Here are eight ventures linked to leading corporate executive and former McDonald’s CEO Donald Thompson

BY Ben Ebuka Oji February 13, 2024 7:04 AM EDT
Donald Thompson
Donald Thompson

During his tenure as president and CEO of McDonald’s Corporation from 2012 to 2015, Donald Thompson made a remarkable impact on the American business landscape.

Thompson’s exceptional leadership and forward-thinking mindset propelled him to success within McDonald’s. Rising through the company’s hierarchy, he reached the esteemed position of CEO, a remarkable accomplishment for an electrical engineer navigating the corporate landscape. His contributions were instrumental in driving McDonald’s global growth in different spheres. Thompson’s visionary approach left an indelible mark on the company’s trajectory.

Thompson is currently playing a pivotal role in empowering food startups. One of his notable ventures is The Cleveland Avenue, LLC, a pioneering venture capital and accelerator firm based in Chicago. This firm has strategically invested over $500 million into promising food startups like Beyond Meat, Red Bay Coffee, and Bartesian.

Thompson’s remarkable journey as a prominent Black American entrepreneur and business executive is reflected in his inspiring wealth narrative, which aligns with his influential career path and steadfast dedication to promoting innovation and expansion in the food and beverage industry.

Blackstars News has identified eight business ventures linked to Donald, which are explored below.

The CAFE Group

The CAFE Group, founded by Donald and Elizabeth (Liz) Thompson, is a prominent platform for leaders of color. This organization addresses educational obstacles by providing guidance to individuals, starting from college internships and leading them toward prominent leadership positions. By harnessing community wisdom, The CAFE Group creates long-lasting systemic change, reshaping the philanthropic landscape to ensure a more equitable distribution of resources and nurturing future leaders.

A notable initiative within their portfolio is The 1954 Project, which identifies accomplished Black leaders within the education sector. Each year, a minimum of five exceptional individuals, known as Luminaries, are selected. These Luminaries are awarded transformative $1 million grants, in addition to receiving professional support and becoming members of an unparalleled community of their peers.

Cleveland Avenue LLC

Cleveland Avenue, established in 2015 by Donald and Liz Thompson, is a prominent investment group specializing in fast-growing food startups like Beyond Meat and Farmer’s Fridge. This venture capital firm, headquartered in Chicago, is fostering innovative food, beverage, and restaurant concepts, thereby playing a pivotal role in shaping the ever-evolving culinary industry.

Cleveland Avenue State Treasurer Urban Success Fund (CAST US)

It is a financial initiative spearheaded by Donald Thompson and Andrea Zopp. With a total fund of $70 million, CAST US supports entrepreneurs in the Black, Latinx, and women communities in the South and West Side neighborhoods of Chicago. This endeavor, which has received $16 million in backing from the Illinois Treasurer’s Office, aims to address the financial challenges faced by minority entrepreneurs. Notable success stories, such as AYO Foods, serve as examples of the positive impact this fund can have.

The Cleveland Avenue Foundation for Education

The Cleveland Avenue Foundation for Education, established in 2014 by Donald Thompson and Liz Thompson, is a non-profit organization assisting and guiding students and professionals. This foundation, recognized as a 501c3 organization, is advancing African-American philanthropy in education and fostering a strong sense of community for all.

Farmer’s Fridge

Farmer’s Fridge is a startup in Chicago established in 2013. It has revolutionized the concept of healthy eating by introducing vending machines that sell salads. This minority-owned startup has experienced remarkable success with the support of Cleveland Avenue, led by Thompson.

Beyond Meat

Beyond Meat, Inc. was established in 2009 and made history in 2019 as the first company specializing in plant-based meat analogs to become publicly traded. During its initial public offering, Cleveland Avenue, under the leadership of Thompson, held a 5.4 percent ownership stake in Beyond Meat, demonstrating its forward-thinking investment strategy in sustainable and groundbreaking ventures.

Red Bay Coffee

Based in Oakland, California, Red Bay Coffee was founded in 2014 and has flourished into a prominent wholesale coffee roasting company with a strong emphasis on crafting exceptional coffees and embracing delightful approaches to life. In 2019, Red Bay Coffee successfully concluded a Series A funding round spearheaded by trailblazing executives such as David Drummond, Richelieu Dennis, Suzy Jones, and Thompson. This funding round saw the participation of both existing and new investors, further solidifying Red Bay Coffee’s position in the industry.


Bartesian, a company based in Chicago, has garnered significant attention as a manufacturer of home cocktail machines. Established in 2014, Bartesian is revolutionizing the cocktail experience by offering premium cocktails without hassles. By providing an effortless way to enjoy and serve bar-quality cocktails at home, Bartesian is redefining how people indulge in their favorite drinks. In 2019, Bartesian secured Series A funding led by visionary executives, includingThompson, underscoring the company’s commitment to supporting innovative and creative enterprises.