David Merage immigrated to the United States from Iran in 1968. David always knew he was destined to be an entrepreneur. In 1977, with absolutely no experience in the food industry and equipped only with ambition, drive, and the support of his brother and father, he co-founded Chef America, Inc., a frozen food manufacturer of products such as “Hot Pocket.” In 1983, Hot Pockets were introduced to retail supermarkets and, within a short time, became a household staple and created a new convenience food culture.
As the company achieved annual growth rates of 15 percent per year, over 200 products emerged. With $750 million in sales, Chef America had substantial economic impact and became known as one of the most profitable and well-run companies in the food industry. Additionally, the company created a considerable workforce−employing 1,900 associates in three states, and generating over 6,000 national jobs through their supply chain. Nestlé purchased Chef America, Inc. in 2002.
Business: Today, David Merage is Chairman and CEO of Consolidated Investment Group (CIG), a Denver-based investment firm, focusing on Wall Street and real estate investments. CIG holds one of the most diverse portfolios in the country in terms of product type and geography. At CIG, Mr. Merage has created a culture that fosters an environment of respect, integrity and tolerance of others. This culture encourages creativity while embracing challenges and focusing on achieving results.
Philanthropy: By incorporating real business experience combined with an entrepreneurial spirit, David and his wife Laura set off to develop projects intensely focused on benefiting society. Over the last 14 years, the Merage Foundations have positively impacted tens of thousands of people’s lives domestically and globally.
David and Laura Merage Foundation: David and Laura Merage Foundation is centered on the belief that education is the gateway to optimal life outcomes. While the Foundation is active in many initiatives, it concentrates its efforts in three primary areas: Early Childhood Education, Arts and Culture, and Merage Israel.
Early Childhood Education – The Foundation is leading Early Learning Ventures, an initiative to enrich education for children ages birth to five years old. Early Learning Ventures is building a network of high-performing child care providers and, thereby, making quality child care more accessible to U.S. families. David Merage is also leading an effort to engage business leaders in early childhood education advocacy. He is a founding partner of EPIC—Executives Partnering to Invest in Children.
Arts and Culture – The David and Laura Merage Foundation invests in public and private arts organizations throughout the country. With Laura’s leadership, the organization is also developing a vibrant art incubator in Denver, Colorado called RedLine™. Providing access to master artists, collectors and the art world in general, RedLine sets the stage for emerging and mid-career artists to take their business and craft to the next level. Laura is now leading RedLine International, a nonprofit dedicated to the global expansion of the RedLine model.
Community Development – In 2013, David and Laura Merage established Equitas, a foundation dedicated to ensuring that law enforcement and the justice system are fully informed, empowered and engaged to proactively address the needs of people with mental disorders and hidden mental challenges in the criminal justice system.
Merage Israel – In 2000, David, Laura and Katherine Merage began their philanthropic work in Israel and currently support twelve regional staff members. Over the years, more than 20,000 individuals have benefited from the Merage philanthropic investment in educational and cultural programs. Their work today is focused on supporting the future of Israel in the Negev region, with over 40 simultaneous projects and 200 partners aligned to promote the Negev as the future of Israel with the objective of educating the world through business outreach and marketing.
David was born in Tehran, Iran in 1949 as one of five children to Andre and Katherine Merage. He and holds a Bachelor of Science degree in marketing from California State University. David is married to Laura Merage and they have two children.
Laura Merage was born in Tehran, Iran and immigrated to Los Angeles at the age of fifteen. She received her Bachelor’s Degree in Fine Arts from the University of Southern California and her Masters Degree in Art from New York University. Laura is an artist/photographer with works in public and private collections nationally and internationally. Her work keeps her traveling for shows as well as inspiration. She keeps studios in Denver, Hawaii and Israel.
Together with her husband, David Merage, Laura has launched several philanthropic organizations, including her newest venture RedLine International; a global organization that creates opportunities for a growing network of independent, nonprofit, contemporary art centers that respond to the needs of their local communities. This effort was inspired by RedLine in Denver, an organization that Laura also founded which is an urban art laboratory, promoting the creative expression of visual and performing resident artists. RedLine serves as a catalyst for educational activities and fosters connections between artists, collectors and the public. In 2000, Laura and David founded a program to provide education, training, and community connections to Israeli immigrants as they transition to a new lifestyle and culture. The Merage Foundation’s efforts in Israel have expanded significantly, and currently include several new program areas with a focus on community development and education in the underserved Negev region of Israel.
Laura serves on the Anti-Defamation League Board of Directors (Mountain States Region and National), and is deeply committed to their mission of promoting justice and fair treatment to all. Laura’s dedication to her community extends to organizations promoting Jewish-life, the arts, and early childhood education. Laura and David have two children, Jonathan and Sabrina. Jonathan attended Purdue University and is currently working in severe weather research. Sabrina graduated from the University of Denver with a degree in Business.
Katherine Merage is a woman of great vision and compassion. Through the Andre and Katherine Merage Foundation, Mrs. Merage and her family have launched several significant initiatives to support the future of Israel and enhance Jewish life in the United States.
The primary focus of her philanthropy in Israel is the betterment and development of communities in the Negev. In order to increase the population and quality of life in this region she supports health, education, and cultural projects. Her funding and leadership have significantly impacted the Negev, including the construction of Dimona’s first emergency medical treatment center, as well as the production of a cultural festival attracting several thousand tourists, and improvements to educational quality.
Mrs. Merage was an early supporter of Ayalim, a movement led by young adults to create villages in the Negev where college students can live and serve their communities. Her leadership has resulted in a multi-million dollar public-private venture with sustained impact. In addition to being a champion of the Negev region, Mrs. Merage is also dedicated to supporting Israeli immigrants. Through the Iranian Olim project, newcomers receive education and other assistance to adapt to Israeli society and help prepare them for a bright and productive future in their new homeland.
In 1972, Mrs. Merage, her husband Andre and their youngest daughter left their native Iran to join their other four children who were studying in the United States. This energetic mother of five children and grandmother of ten is passionate about young people and their future throughout the world.