept,” Africk says. “Health-conscious, he became a vegan about four years ago, and he’s passionate about climate and the environment.” Brennan and Africk are vegan-ish, also known as flexitarian, and Schnell, also founder of New York City-based BeyondBrands, is vegetarian—showing that Cool Beans is for anyone wanting a convenient, healthy meal.
“Delicious health food is important to me. More and more we learn how important our health is to quality of life. Just a few changes can be life changing,” explains Africk, continuing, “We’re excited, having completed the research and development for our next wrap flavors; we hope to introduce them in mid-2021. We also have other solid ideas in the works, products other than wraps. We’re in this business for people who want to make a positive difference in their diet. Every opportunity to do that is an excellent one, and
important. It’s all about good health.”
For more information, visit eatcoolbeans.com and @luvcoolbeans on Instagram.