Thistle executive tells EDC gathering company has broken ground on Vacaville facilityFebruary 21 2020
Daily Republic 2/21/20
By Todd R. Hansen
FAIRFIELD — Ashwin Cheriyan is a lawyer in an extended family full of doctors.
He quipped at Thursday’s 37th annual Solano Economic Development Corporation luncheon in Fairfield that he is the disappointment within the family circle, but said it was health and concerns about climate issues that became the foundational pieces to why he and his wife, Shiri Avnery, started Thistle in 2013.
The couple produced some juices and hit the streets of San Francisco. The first-day return was $90.
“We were floored,” said Cheriyan, adding they never expected to have the kind of interest they received.
Thistle is a tech-enabled, plant-based organic food and nutrition company that produces ready-to-eat meals for delivery to customers’ doors along the West Coast.
It announced in May that is was moving its operation from San Francisco to Vacaville, and Cheriyan said the company is four weeks into a “20-week sprint” to reconstruct the 79,000-square-foot packaging facility located in the Interchange Business Park at 771 Eubanks Drive.
It will be the first time Thistle will have its full operation under a single roof.
Alaina Gjertsen, the public relations consultant for the Solano Economic Development Corp., said the largest spike in website activity came after Thistle’s announcement it was relocating to Solano County.
Cheriyan, who moved from India to Chicago when he was 7 and eventually on to Texas, spoke after Robert Burris gave a glowing report on the past year’s activity at the EDC, which included revenue growth, increased contacts and engagement on all social media platforms and a marketing reach that could extend to Europe in the near future.
Burris emphasized that Solano County and its cities are being marketed as its own region, but in the context of being part of the northern Bay Area, the greater Bay Area, the greater Sacramento region, the state and other defining regions – to attract businesses to the area.
He also noted that Winters has joined the organization.
In his introduction of Cheriyan, Burris retold the story about how the company executives emphasized their desires to be part of the community.
“They were more interested in how they could get involved in the community than the incentives (to relocate),” Burris said.
The company produced more than 2 million meals last year, and offered 2.5 million new recipes to keep things fresh. That is an average of five per week. Thistle gave away 17,000 meals.
Cheriyan said in his remarks that it is not enough to be successful as a business, but to be a business that improves the community.
Avnery was born in Boston shortly after her parents emigrated from Israel. It is her science background and interest in climate issues that set the direction of the company.
The plant-based food products address both of the couple’s primary concerns: the health of their customers, and the environment.
“One of the most impactful things you can do for the environment is to eat less meat and eat more plants,” Cheriyan said.
He also laid out a philosophy of putting the employees first. If Thistle was going to ask them to work extremely hard, he said, then the company needed to make sure there were reasons to work and that there were avenues for personal and professional growth.
“From the beginning, the reason we were successful is our employees cared,” Cheriyan said. “And the reason they stayed (with the company) is because we cared about our people.”
In fact, Cheriyan said many of their employees in San Francisco are staying with the firm, with some choosing to move to Solano County, while others will commute into the area.
The company employs 469 full- and part-time people.