Bethesda Interview: Seth Goldman
The Honest Tea co-founder talks about becoming a vegetarian, a possible future in politics, and his latest venture, Beyond Meat
For years, Seth Goldman’s three sons were embarrassed to have friends over for a cookout. “Dad,” they’d explain, “nobody wants to come to our house and eat a veggie burger that’s probably going to crumble and fall through the grate.”
These days, the co-founder of Bethesda’s Honest Tea is cooking up burgers from Beyond Meat—a southern California company that produces plant-based meat substitutes that Goldman, 54, believes can change the world. As executive chairman of Beyond Meat, Goldman wants to wean people off beef, in part because cattle and the methane gas they emit are a significant contributor to climate change.
“The grill we had when we became vegetarians is now a wasp’s nest,” Goldman says with a laugh. “We bought a new grill for Beyond Meat.”
The son of two eminent professors—his late father, Marshall, an economist and Russia expert; his mother, Merle, a China scholar—Goldman had the pedigree and the predestination to become another standout academic. However, he was bitten by the entrepreneurial bug while growing up in the Boston area, starting things throughout high school and college. (He graduated from Harvard in 1987 and earned an MBA from the Yale School of Management.)
For a long time, Goldman had been searching for something nonsugary but flavorful to drink after he went running. At Yale, he and one of his business school professors came up with the idea for a bottled tea unsullied by sugar.
In 1994, Goldman landed in Bethesda when he accepted an internship with an investment firm, and he cofounded the beverage company three years later.
“Let’s call it Positive Juices,” Goldman suggested. Would the world have embraced that name as readily as the one that was finally chosen: Honest Tea?
Goldman and his wife, Julie Farkas, raised their sons in Chevy Chase, and they now also own a $3.6 million three-bedroom house in Manhattan Beach, California, near the Beyond Meat offices. The Coca-Cola Co. purchased Honest Tea in 2011. Goldman stepped down as CEO but still retains a role in exploring new markets for the company. He says he invested in Beyond Meat in 2012, and he later became executive chairman of the company. The return on his investment—and everyone else’s—has increased exponentially following the company’s initial public offering in May.
In June, we met in the office he maintains on Bethesda Avenue, a large open-plan space with a fishbowl conference room and a free, fully stocked vending machine with the entire Honest Tea repertoire.