Meet the Veggie Family: Russell Cullen, Zucchini Czar
Hometown: Ewing, New Jersey
Joined the Cece’s® family: 2015
Russell Cullen is a member of the noodle dream team that helped start Cece’s Veggie Co. and build it into the bustling veggie nirvana it is today.
We twisted his arm into taking a short break from his current role of sourcing and purchasing the best produce in the land for us to work our veggie magic on. This is no small feat, since we only use responsibly grown, certified organic vegetables!
Tell us about your Cece’s journey and how it has evolved as the company has grown.
I’ve had my hands in pretty much every piece of the business at some point. When we first started spinning out noodles, I was the plant manager, which meant I wore a lot of hats – everything from production scheduling to payroll to purchasing.
As the team grew I was able to narrow my focus, and now I’m in my happy place in purchasing and logistics. I work directly with our farmers to plan their planting and harvesting schedules. My passion continues to grow in this role and I love it!
What drew you to Cece’s originally?
The big picture was that it’s a great product that hit the market at the perfect time. There’s a lot of opportunity here to shake up the produce industry and I wanted to be a part of that. On a personal level, I thrive in the craziness of the startup environment so I was ready to jump right in.
Describe a typical day in your role.
The first thing I do is check on the veggie inventory. Make sure our orders are correct and do quality checks. Our inventory doesn’t stick around for long, so I check on it often to make sure it’s up to our standards before it hits the production line.
Then, lots and lots of phone calls and emails with suppliers. Placing orders, planning for planting seasons, building relationships with our growers.
What’s the best part of your day at Cece’s?
Spending it with coworkers that feel like family! Our team is growing but we are still super tight.
What’s been your favorite project to work on so far?
Being able to see the company grow from a tiny venture to a smashing success. Originally we were producing a few handfuls of cases a day and I was personally delivering them to two local stores. Now we are in thousands of stores coast to coast. The whole thing was a crazy whirlwind and it was the most exciting experience of my life.
What’s your favorite noodle and how do you prepare it?
I’m very partial to the zucchini. Spaghetti with red sauce has always been a comfort food for me, and I still love it with zoodles.
What’s your go-to work lunch?
I love the vegan pastrami melt from Counter Culture.
How about your favorite local restaurant?
Honestly Counter Culture is doing vegan better than anyone else right now in Austin. But also Arlo’s, their veggie burger is the best I’ve ever had! (This is quite a compliment since Russell has been vegan for 14 years!)
It’s been rumored that you are a whiskey fan. What’s your favorite local watering hole?
Definitely Crow Bar on South Congress for having some fun. But I’ll hit The Driskill Hotel bar occasionally when my pinky needs to be in the air.
Tell us about your career and how you came to be the Zucchini Czar.
I started in working in food in 1999 and spent a decade in restaurants and catering. From there I moved into organics and distribution. I wanted to get a fresh start and learn more about sustainability, and from there I figured out my primary interest lies in vegetables. That snowballed into veggie distribution!
What did 10-year old Russell say when asked what he wanted to be when he grows up?
Stand up comedian! Still kinda true. 36 year old Russell still might do that.
So you grew up in New Jersey – how did you find your way to Austin, TX?
I visited Texas a few times and knew immediately I wanted to escape the East coast. The pace, the weather, the friendliness- all of it drew me to Austin. And trees! Actual trees, throughout the city.
What keeps you busy outside of Cece’s?
My 2 dogs are my life! I also play bass guitar, enjoy target shooting, owning at poker, and writing jokes.
What’s the strangest job you’ve ever had?
I worked in maintenance at a hotel in Philly. They gave me zero guidance or training, so I just figured out what odd jobs I could do to fill my time. I learned a lot!
Last question: what’s on your bucket list?
Parachute jump from space.