Entrepreneur Kimbal Musk believes in building community through food.

He built and sold several tech companies. First he and his brother Elon Musk created Zip2, which was reportedly sold to Compaq for more than $300 million in 1999. A few years later, Elon sold his company PayPal, in which Kimbal was a significant investor, to eBay for $1.5 billion in stock.

Then Kimbal went to cooking school, though he keeps a hand in the tech world. Brother Elon went on to launch electric car company Tesla Motors and space-exploration firm SpaceX. Kimbal sits on their boards, as well as that of Chipotle Mexican Grill.

In 2004, Kimbal opened his first restaurant with chef Hugo Matheson called The Kitchen in Boulder, Colo., a farm-to-table community bistro with a focus on local vendors.

Soon, a wine lounge with a wood oven became an extension of the restaurant called the Kitchen Upstairs. Later, they added the Kitchen Next Door, a more casual and affordable variation.

Now, as the concepts grow in various formats into new markets, Kimbal is seeding that new growth — quite literally — with a nonprofit that builds Learning Gardens in schools.

The Kitchen Community is an organization that builds outdoor “classroom” gardens where children can plant, grow, harvest and play as they learn about basic principles of natural science. So far, gardens have been built in 168 schools in Denver, Chicago and Los Angeles. On Friday, a new initiative to build 100 gardens in L.A. schools will be launched with matching funds from the city’s school district.

Kimbal is scheduled to be in Los Angeles Friday for the annual Restaurant High conference hosted by law firm Davis Wright Tremaine. The event is expected to draw more than 400 restaurateurs from across the U.S. for a day of education and networking, and all proceeds from the conference will benefit The Kitchen Community.

Kimbal spoke with Nation’s Restaurant News this week about his restaurants and how the Learning Gardens concept will help further the notion of building a better community.

How did the Learning Gardens project start?

We wanted to change the way people think about school gardens. We put them right in the middle of the schoolyard, where kids can play in them and where teachers would want to teach in them.

Our goal was community through food. But it’s also helping to improve test scores for the students, especially around science. By the time these kids reach sixth grade, they are doubling their intake of fruits and vegetables, and they’re improving their test scores. … And it’s a way to get them as restaurant customers as they get older.



You’ve had quite a bit of success in the tech world. What brought you to the restaurant industry?

My passion is technology and food. It always has been. We had achieved a pretty significant goal (with the sale of Zip2), so I decided to attend the French Culinary Institute. It was a very intense, old-school type of education. They untrain you with everything you know and then they start over and train you from scratch. It was an incredible experience.

Just after I graduated, it was 9/11. I had this incredible opportunity to volunteer to cook for firefighters working the scene. There were giant piles of smoldering metal all around me. I went every day for six weeks and I just couldn’t get enough of it. The idea of a restaurant became somewhat of an obsession for me. I realized there’s no better way to create a community.

How did you end up in Boulder?

My wife at the time was a light and art designer and we moved to Boulder. Literally within a few days of being there, my dog got off the leash and goes up to this guy, and that’s how we met Hugo, who had been a chef at the River Café in London. He had an English accent, and I’m from South Africa. He invited us to dinner. It was a super serendipitous experience. About 18 months later, we opened The Kitchen.