It’s no secret that the Kentucky region knows good food. Between the Midwest’s deep agricultural roots and Kentucky’s long standing bourbon tradition, the region has been a fixture in the food and beverage industry for decades.

Just take Kentucky’s list of food and beverage industry successes, for example. Yum! Brands (parent company of Kentucky Fried Chicken, Pizza Hut, and Taco Bell), Tyson, Papa John’s Pizza, Nestle, A&W, Kellogg’s, Pepsi Cola, Coca Cola, and more are all headquartered in the state. This industry prowess radiates outwards—surrounding cities like Indianapolis, Indiana and Columbus, Ohio both have thriving food scenes, and the states themselves are leading national producers of corn and soybeans.

When you consider the region’s central location, proximity to massive consumer markets, and seemingly unlimited access to farmland, this immense success comes as no surprise. According to a Think Kentucky report, the state’s agriculture industry contributes $45.6 billion to Kentucky’s economy every year, and the state exported $770 million worth of food, kindred products, and distilled spirits in 2016 alone. That same year, factories in the state of Ohio produced $11.64 billion worth of food and beverage products, while Indiana’s food and beverage manufacturing industry employed just shy of 35,000 people in the state.

Today, game-changing food and beverage companies like Ohio-based Hot Chicken Takeover, Kentucky-based Phocus, and Indiana-based ClusterTruck are driving the food and beverage industry forward. All three companies go beyond good food—their missions are rooted in social justice, health, efficiency, or a combination of the three. Read their unique stories below.

Hot Chicken Takeover

Hot chicken takeover

This fast-casual spicy fried chicken eatery is not only delicious—it also supports at-risk populations by providing a fair chance at work. Hot Chicken Takeover‘s current business model mandates that at least 70 percent of their employees come from backgrounds that make it difficult to find employment, whether it be former incarceration or homelessness. HCT supports these employees by providing competitive wages, professional development, cash advances, flexible scheduling, counseling, and a Matched Milestone saving program for things like housing, education, and transportation. Owners Joe and Lisa DeLoss see this mandate as being “inextricable” from who they are as a company, and hope to scale this supportive employment model beyond Ohio. Hot Chicken Takeover has expanded from one location to three since opening in 2013, and has plans for out-of-market expansions in 2019. The company was the subject of a recent Harvard Business School case study, and continues to make headlines in the Ohio region and beyond.



This Kentucky-based sparkling water company is the nation’s answer to unhealthy soda addiction. Formulated with green tea’s amino acid L-Theanine and without sugar, sweeteners, calories, carbs, gluten, GMOs, or preservatives, Phocus gives you healthy caffeine boost without the crash. “Why can’t we have a refreshing drink that’s free of sugar, sweeteners, calories, or preservatives, and full of the hydration and energy our bodies need?” reads their website. “Our sparkling waters give you a gentle but palpable boost, to help you feel alive, engaged, refreshed, and ready.” Phocus comes in five flavors:  natural, cucumber, yuzu and lime, grapefruit, and blood orange. Since launching in 2018, Phocus has been featured in Us Weekly, the Wall Street Journal, Kitchn, Global Lifestyle, and more.


ClusterTruck is America’s first delivery-only kitchen. Inspired by the idea that people deserve restaurant-quality food no matter where they are, ClusterTruck chefs make all of the food in one central kitchen, and don’t start cooking until a driver is available for delivery. By controlling the entire process—from creating menus to taking orders to employing their own delivery drivers—ClusterTruck has created a new food delivery model that eliminates the need for a third-party service like Seamless or Grubhub. “We believe hungry people should never have to compromise between the convenience of fast delivery, the food quality they’d get at a sit-down restaurant and the personality of street food, so we created a service that offers all of the above,” reads their website. Their menu includes an impressive array of cuisines—you can order burgers, poke bowls, omelettes, grain bowls, pad thai, tacos, pizza, wings, ice cream, and more in minutes.

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