‘Leftovers’ startup saving planet one late-night snack at a time 

Three BYU students created Leftovers, a startup aimed at reducing food waste in Utah, and eventually across the United States. Utah-based startup Leftovers is combatting food waste and food insecurity in the United States by partnering with local restaurants to offer cheap food options. (Made by April Teams from Leftovers)

Utah-based startup Leftovers is combatting food waste and food insecurity in the United States by partnering with local restaurants to offer cheap food options.

Three weeks ago, BYU students Spencer Bartholomew, Blake Rouse and Dallin Bentley launched Leftovers, currently a text-thread-based startup that notifies consumers of cheap, local restaurants’ leftovers, with the goal of eventually reducing food insecurity and waste in Utah and the United States. 

Almost a third of the world’s population — 2.37 billion people — did not have access to adequate food in 2020. Rouse and Bentley saw the impacts of and possible solutions to this problem first-hand, inspiring the startup’s creation. 

“I was backpacking with my wife in Europe this summer and we learned about this app in Europe that is helping fight food waste,” Rouse said. “We came back to the States and there’s nothing here. No one’s doing this. So we talked about it and started running with it.”

Bentley, one of the startup’s engineers, served a Church mission in Mexico where he saw the implications of food insecurity firsthand. He compared his observations to food waste within the United States.

“From a perspective of seeing a lot of food going to waste, not only does it have an impact on the environment, it just hurts to see that there are people, especially in Utah county, who struggle with food insecurity,” he said. “That food could be going to them, or to poor college students that can’t afford it.”

In the United States, 10.4 percent of households in 2021 had low, or very low, food security in 2021. Utah was only slightly above the national average at 11.2 percent.

Utah ranks just above the national average for food insecurity, at 11.2 percent. Utah-based startup Leftovers is combatting food waste and food insecurity in the United States by partnering with local restaurants to offer cheap food options. (U.S. Department of Agriculture Economic Research Service)

Leftovers’ initial launch at Bun Boiz, another BYU student-started business, saw the restaurant’s leftover food sell out in just over four minutes.

Jimmy Watson, Bun Boiz’s business owner, shared how Leftovers has helped his business reduce waste over the last month, while also making money.

“The majority of the time we’re throwing away like forty buns,” Watson said. “We try to sell out but sometimes that just doesn’t happen. On the weekends it’s more common. We’ve minimized it down to maybe one or two. The maximum we’ve seen in the last month is four left over. They sell out pretty well. It’s awesome.”

Future Leftovers restaurant collaborations could see food waste reduced by up to ninety percent, similar to Bun Boiz.

“They’ve been our biggest one so far,” Bentley said of Leftovers’ collaboration with Bun Boiz. “We are working with Great Harvest Bread Company. They’re the same way — very passionate about giving back to the community and being able to contribute to reducing food waste.”

According to the startup’s website, 76% of consumers are first-time customers at the restaurants Leftovers collaborates with. Jacob Wright, Leftovers’ very first customer, shared his thoughts on the innovative experience.

“I’d heard about Bun Boiz but I’d never tried it, so I figured it would be a good opportunity to try Bun Boiz at a discount,” Wright said. “I think it’s a great idea and a good way to reduce the amount of food that gets wasted. There’s probably like millions of pounds that get wasted every year. It’s also just a good way for people, especially students, to get discounted food.”

Leftovers, along with UX designer April Teams, will be launching an app in the near future, expanding and partnering with other local businesses who are also passionate about eliminating food waste. 

“We have about a dozen restaurants lined up in the pipeline that we’re working with that we will not name at the moment, but they’re coming out soon,” Rouse, the startup’s growth and product specialist, said. 

The startup has gained a consumer base of thousands of people since its launch three weeks ago, and is continuing to grow.

Leftovers’ founders Blake Rouse, Spencer Bartholomew and Dallin Bentley (left to right) at Bun Boiz in Provo, Utah, at the startup’s initial launch. The student trio aim to eliminate food waste and fight food insecurity through partnering with local restaurants to offer cheap leftover food items. (Photo courtesy of Blake Rouse)

“From a business standpoint, they make a ton of extra money, they get to fight food waste. From a consumer standpoint, they get half price food,” Bartholomew said. “Everyone wins and everyone loves it.”

Solving the world’s problems doesn’t come at an easy cost though, despite the cheap price of leftovers. For the three founders, late nights, long days and quitting their jobs has been a price they have paid in order to scale the startup.  

“Technologically we’re trying to build as fast as we can. We’re working like 80 plus hours a week,” Bartholomew said, sitting at his desk in The Startup Building in Provo. As one of the startup’s engineers, Bartholomew shared what a typical day growing Leftovers looks like. 

“It’s a lot of coding. My wife works night shifts at the hospital — she’s a nurse. When she goes to work, I’m coding. When I wake up, I start to code,” he said. “We get here between eight and nine. We’ll chat for the first couple of hours about strategy and different things we’re building, then from noon till two in the morning I’m just coding.”

Of the long days coding, Bentley, Leftovers’ other engineer, explains that it’s necessary for the business’s current growth and demand. 

“It’s just not scalable for us to bring on a lot of restaurants until we have that technology aspect,” Bentley said. “Fairly quickly, we’ll have a launch where we’ll be able to bring on more restaurants, kind of open the gates and just let people start flooding in. We’re growing so fast that we’re trying to keep up the best we can. It’s a good problem to have. Our biggest obstacle so far has been growth because so many people want to be onboard with it on both sides.”

Leftovers’ mockup app interface that will be launching in the near future. Utah-based startup Leftovers is combatting food waste and food insecurity in the United States by partnering with local restaurants to offer cheap food options. (Graphic courtesy of Leftovers)

Though the trio quit their jobs, and continue to sacrifice their time in order to further Leftovers’ main cause, BYU’s Sandbox and Creators programs help sustain and support their ideas.

“Sandbox gives us the opportunity to do it as coursework so we can treat it as a full-time job,” Rouse said. “Right now we don’t have any funding. In the startup world it’d be called bootstrapping — so we’re bootstrapping.”

For entrepreneurial students like Bartholomew, Bentley and Rouse, funding is available through these programs.

“BYU does provide some assistance once you start to gain traction. Once we start to gain more traction we can go to BYU through the Sandbox and Creators program, we’re able to apply, and they’ll give us a grant of money to get us off the ground,” Rouse said. “That grant is 100% reliant on us showing how we’re going to get from customer number one, to becoming a venture-backed startup that can raise real money from venture capital firms, or investors.” 

Applications for Sandbox’s 2023 academic year are open until Oct. 28 to students of all majors.

For notifications of Leftovers’ next half-price food drop, sign up at https://signup.leftovers.app.

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