Jeff Kang

Hustle and Grow

Entrepreneurs churn trash into fungal treasure.

In the spring of 2009, three guys stood over a five-gallon paint bucket holding seven fresh oyster mushrooms. University of California, Berkeley, Haas School of Business students Alex Velez and Nikhil Arora were in the kitchen of Alice Waters’ Chez Panisse, a San Francisco Bay Area institution and arguably the birthplace of California cuisine. Although they knew next to nothing about gourmet mushrooms, they had just discovered a unique way to grow them. All they needed now was an expert’s opinion on the make-or-break factor: taste.