Meet Renee, Jewish Entrepreneur of the Week!

by Samuel Milligan / April 3, 2024

The GatherDC blog strives to present a holistic portrait of the DMV’s Jewish community, sharing a wide variety of Jewish voices and perspectives. If you have a 20- or 30-something to nominate as our Jewish Person of the Week or for a Spotted in Jewish DMV feature, please email us!

Renee and I meet one sunny afternoon at The Coffee Bar to chat about Amäzi, Renee’s entrepreneurial foray into the world of vegan snacks — plus, as always, Jewish community, hidden gems of the DMV, and her perfect Shabbat dinner guests. Dive into this interview for Renee’s insights on supply chains, founding her own business, long walks, making friends as an adult, and coaching for MADabolic!

Renee with Amazi at an industry fair.

Samuel: What brought you to the DMV?

Renee: I’m from the DMV originally – I grew up in Bethesda and went to school at the Jewish Day School in Rockville. I went to Wesleyan for college, came home after, and started my business a few years out of school, so I stayed put for a little while.

Renee in an industrial kitchen.Samuel: What’s kept the DMV feeling like home for you?

Renee: I have been nomad-ing a little bit the past few years – as of April 2021, I haven’t had a lease – and so I’ve bopped around DC a lot. It’s built my appreciation for DC. I’m not a super materialistic person, and I love to travel. [After Covid began], I was in a place where I couldn’t support both experiencing other places and paying DC rent, which is pretty high. I got pretty stir-crazy. I was like: Why don’t I do a month here, a few weeks here, and every time I come back to DC I’ll choose a slightly different neighborhood, a different area, a different street?

Coming back to different corners of DC has been cool; if I feel myself getting tired of the city, I go away, come back, and I feel like it’s brand new. It’s a cool way to experience the city. I get to find my new coffee shop, my new routine, my new normal. 

Samuel: What have you learned from that constant renewal and remaking of your routine?

Renee: I’m somebody who has always benefitted from a change in environment. It helps me creatively. Between being a solo entrepreneur, being single, and DC being such a transient city, sometimes I find myself asking: Where is my place? Who is my squad? It’s been hard at times, but going away and coming back makes me realize that I do have my people here, and I do have things I love about being here. Coming up on almost a decade in DC, in and out, my original group of friends has completely changed over. That can feel challenging in the moment, it can feel lonely, but now I have really close friends in different corners of the country, and I met them all here. 

Renee in front of a body of water with a coconut Amazi product.Samuel: How has Jewish community figured into all of this for you?

Renee: That part has been hard! Going to Jewish Day School, I had built-in Jewish community all the time. Coming back after college, too, I was still close with my high school friends, so naturally a lot of my friends were Jewish. Now, actually very few of my friends are Jewish. I feel like I’ve only recently started to attempt to build that Jewish community again.

Some of it is just for myself. I’ve started lighting Shabbat candles again. Even if I don’t have someone to do it with, I feel connected to the broader [Jewish community]. It’s hard because everyone in DC is so busy, but I’ve done a couple Shabbat dinners – even with my friends who aren’t Jewish. Like: Hey guys, it’s Friday night, let’s cook, I’ll light some candles, and it’s great.

Samuel: Even if you’re not engaged in the religious aspect of Shabbat, there’s something very enticing about getting together and cooking. No one’s going to be on their phone or on Twitter the entire time. 

Renee: I’ve started to go to events here and there, too. I love my friends, but Jewish community is just something I’ve not had to intentionally build before, because I always had it. It went away and I didn’t notice. Over the past couple years, as I started my 30s, I’ve seen people settling down, building families, and it feels like a time to reflect; it’s made me curious about finding connections in Jewish spaces in DC. 

Renee poses in a wintry landscape with an Amazi product.Samuel: Tell me about Amäzi!

Renee: I studied abroad and did my thesis research in Uganda. It was a super immersive semester, and I worked with the local business school, and saw a very top-down approach to entrepreneurship on the ground in the realm of microfinance. I wanted to dig into the issues and inefficiencies that I was observing in my interviews with local entrepreneurs and business school students – why were so many high-potential entrepreneurs continuing to trade through informal business, or unable to access markets beyond the local one? Another thing that stood out to me was all this incredible fruit.

Long story short, I learned a lot about the lack of market access and the way our supply chains work, with all these middlemen and steps that separate the people who grow the fruits we eat from higher pay. With Amäzi, we built a vertically integrated supply chain; we have a majority Ugandan owned and operated processing facility, which allows for end-to-end transparency at every point through the supply chain. 

Renee with a pineapple product in a tropical landscape.Samuel: What’s challenging about this work? What’s exciting about it?

Renee: I wear many hats – I do all our sales, and operations, and run around doing little marketing stints…all the things. I’ve had many moments of being, like: Am I still excited? I don’t know. It’s a hard industry that has me questioning my sanity.

But, I enjoy connecting with other people around what we’re trying to do, and I get a lot of satisfaction out of co-creating with other people, whether that’s establishing our supply chain, or building relationships. It takes me out from behind my computer and gives me this feeling of greater connection. 

Samuel: What’s something you’re feeling proud about right now?

Renee: I’ve committed to challenging the way I do things – I’ve worked on being present, asking myself what it feels like to be in the flow, letting go of the need to plan everything. I feel like I’ve reached a really good balance, where I’m able to find that flow within structure. That might be a little woo-woo, but I’ve put so much work into my nervous system responses, asking: Why am I like this? It’s cool to feel a little more grounded and start to see the fruits of my labor. 

Samuel: A few quick ones to close. What does your dream DMV day look like?

Renee: I work out at MADabolic. I’ve been coaching there for five years. I found them through a friend and fell in love – I really love the MAD community. 

Renee working out at MADabolic.Then, I’ll grab a coffee and maybe a scone at The Wydown before settling in at Slipstream for another coffee – it’s a dream day, so why not? – and a breakfast bowl. I’d work from there for a few hours, then go for a really long walk toward West End, toward the Kennedy Center, and then up through Roosevelt Island and back through Georgetown. We have a lot of time on this day. I’d be hungry, obviously, and probably want a cookie, so I’d go to Yellow…I live next to Seylou right now, and need to say: their rye chocolate chip cookies are delicious, too, so maybe I’d grab another when I head back home – I should probably take a shower – before meeting friends out for dinner. It’s a dream day, so we’re balling out and eating at Maydan for dinner. 

Samuel: You can invite any three people to Shabbat dinner. Who are they, and why?

Renee: My grandma, my great aunt Rutka, and my mom. The three strongest female influences in my life, all of whom I have very strong, core memories of them hosting me for Shabbat. Feels only fair.

Samuel: Last one. Finish the sentence. When Jews of the DMV gather…

Renee: Magic happens!

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