Everyone needs a bit of good news these days. That’s why RestoBiz spoke to three Canadian plant-based foodservice businesses that are making a splash on social media
By Rachel Debling
Vancouver, British Columbia
Kula founder Asha Wheeldon started her business two years ago with the intent to create food that connects diners to its plant-based source. “We wanted to offer plant-based meals that are delicious, accessible, and sustainable,” Wheeldon explains. The brand was launched at farmers markets in the Vancouver area where the Kula team introduced new audiences to signature Afrocentric dishes like sukuma stew, mandazi, and pili pili.
Wheeldon says the roots of the food she serves have a lot in common with her own roots. “I was inspired by my early childhood growing up in Kenya where I felt connected to how our community would grow, prepare, and share meals together,” she told RestoBiz, noting that Kula’s meals leverage flavours from India and the Caribbean in addition to East African spices and ingredients.
When COVID-19 hit earlier this year, Wheeldon acted fast to adjust her business model to the changing times. Wanting to build direct relationships with the community and to make their food more accessible in price and availability, Kula quickly pivoted to meal delivery and pick-up options. Family-style meals that were affordable – around $20 for two people – and low delivery fees rounded out their plan to stay relevant and profitable during the pandemic.
“We don’t know what the future holds,” Wheeldon notes, echoing many foodservice entrepreneurs’ concerns. “However, we will continue building direct relationships and partnerships to continue to offer affordable and accessible plant-based food to our community.”
The Kula team has plans to expand to other areas within Canada in the future. Orders can be made through the company’s website or via Gomae Meal Prep. Follow them on Instagram to find out more about their upcoming offerings.
The Empowered Vegan
When he kickstarted his vegan catering business in 2017, executive chef Jack Middleton could never have fathomed the toll 2020 would take on the foodservice industry. Like many fellow small business owners, Middleton was thankful for the agility of his tightknit team (currently six employees in total) and dove headfirst into pushing his business in a bigger way digitally.
Working out of The Kitchen Collective, a co-op kitchen for food startups in downtown Hamilton, The Empowered Vegan doesn’t only provide meal deliveries. The company also has an educational component, with Middleton leading educational sessions focused on plant-based cooking across the Hamilton and Greater Toronto Area, in addition to a retail product line called Middleton’s that features items such as seitan ribs, a favourite with vegetarians and meat eaters alike.
The origins of the company’s plant-based focus ties deeply into Middleton’s personal history. “Our business has been vegan since the beginning, but my background is actually in French and Italian fine dining,” he explains. “I spent about six years working in very meat- and dairy-heavy kitchens before looking at plant-based as a lifestyle.” Intrigued with what he found and satisfied with the options his new diet provided, he became completely vegan in 2015 and has since lost 100 pounds.
The company hires its own drivers for its weekly meal deliveries, avoiding potentially expensive third-party fees. And though times are trying, Middleton remains an eternal optimist.
“I firmly believe that there is opportunity in any situation if you’re willing to look for it,” he notes. “When COVID hit we cancelled about 40 cooking classes and had to put all of our booked catering events on hold. This obviously hurt us a bit but we quickly pivoted into meal deliveries and it has been great!”
It’s fair to say that Roni Zaide’s culinary tastes have been inspired by all corners of the globe. Her upbringing in Israel lead to her passion for Mediterranean flavours; her grandmother’s cooking sparked a keen interest in Persian ingredients; her decision to become vegetarian on her eleventh birthday spurred her to investigate plant-based meals and later adopt a fully vegan diet; and her personal travels instilled a love for East Indian and Thai cooking. All of these wide-ranging influences came together in 2014 when she founded her catering business, Roni’s Kitchen.
Though currently unable to service private events due to the pandemic, Roni’s Kitchen has stayed at the forefront of its customers’ minds through its social media presence and upcoming collaborations with local vegan businesses Raw Eatery and Lettuce Rebel for a series of pop-ups every Saturday this summer – in fact, they sold out within the first hour of the event, making preorders necessary for interested parties.
Zaide has also penned a cookbook, Roni’s Kitchen Cookbook, which can be purchased through her website. Learn more about the offerings of Roni’s Kitchen, including upcoming cooking classes or education opportunities through Zoom, by following the company on Instagram.