Meet the Milwaukee businessman behind Funky Fresh Spring Rolls

May 08, 2022

For TrueMan McGee it was never just about the food. He wanted to grow his business while remaining authentically himself and he wanted to do it in the neighborhood where he grew up. Today he’s poised to expand his line of frozen foods nationwide.

It’s Thursday night at 5 o’clock and TrueMan McGee is getting ready to teach math to a bunch of students. But it’s not your average math class. This one is funky. McGee struggled with math in school but now he uses it every day in his business, Funky Fresh Spring Rolls.

Tonight, he’s sharing with the kids how he prices the cost of goods or how he figures out the percentage of labor compared to sales. And the kids eat it up. For them, seeing someone from their central Milwaukee neighborhood become a successful businessman is inspiring. Plus, making the math apply to something the kids love — and they do love the spring rolls — brings relevancy to their learning.

“Things like this are why the community rallies behind us,” says McGee. “We try to stay as authentic and as part of the community as possible.”

 

Wrestling to get started

McGee remembers always being inspired by the love of food from his mother. Then when he started wrestling in high school, he learned about the importance of healthy eating, so he would make meals for himself and his teammates. Years later, he started a personal training business, and he would make meals for his clients.

He made mean green salads with kale, stuffed turkey burgers and wraps. But it was the sweet potato and black bean wrap that really stood out. He seasoned the sweet potatoes with paprika, cumin, garlic powder, onion powder, and sea salt and slow roasted it until it was tender and smokey. Then he added black beans and cilantro. “It was a great mix that I didn’t see elsewhere,” he says. So, he started putting it in other things, like in a taco, or a spring roll wrapper which was the best.

One day his dad tried it. “My dad is straight up, he’s a Vietnam vet, steak and potatoes, man’s man, American dad, and you know what, he loved the spring rolls!” McGee says. “Some of my training clients would even skip their workouts but still come for the food. That’s when I said, “this is going to be it!””

From there McGee started selling at farmer’s markets and festivals. By 2015 he had a commercial kitchen and was making 25,000 spring rolls.

 

A Phoenix rising

In 2018 McGee got his first store in downtown Milwaukee. Later that year, he moved into the newly completed Sherman Phoenix shopping mall, where his award-winning business continues to thrive today.

The Sherman Phoenix area was where McGee grew up, and it was known for being one of the most poverty-stricken neighborhoods in America. But it was also a place for rejuvenation. As if rising from the ashes two local women reopened a burned down bank and raised money to fund dozens of businesses for people of color, many first-time business owners. Along with McGee’s store at the new mall, a hub of entrepreneurial inspiration, health, wellness and community grew.

“I wanted to show people there a different way,” says McGee. “For me it was important for other kids who look like me to see entrepreneurialism and to see positivity in their neighborhood, that’s where it has to start. It has to be from the inside.“

 

A blessing in disguise

By 2019 McGee was selling close to 100,000 spring rolls. He had 10 people on staff and he just got funding for a food truck. Then COVID-19 hit. “At first I thought it was over, this is it,” says McGee. “But then I thought, hey I’ve got a lot of spring rolls in my freezer. So, my son and I packed up a cooler and drove around the city using Facebook and Instagram Stories to find people to buy the spring rolls. It was a huge success. Literally the frozen food business saved our business during COVID. Without the frozen spring rolls, we wouldn’t be talking today.”

 

Lessons learned

The doors at the Sherman Phoenix store are open again and the future is bright. If fact, McGee just partnered with a company to help him expand his frozen foods into grocery stores across the country.

Looking back on his path, McGee says the easiest part of the business was selling the product because, “the product is good. It sells itself.”

And McGee is a self-described character, so he enjoys coming up with goofy ways to engage with customers on social media, like telling customers that if they order food in a pro-wrestler voice, they get 10% off; if they do 10 pushups, they get 10% off; if they battle-rap the owner they get 10% off. “One of our sayings is “interaction before transaction,”” says McGee. “You can engage and be goofy and I’m not afraid to make fun of myself.”

The hardest part was the finances, like figuring out what to price his product. He learned that you can’t look at how other people price their items because you might have different costs for ingredients, or staffing, or cooking techniques which might cost more. So, figuring all that out was the hardest part.

But having people to help you, whether it’s your family, your neighbors or your local bank, has made all the difference.



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