Todd Harrison Interviews Scott Reamer: The Story of Jackson's Honest Potato Chips
Chora Capital's Scott Reamer explains how his Wall Street experience helped him discover a dietary strategy that eased his son's mysterious illness, and how that solution later sparked a family business.
Just had to share this news with you. Megan started a potato chip company called Jackson's Honest Chips last summer -- based on the nutritional aspects that we saved Jackson’s life with back in 2004 (e.g. coconut oil and other "real fats"). These chips are fried in coconut oil. Long story short: They have been an enormous hit -- she’s sold them in eight countries (Australia and UAE for e.g.) and 44 states in just the first few months. But here is the kicker: Just Wednesday this week they were selected by the 85th Academy Awards product selection committee to be the exclusive snack food for the green room, executive suites, backstage, production offices, and dressing rooms at the Dolby Theatre this Sunday. It’s such an honor because there is no "buy-in" for placement; the Awards producers choose which brands to align themselves with based on the story, quality, etc. Since you saw in real time some of the depths that Jackson’s illness took us physically and emotionally, I thought it only appropriate that you see the way he’s been able to inspire us to turn lemons into lemonade.
Thrilled with the news, I immediately set up a call with Scott to learn more. We both felt it was a conversation and story worth sharing with Minyanville's readers.
Todd Harrison: Earlier today, I went back and read your Going Home article on Minyanville from June 2003. So for those who have not been around Minyanville for the last decade, why don’t you just give us a brief backdrop on your family, your personal history, and perhaps where you and I first connected.
Scott Reamer: Sure. Well, you and I met back in the days we both wrote at TheStreet.com and of course, you branched out on your own and asked me to write, and I thought, that’s a noble mission, so I thought I would. At the same time, I had started my own hedge fund and wasn’t doing so well. While I was fighting the tape, my young son, who at the time was about 12 months old or so, our first son, Jackson, came down with some sort of neurological disorder -- at least that’s what we knew it to be then -- that was slowly but surely basically taking away all of his gross and fine motor skills. It started at that time.
The genesis of that article was really sort of this terrible nexus of fighting the tape, doing a ton of research -- stock-picking and the other tools we used -- and not having it work out too well. It was the first time I started a fund and I had just left the sell side, so there was a lot of pressure. In parallel, Jackson’s health started to degrade for reasons that we couldn’t figure out. We were seeing an untold number of doctors and specialists across the pediatric spectrum, and none of them had any insights at all. They’d sort of send you home with, “Good luck.”
So it was, as I said, this terrible nexus of, in effect, two very stressful times: one, a personal path, and then the other, the professional path, and each of those was an incredible challenge at the time. The genesis of that article was that multiplicative effect of having both the professional and personal lives deal with incredible challenges at the same time.
Sure enough, that summer we had the first of our Minyans in the Mountains. Loads of people journeyed to Crested Butte, which isn’t the easiest place in the world to get to. I think some people are still looking for their luggage. And that turned into a series of soirées ranging from Minyans in the Mountains to The Critter’s Choice Awards to our annual Festivus -- it was the genesis of the benevolent spirit that has come to define the Minyanville community.
I vividly remember you going through personal and professional challenges, and I was having challenges as well, having just started Minyanville, launched a hedge fund, and been wrong on the tape; I felt pretty much helpless. We commiserated together at the time, I remember; times like that are when you find out who your real friends are.
Now, to this day, I consider you to be one of the smartest people I’ve ever met and I’m not prone to hyperbole. Not a surprise you’re still mixing it up in the market after all these years, after the incredible sequence of events we’ve witnessed in the financial markets. It takes certain capabilities to navigate that, and balance life along with it.
But sticking with the story, and most importantly, tell us how Jackson is doing. Fast-forward 10 years.
SR: Sure. Well, we know a lot more about the physiological processes that are going on. We still don’t have a name, a diagnosis. We don’t know what the underlying disease process is necessarily. We know some of the effects, of course. So we were able, actually, to basically intermediate whatever the disease process was through nutrition, through changing what he ate. And we started to make real progress in that in 2004, 2005, 2006, and it was just through experimentation.
So fast-forward to today, Jackson is happy. He’s still incapacitated, in a wheelchair. He can’t speak, can’t feed himself, but mentally he’s all there. There are no cognitive defects at all, he just can’t physically move, which is to say that he has no fine motor control. So whatever this process is, which we now know is at least some neuroimmunological process, an inflammation, in effect, of his basal ganglia that prevents the coordination of the motor neuron signals to his muscles, it doesn’t affect him cognitively, which is fantastic. He’s happy. He laughs. He has a great time with my three other kids.
So that’s, of course, the blessing of this all. It’s important to move. It’s important to communicate, of course, but he’s with us mentally and physically, and that is an incredible return on what we thought in 2004 was a terminal illness.
The interesting part is that we were able to, in effect, just sort of reverse engineer a diet that worked for him, and it was a diet that was a complete antithesis of what might be considered your standard American Medical Association prescribed diet. And that is huge amounts of fat and protein, which we now know is, in effect, the paleo diet. We reversed into that, or I should say we arrived at the paleo diet after an enormous amount of experimentation with what did and didn’t work, taking things out of the diet, putting things back into the diet.
Not to stretch the parallel here, but I’ve got to tell you that my background in chemical engineering, and then on Wall Street, where in effect you were trying to reverse engineer the factors that affect a stock price or a bond price or a commodity price or what have you, or try to understand the macroeconomic machinations that are taking place in the economy worldwide, and then try to, again, determine some sort of investment action or speculative action to take on that, all of those skills actually helped immensely in trying to, in effect, find a diet profile that worked for him.
So there are some interesting parallels, not just in the sense that the timing of my professional challenges coincided with the timing of my personal challenges, but that the skill set from one kind of transferred to the other.
Todd Harrison is the founder and Chief Executive Officer of Minyanville. Prior to his current role, Mr. Harrison was President and head trader at a $400 million dollar New York-based hedge fund. Todd welcomes your comments and/or feedback at email@example.com.
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