We are excited that OkStraw Paper Straws is one of the featured paper straw companies in this great article from SLATE.com! Author of the article, Seth Stevenson, dropped by our San Diego warehouse in late August to discuss our role in the paper straw industry and how our products are disrupting the single-use plastic straw market.
FROM THE ARTICLE:
“…That’s still not enough to keep up with the gush of orders from restaurants scrambling to comply with new straw laws and norms. A bunch of opportunistic entrepreneurs have leapt in to grab the overflow business.
Among these entrepreneurs is 33-year-old Brent Ohlendorf, the chief operating officer of OK Straw, which launched last year. OK makes its paper straws in China, but, says Ohlendorf, these are premium straws constructed with top-shelf, Food and Drug Administration–approved papers and glues. When customers want to contact a rep, they needn’t send an email to a Mandarin speaker on the other side of the world because—as I discovered when I first called the company’s main number— they can get Ohlendorf, picking up with a cheery greeting, on the phone in California. ‘Service as strong as the straw’ is his motto. The business model is Chinese manufacturing costs, American imprimatur.
Ohlendorf’s partner is a 54-year-old Chinese man named Jiang Jingchun who’d previously made most of his money exporting silica. They met because Jiang owns a house in the San Diego suburbs next door to Ohlendorf’s cousin. In the spring of last year, sensing that legislation against plastic straws was gathering momentum, they hatched a plan. They quickly established a 30-employee paper straw factory in southern China. Then they opened a distribution center, about the size of a two-car garage, in a light industrial park in northern San Diego. When I visited, it was just Ohlendorf, Jiang, Jiang’s 23-year-old son Jackson (who referenced the turtle video and called it ‘really emotional’), and two other employees. This was the sum of their U.S. workforce. All five men were wearing matching green OK Straw T-shirts.
As we discussed the ins and outs of food-grade materials and wholesale restaurant supply, the OK Straw team pressed some of its paper straw products into my hands. There was the top-of-the-line, four-ply “steakhouse” straw they consider their flagship. (Older-generation Chinese paper straws were two-ply, and even good paper straws are often only three-ply.) There was their fast-selling boba tea straw, with a wide mouth for sucking up tapioca pearls and a pointy tip for stabbing through cup lids. (Ohlendorf says the plentiful boba tea shops in San Francisco got desperate when that city’s ban took effect in July, as there were few existing nonplastic alternatives that met boba specs.) They also had an articulated paper straw that can bend 180 degrees. They view this one as a natural for attaching to the backs of juice boxes. All these were developed within the past 12 months, in a rush to identify customer needs.
Ohlendorf couldn’t help but chuckle when he saw news reports about the Trump campaign’s plastic straw gambit. First, there was the absurd price: $15 for a 10-pack, or $1.50 a straw. OK will sell you straws for under a penny per if you buy in bulk. But even more comical to Ohlendorf was the fact that OK has provided paper straws to the Trump International Hotel in Las Vegas. ‘His campaign says paper straws don’t work, but his hotel is buying them,’ Ohlendorf said. He added that the Trump hotel is late on its payment…”