Citadel Paying Over $1B a Year for Order Flow

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Citadel Securities LLC paid $2.6 billion in payments for order flow in 2020 and 2021, according to a new report from The Trade, an industry publication.

This amounts to over $1 billion a year and dwarfs its nearest competitors:

Citadel Securities takes the top spot when it comes to payment for order flow (PFOF), forking out $2.6 billion in 2020 and 2021 according to 606 reports gathered by the US’ Securities and Exchanges Commission (SEC).

The market maker due to its dominant market share accounted for around a third of the total market spend on PFOF in 2020 and 2021, followed by Susquehanna (G1X global execution brokers), which spent a $1.5 billion and Virtu which spent $654 million in the same period.

Payment for order flow involves a market maker like Citadel paying brokers, such as Robinhood Markets Inc., for the right to process their trades. The market maker then earns a small spread on each trade they complete.

The practice has proven controversial:


It’s proved a contentious subject globally, with regulators in Europe and the US exploring the possibility of limiting the practice as some claim it does not channel flow – much of it coming from the mushrooming retail segment – based on best execution.


Payments to brokers for order flow can allow brokers to offer free trades. And at least one study found payment for order flow saves customers money.

But both Citadel and Robinhood have been fined for providing worse prices than public exchanges.

With billions at stake and an opaque market, I find payment for order flow suspect. I’d like to see published data from Citadel, Robinhood and others proving their prices are better than the public markets.

Until then, remember the words of Andrew Lewis:

“If you are not paying for it, you’re not the customer; you’re the product being sold.”

Andrew Lewis

This is the last post for this week. Tomorrow, Tremendous will be off for Good Friday.

Have a great holiday everyone! 👋

More on markets:

AMC Now #4 Most Shorted Stock

Melvin Capital Down 21% in Q1

NYSE Investigating Shopify Stock Plunge; Citadel Involved

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Photo: Citadel LLC CEO Kenneth Griffin

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AMC Now #4 Most Shorted Stock

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AMC Entertainment Holdings Inc. has become the 4th most heavily shorted stock in America, according to new data from UBS.

Its short interest stands at 20%, per Ortex. Short interest is the percentage of outstanding shares that have been sold short.

AMC’s position is particularly striking given that there are around 4,000 publicly traded companies in the US, according to a McKinsey study. This puts AMC in the top 0.1% for the number of bets against it.

Many retail holders of AMC shares are betting on a short squeeze to cause a sudden spike in the share price.

It’s happened before. Short sellers, mostly hedge funds, lost billions betting against AMC shares last year.

Meme stocks are volatile and hard to predict. I find hedge funds betting the future of retirees and charities trading volatile stocks with the chance of unlimited losses incredibly irresponsible.

For the retail holders, the future path of AMC shares is also hard to predict. But if one is betting on short squeezes, a company in the top 0.1% of crowded bets isn’t the worst candidate.

More on markets:

Melvin Capital Down 21% in Q1

NYSE Investigating Shopify Stock Plunge; Citadel Involved

Mass Firings at Citadel Right Before Federal Probe

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Misfits Market

My wife and I have gotten organic produce shipped to our house by Misfits for over a year. It’s never once disappointed me.

Every fruit and vegetable is super fresh and packed with flavor.

I thought radishes were cold, tasteless little lumps at salad bars until I tried theirs! They’re peppery, colorful and crunchy!

I wrote a detailed review of Misfits here.

Use this link to sign up and you’ll save $10 on your first order. 

Work For an Awesome SaaS Startup!

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Hello everyone! 👋

I just wanted to let you know that a really cool SaaS startup that I’m an investor in is hiring now.

They’re looking for senior fullstack or backend developers.

If that’s you, send me an e-mail right away!

They just raised a big seed round and are ready to 🚀.

I’ll see you later today for a full post! 🙂

Photo: “STARTUP CTO” by ceonyc is marked with CC BY-SA 2.0.

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Robot Pizzas and the Future of Fast Food

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Inside a gleaming metal structure the size of a shipping container, robotic arms pull out a disk of dough. They carefully apply tomato sauce, then the cheese.

Pepperoni, anyone?

This store was created by Hyper Robotics, an intriguing startup from Israel that makes automated pizzerias. Its technology is in use today at a Pizza Hut in Israel.

The robot can even cook the pizza, cut it, and put it in a box! But for now, there’s still one employee there to hand the box to the customer.

Hyper Robotics isn’t the first company to attempt robotic pizza. California-based Zume made pizzas autonomously and even baked the pizza en route to you.

But Zume burned cash at a rate of over $10 million a day. Despite a $375 million investment from Softbank in 2018 the company exited the pizza business in early 2020.

The most interesting implications of robotic restaurants may be for the labor force. Over 5 million people work in fast food restaurants in America today.

In a weaker labor market, robotic restaurants could pose a real threat to the livings of working class people. But in today’s world of rock bottom unemployment, the robots may simply be taking a job no one wants.

Many restaurants are cutting hours or reducing service due to a lack of employees. Perhaps if people want to eat pizza but no one wants to make it, robots can help.

Since the pandemic, many former fast food workers have found higher paying jobs at e-commerce fulfillment centers, shipping companies, and the like. For a group of workers that so often struggled, I count this move up the value chain as something to celebrate.

Would you try a robot pizza? And what impact do you think robotics will have on restaurants and the labor market?

Leave a comment at the bottom and let me know!

More on tech:

Robot Hands, Vertical Farms, and the Future of Food

Judging a Startup Pitch Competition

Male Contraception With an Ultrasound Device?

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This platform lets me diversify my real estate investments so I’m not too exposed to any one market. I’ve invested since 2018 and returns have been great so far.

More on Fundrise in this post.

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Misfits Market

My wife and I have gotten organic produce shipped to our house by Misfits for over a year. It’s never once disappointed me.

Every fruit and vegetable is super fresh and packed with flavor.

I thought radishes were cold, tasteless little lumps at salad bars until I tried theirs! They’re peppery, colorful and crunchy!

I wrote a detailed review of Misfits here.

Use this link to sign up and you’ll save $10 on your first order. 

Pine Barrens Glamping in Brendan Byrne State Forest

We opened the door to the cabin and stood silently, our mouths agape. In years visiting the woods, we’d never seen anything like this.

A beautiful brand new cabin!

The bunks were feathery soft. The carpentry was stunning, each board fitting together perfectly.

No sleeping on a bare floor tonight!

This is Brendan Bryne State Forest in the New Jersey Pine Barrens. This unusual ecosystem of pine trees and sandy soil is home to many rare plant and animal species, including 274 kinds of moss!

My friends and I unpacked our gear and started a fire, grilling up steaks and salmon burgers. Sitting around that fire, the concerns of daily life faded away like the smoke.

After a fine night’s sleep in the cushy bunks, we wolfed down ham and eggs and set off for a hike. The hiking is easy in the Pine Barrens, with flat terrain and well groomed trails.

We wondered at the beautiful conifers and placid ponds, often content with saying little.

As we made it back to camp, our friend Victor* pulled up! He had been tied up Friday but didn’t want to miss this wonderful weekend entirely.

Together, we cooked burgers, apple gouda sausages, and even a savory chili over the flames. We joked and laughed, untroubled by the need to get home at the end of the night.

Come Sunday morning, we all sat around after breakfast, reluctant to begin packing. It would mean the trip was over.

But pack we did, already planning our next visit.

Brendan Byrne has both cabins (with plumbing and electricity) and “shelters,” which was the simpler cabin we stayed in. I found it more than adequate, and at about $50 a night for Jersey residents, it’s a steal!

Now is the perfect time to visit the Pine Barrens!

The weather’s getting warmer but the ticks have yet to emerge. Enjoy this unique world while you can!

More on New Jersey:

Is this NJ’s Most Beautiful Spot?

The Mafia’s Hoboken Fortress

New Jersey’s Jelly Donut Heaven

*not his real name

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This platform lets me diversify my real estate investments so I’m not too exposed to any one market. I’ve invested since 2018 and returns have been great so far.

More on Fundrise in this post.

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Misfits Market

My wife and I have gotten organic produce shipped to our house by Misfits for over a year. It’s never once disappointed me.

Every fruit and vegetable is super fresh and packed with flavor.

I thought radishes were cold, tasteless little lumps at salad bars until I tried theirs! They’re peppery, colorful and crunchy!

I wrote a detailed review of Misfits here.

Use this link to sign up and you’ll save $10 on your first order. 

Judging a Startup Pitch Competition

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Last night, I had the honor of judging a startup pitch competition. Each founder in the Starta Accelerator in NYC had 3 minutes to pitch a panel of judges in front of a live audience.

I was so impressed with the hard work these entrepreneurs are putting into building their companies and pitching investors!

I also came away with some insights that might help other founders. Maybe you!

1) Be sure I know what your company does within the first minute.

Some founders do an amazing job of summarizing a problem, but aren’t as clear on how they’re solving it. The most important thing you can convey in your pitch is what your company does.

Don’t bury the lead!

2) Tell us exactly how you make money. Some founders do a great job of explaining what their product does, but don’t tell us how they actually get paid.

One of the key things investors are trying to learn about your company is the revenue model. So make it a big part of your pitch.

3) Clearly state the terms you’re raising at. After watching 6 companies present, I noticed they all had one thing in common: not one said what valuation they’re raising funds at!

Tell us how much you’re seeking to raise and at what valuation. And be clear as to whether the valuation is pre-money or post-money.

You also want to mention how much money is already committed to the round, if any.

Here’s a good example sentence: “We are raising a $1 million seed round on a $7 million pre-money valuation with $500,000 committed.”

Some founders are reluctant to ask for anything out of modesty. Others don’t want to be pinned down to a particular valuation because they want to negotiate it later.

But you must ask investors for something specific. Otherwise, what’s the point of your presentation?

You can always negotiate those terms later, but be sure to offer a starting point.

4) Give us some key numbers.

We investors love metrics. So show us your month-over-month revenue growth rate, gross margin, churn rate, net revenue retention, etc.

A good story is essential, but good metrics close the deal.

And finally, on a hopeful note…

5) You can improve your pitch enormously in a short period of time, if you do the work.

I saw one of the founders that pitched last night two weeks ago. In that early pitch, I honestly had no idea what the company did.

When I saw him last night, he was polished and crisp. I knew exactly what his company did and why.

And I almost found myself reaching for my wallet. 😄

If you put the work in, you can improve. Repetition goes a long way!

What do you think makes a great pitch? And what questions do you have for me about speaking to investors?

Leave a comment at the bottom and let me know.

Have a wonderful weekend everyone! 👋

More on tech:

How Startups Can Dominate the Elevator Pitch

Why Your Startup Shouldn’t Be an LLC

Find Code Faster Than Ever

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Fundrise

This platform lets me diversify my real estate investments so I’m not too exposed to any one market. I’ve invested since 2018 and returns have been great so far.

More on Fundrise in this post.

If you decide to invest in Fundrise, you can use this link to get your management fees waived for 90 days

Misfits Market

My wife and I have gotten organic produce shipped to our house by Misfits for over a year. It’s never once disappointed me.

Every fruit and vegetable is super fresh and packed with flavor.

I thought radishes were cold, tasteless little lumps at salad bars until I tried theirs! They’re peppery, colorful and crunchy!

I wrote a detailed review of Misfits here.

Use this link to sign up and you’ll save $10 on your first order. 

Citadel Loans Supported Chinese Surveillance

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Citadel made a major loan to a Chinese surveillance company in 2006. This shadowy company, which doesn’t even appear to have a website, has sold surveillance equipment to China’s Communist government.

From a new report from Crain’s Chicago Business:

…in 2006, Citadel loaned $110 million to China Security & Surveillance Technology. The company used the funds to acquire “10 of the 50 biggest surveillance companies in China.” That has opened it to charges that it “provid(ed) much of the surveillance infrastructure for the ruling Chinese Communist Party, including technology used to alert police of possible unsanctioned protests and internet cafes to track down democracy advocates and dissidents.”

Citadel CEO Ken Griffin doesn’t seem to find the loan problematic, according to a statement he released:

“In 2006, China Security & Surveillance Technology—a company listed on the New York Stock Exchange—was raising further capital to pursue growth opportunities. CS&ST was hoping to be selected as a key partner in providing security capabilities for the 2008 Beijing Summer Olympics and the 2010 Shanghai World’s Fair to ensure those events would be safe for everyone.

So what does this company do? It appears to have gone private since Citadel’s loan, but here’s how the company described itself in an SEC annual report it filed while a public company:

We are primarily engaged, through our indirect Chinese subsidiaries, in the manufacturing, distributing, installing and servicing of surveillance and safety products, systems and services, and developing surveillance and safety related software primarily for governmental entities and their affiliates, non-profit organizations, and commercial entities in China.

In other words, the company sells surveillance gear to the Chinese government, among others. Citadel’s involvement with this business is concerning, given China’s oppressive surveillance of its population.

Ethnic and religious minorities such as Uyghur Muslims are particularly hard hit. From The Guardian:


The US has accused China of committing genocide and crimes against humanity for running a mass detention, repression and sterilization campaign against Uyghurs and other mostly Muslim ethnic minorities. Countless reports have detailed detainees enduring torture, coerced abortions as well as re-education in what former secretary of state Mike Pompeo described as the “forced assimilation and eventual erasure” of Uyghurs by the Chinese government.


The surveillance system propped up by these often global companies serves to facilitate that genocide, argues Dolkun Isaa, president of the World Uyghur Congress advocacy group.


“The goal of these surveillance tactics is not only to instill fear in Uyghurs’ minds that every aspect of their behavior is monitored, but most importantly to single out Uyghurs for detention in the internment camp system,” Isaa said.


Griffin may be right that China Security & Surveillance Technology bid on an Olympic contract. But it appears that he and his company didn’t ask any questions about what else the company does.

Citadel’s “make money now, ask questions later” attitude has also made it a target of a federal investigation here in the US.

I only hope someone holds this company accountable.

More on markets:

Citadel Under Federal Investigation

Mass Firings at Citadel Right Before Federal Probe

NYSE Investigating Shopify Stock Plunge; Citadel Involved

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Photo: Citadel LLC CEO Kenneth Griffin

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This platform lets me diversify my real estate investments so I’m not too exposed to any one market. I’ve invested since 2018 and returns have been great so far.

More on Fundrise in this post.

If you decide to invest in Fundrise, you can use this link to get your management fees waived for 90 days

Misfits Market

My wife and I have gotten organic produce shipped to our house by Misfits for over a year. It’s never once disappointed me.

Every fruit and vegetable is super fresh and packed with flavor.

I thought radishes were cold, tasteless little lumps at salad bars until I tried theirs! They’re peppery, colorful and crunchy!

I wrote a detailed review of Misfits here.

Use this link to sign up and you’ll save $10 on your first order. 

Melvin Capital Down 21% in Q1

The bleeding never seems to stop at Melvin Capital Management LP. Gabe Plotkin’s beleaguered fund lost 21% in the first quarter of 2022, according to a report just out from Bloomberg.

Melvin famously lost billions in 2021 with disastrous bets against meme stocks like GameStop Corp. and AMC Entertainment Holdings Inc. It ended 2021 down 39%. Meanwhile, the S&P 500 gained 29%

Its losses this year may total over $1.5 billion, since it began 2021 with $12.5 billion.*

And if seas of red ink weren’t bad enough, Melvin has also been caught up in a federal investigation of illegal activity by short sellers.

Melvin’s backers seem to be finally losing their patience. Major hedge funds Citadel LLC and Point72 Asset Management LP have pulled out over $1 billion from Melvin after backing the firm during its near death experience in January 2021.

When you invest in a fund, you are hiring someone: a manager to grow your capital. So how is employee Plotkin doing?

Well, he lost a fortune, “changed strategy,” then lost another fortune. His firm could be under federal indictment any day.

In the words of a very controversial man:

More on markets:

Melvin Capital Under Federal Investigation

Melvin Capital Loses $1 Billion in 3 Weeks to Start 2022

Mass Firings at Citadel Right Before Federal Probe

*A 39% loss in 2021 would leave them with around $7.6 billion. A further loss of 21% this year would total about $1.6 billion. This may be conservative since Citadel and Point72 put more money into the fund in 2021, leaving Plotkin with more money to lose.

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Fundrise

This platform lets me diversify my real estate investments so I’m not too exposed to any one market. I’ve invested since 2018 and returns have been great so far.

More on Fundrise in this post.

If you decide to invest in Fundrise, you can use this link to get your management fees waived for 90 days

Misfits Market

My wife and I have gotten organic produce shipped to our house by Misfits for over a year. It’s never once disappointed me.

Every fruit and vegetable is super fresh and packed with flavor.

I thought radishes were cold, tasteless little lumps at salad bars until I tried theirs! They’re peppery, colorful and crunchy!

I wrote a detailed review of Misfits here.

Use this link to sign up and you’ll save $10 on your first order. 

Why Your Startup Shouldn’t Be an LLC

Every now and then, I see the unthinkable: an LLC trying to raise venture capital.

You want to give your startup every chance of success. So don’t shut yourself out from venture capital with this rookie mistake!

Repeat this mantra every night before bed: “investors want a Delaware C Corp.”

Why Don’t Investors Like LLC’s?

Here are a few reasons:

1) Issuing stock options to employees is difficult and expensive.

Almost all startups use options to recruit and retain employees. You don’t want your legal structure to make that nigh impossible.

2) Investor taxes become a nightmare.

3) The venture fund’s own investors won’t have it.

These limited partners (LP’s) who put their money in the venture fund don’t want to deal with the tax complexity of LLC’s.

What’s more, many LP’s are tax exempt foundations and endowments. They don’t want the taxable income an LLC will pass through to them.

4) LLC’s don’t qualify for a big tax loophole.

Qualified Small Business Stock (QSBS) can shelter up to $10 million in capital gains from any taxation whatsoever. Pretty sweet, eh?

But LLC’s don’t qualify. C Corp’s do.

LLC’s Advantages Are an Illusion

I know, I know, C corp’s cause double taxation of profits, both at the corporate level and the individual level. But given that most startups make bupkus for years, you don’t need to worry about that.

And yes, LLC’s are very simple to form. But if you’re issuing options and raising capital, the LLC soon becomes far more complex than the C Corp.

From Harvard-trained attorney Jose Ancer:

The amount of tax and legal analysis that has to be done to issue equity compensation and/or raise capital in an LLC is (without exaggerating) 10x that of a corporation.

What’s the Obsession with Delaware?

Simply put, it’s the standard. Delaware has well-established corporate case law and investors are used to dealing with Delaware companies.

Delaware also has some sweet tax advantages.

What If I Already Screwed Up?

I’m sending you to bed with no dinner!

Just kidding. If you initially formed an LLC and now realize you need to be a C corp, it’s okay! Just make sure to convert before raising any money.

Once you’ve raised money, converting becomes a lot harder and more expensive.

Here’s Becki DeGraw, a partner at top tech law firm Wilson Sonsini, explaining the conversion process on This Week in Startups:


How Do I Make a Delaware C Corp?

You’re in luck! It’s much easier than it once was.

There are online services that can handle the whole thing for you. Stripe Atlas is one popular choice.

Another is Capbase, which can not just form the company but manage your cap table (list of company owners) and a lot more. Full disclosure: I’m an investor in Capbase.

Whichever method of incorporation you choose for your tech startup, just be sure it’s a C Corp registered in Delaware and you’re off to a great start!

Happy building!

More on tech:

Why I Just Invested in Capbase, The Startup in a Box

How Startups Can Dominate the Elevator Pitch

The Lean Startup

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This platform lets me diversify my real estate investments so I’m not too exposed to any one market. I’ve invested since 2018 and returns have been great so far.

More on Fundrise in this post.

If you decide to invest in Fundrise, you can use this link to get your management fees waived for 90 days

Misfits Market

My wife and I have gotten organic produce shipped to our house by Misfits for over a year. It’s never once disappointed me.

Every fruit and vegetable is super fresh and packed with flavor.

I thought radishes were cold, tasteless little lumps at salad bars until I tried theirs! They’re peppery, colorful and crunchy!

I wrote a detailed review of Misfits here.

Use this link to sign up and you’ll save $10 on your first order. 

What Can The Dropout Teach Investors?

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I’ve been riveted by The Dropout lately. Amanda Seyfried’s portrayal of the notorious Elizabeth Holmes transfixes me, from the baritone to the awkward dancing.

I particularly loved the scenes on Sand Hill Road when Holmes is pitching venture capitalists. Luckily for them, most passed.

Since I invest in startups, I wondered, how do we avoid the next Theranos? And what lessons can this flame out give us about investing in general?

Here is my current thinking:

1) If you don’t show it, you don’t have it. Beware any startup founder who won’t show you their tech or disclose financial information.

They may claim they’re protecting secrets from competitors, but more likely they’re covering up their problems.

I find the most successful founders are very open with investors. They want to share their awesome progress!

2) Beware unqualified teams in deep tech. Holmes made much of the fact that she was a college dropout, like Steve Jobs or Mark Zuckerberg.

But she obscured a critical point: Theranos was not a software company.

You can learn the basics of coding on your own in a few months. The same isn’t true for biology.

To pull off a revolution in blood testing, Holmes would’ve likely needed a PhD from a top school like MIT, Harvard, etc.

3) Don’t let big names on the board influence you. Henry Kissinger and General James Mattis sat on the board of Theranos.

Both are heavyweights in politics and government, but what’s their expertise in biotech? Uhh, they don’t have any.

Don’t just ask if the advisors and investors of a company are prominent. Ask if they’re qualified to do this exact job.

4) Founders who react badly to being challenged are bad founders. Both Holmes and Balwani surrounded themselves with sycophants and came down hard on anyone who questioned them.

They refused to hear about problems, so the problems only got worse.

If a founder can’t handle you or their team challenging them, they have no business in the job.

5) No FOMO. Holmes expertly used the fear of missing out to close investors and customers like Walgreens.

After all, we can’t let CVS have it first, can we?

Frauds from Adam Neumann of WeWork to Bernie Madoff were experts at leveraging this fear to override people’s better judgment.

Don’t give into it. You don’t have to hit every great investment opportunity to be a success.

In fact, you only have to hit one.

More on tech and finance:

The True Story Behind WeCrashed

The Lean Startup

FOMO: Investors’ Worst Enemy

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Photo: “Fortune Global Forum 2015” by fortuneglobalforum is marked with CC BY-NC-ND 2.0.

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Save Money on Stuff I Use:

Fundrise

This platform lets me diversify my real estate investments so I’m not too exposed to any one market. I’ve invested since 2018 and returns have been great so far.

More on Fundrise in this post.

If you decide to invest in Fundrise, you can use this link to get your management fees waived for 90 days

Misfits Market

My wife and I have gotten organic produce shipped to our house by Misfits for over a year. It’s never once disappointed me.

Every fruit and vegetable is super fresh and packed with flavor.

I thought radishes were cold, tasteless little lumps at salad bars until I tried theirs! They’re peppery, colorful and crunchy!

I wrote a detailed review of Misfits here.

Use this link to sign up and you’ll save $10 on your first order.