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Epicater

3. Good Health and Well-Being 8. Decent Work and Economic Growth 9. Industry, Innovation and Infrastructure

Overview

Epicater strives to improve the well-being of employees at companies in Toronto and helps cultivate unique cultures within these companies through serving them high quality, delicious foods. By partnering with local food vendors/entrepreneurs, Epicater customizes each order to fit the needs of their clients.

Author

Rojena Rangarajan

Rojena Rangarajan

School

York University- Schulich School of Business

York University- Schulich School of Business

Professor

Charles Cho

Charles Cho

Innovation

What does the Research Say?

Wellness programs are designed to safeguard the well-being of employees, addressing both the physical and mental support activities an employer will provide to preserve employees' wellness. However, a key contributor to any employee's overall wellness includes the food that they consume as it contributes to physical energy levels and mental acuity. For instance, studies have shown that employees who do not take lunch breaks actually perform significantly worse relative to those that do take a break [1]. In addition, corporate lunch programs have been proven to actually increase productivity by 150%, cultivate a work culture and contribute to the company's bottom line [2].

On an opposite note, launching a business is not a simple task and a failed business venture can have a major impact on the mental well-being of the business leaders. In a study conducted by Statistics Brain, they found that the failure rate of start-up/entrepreneurial ventures is 50% in a five year time frame and of these failed entrepreneurships, approximately 90% fall into the restaurant industry [3]. The main drivers of failure included management and operational risks such as lack of proper mentorship, considering advice from the wrong people, and insufficient marketing/sales.

What is Epicater?

Enter Epicater. This organization’s vision is to partner with local food vendors in order to cultivate diverse cultures within companies through their catering services. In general, Epicater seeks out entrepreneurs/vendors, even if they are struggling to stay in business, as long as they meet a customer’s specific dietary needs. By partnering with these entrepreneurs/vendors, Epicator helps them gain customer recognition and facilitates their growth and viability.

However, Epicater was built on the vision that food can help build cultures within workplaces. Therefore, they predominately cater towards workplace environments in order to stimulate culture and collaboration. Studies have shown that sharing ideas during lunchtime can cultivate increased productivity and enhance the quality of business outcomes in the workplace. Resultantly, Epicater stands as an intermediary between the food entrepreneurs/vendors and workplaces that request catering.

What does Epicater do? How does their Business Model Operate?

Epicater attains all the specifications from customers including any dietary restrictions, food allergies and religious constraints. Epicater’s mission is to accommodate every customer, regardless of how complex their order may be. They understand the complexity of modern day dietary standards, the rise of veganism/vegetarianism and the need for healthy options. As a result of their deep understanding of the "food culture" that exists today, they cater their services to fit each customer’s distinct needs.

However, Epicater does not have a team of chefs who prepare each order. This is where their relationships with food vendors become vital as they seek out food entrepreneurs/vendors as partners that can provide for their catering needs. Essentially, Epicater is like a bridge that facilitates the transfer of food from preparer to consumer. In other words, Epicater serves an important purpose to two parties: 1) local food vendors and 2) companies across the greater Toronto area.

[1] Hillier, Caroline. "Food for Thought: Why You Need to Take Back Your Lunch Break | CBC News." CBCnews. February 01, 2016. Accessed February 18, 2019. https://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/newfoundland-labrador/skipping-lunch-break-1.3425851.

[2]Rootastes. "Say Goodbye to Sad Desk Lunches." Rootastes - Make Corporate Lunch Healthier. October 08, 2018. Accessed February 18, 2019. https://www.therootastes.com/blogs/company-culture/say-goodbye-sad-desk-lunches.

[3] Contributor. "Why Restaurants Fail and How to Prevent Them." Restaurants Canada Blog. July 17, 2017. Accessed February 18, 2019. https://blog.restaurantscanada.org/index.php/2017/07/17/why-restaurants-fail/.

Lets Schedule this Meeting Over Lunch!

Inspiration

Who Created Epicater?

David Ahola, founder and CEO of Epicater, created the company four years ago based on his desire to extract more value from his career and contribute to sustainable business planning. Alongside his partner at the time, Ahola decided to venture into the catering business as this industry was relatively small in Canada and there were areas in need of improvement. By nature, Ahola was a problem solver and when equipped with the right team, nothing was impossible.

In general, Ahola wanted to start an entrepreneurship that helped companies form distinct cultures using the power of food. Often times, the quality of important discussions could be optimized when food is involved. In addition, he wanted to help food entrepreneurs that were struggling to survive in the fragmented food/restaurant industry. In the end, Ahola developed a business that stood as a middleman between these food vendors and companies in need of catering.

How did Epicater Grow?

In an effort to jumpstart the business, he decided to recruit individuals to join the team. Among those who were recruited, one of the first people Ahola approached was Mahwish Nasrullah, the current Resource Manager and prospective HR Department lead at Epicater. In general, Nasrullah has been a long-time friend of Ahola, so when he approached her to join the effort, she happily obliged. She engaged in preliminary research efforts such as discussing the business with professors specializing in the study of entrepreneurship but unfortunately, many of these professionals reinforced how likely new businesses were to fail. Regardless, Ahola and his team did not dwell on the statistics but rather, used it as motivation to prove skeptics wrong. They believed that success came with transparency as Nasrullah stated: “if we are honest and transparent, we will be able to build and keep a customer base.” Today, they stand as a profitable business, equipped with a team of ten employees and they are in the process of expanding their presence nationwide.

Overall impact

Who does Epicater Cater Towards?

At Epicater, their mission is to serve high quality foods to companies through partnering with small food vendors/entrepreneurs. By doing so, not only do they contribute towards the economic stability of their partners but they simultaneously create social value for companies through encouraging healthy relationships and discussions over a meal. Although companies may claim that they value inclusivity and team building, the reality may not be as promising as their claims.

In the long run, Epicater wants to be associated with cultivating cultures within companies, since workplace culture is crucial but difficult to develop without consistent social interactions. For instance, Nasrullah fulfilled a bank position prior to joining the Epicater team. She reflected on the fact that the company culture lacked real relationships, placed individuals into silos and the extent of information sharing, whether it was personal or professional, was highly limited. In fairness, one could argue that there may not be enough time during work hours to develop relationships; however, lunchtime is always an exception. Lunchtime in any learning/working environment is the perfect time to invite employees to share a meal while engaging in meaningful discussions. Unfortunately at Nasrullah’s prior workplace, she stated that “employees usually sat at their desk and ate in silence.” This was why she was so compelled by Epicater’s business model as it was based off of helping small businesses thrive while providing corporate employees with the interpersonal and social tools needed to move up the social hierarchy, perform better and overall, enjoy their workday.

Do they have an Environmental Impact?

In the short run, Epicater wants to develop innovative solutions to environmental issues, in addition to accounting for their own impact on society at large. In Canada, 58% of annual food production is wasted and of this percentage, 32% is worth saving in order to provide for underdeveloped communities [4]. Epicater has acknowledged the dangerous level that food wastage has reached and has taken action to reduce the progression of these effects in society. Specifically, Epicater has contributed to local food shelters over the past four years, donated unattended/ leftover catering to food banks/shelters and worked with their partners to develop waste tracking methods such as “keeping a record of food waste in an excel spreadsheet.” Thus, Epicater portrays the ideals of a corporate citizen and they hope to expand their environmental impact across provincial and/or national barriers in the near future

[4] Hui, Ann. "Vast Majority of Canadian Food Waste Takes Place within the Food Industry - and Not at the Household Level, Study Finds." The Globe and Mail. January 17, 2019. Accessed February 18, 2019. https://www.theglobeandmail.com/canada/article-vast-majority-of-food-waste-takes-place-within-the-food-industry-and/.

Business benefit

Impact of Epicater in Corporate Environments

Studies have shown that in Canada, stress related complications relating to work burden the Canadian economy with over $33 billion in lost productivity annually and billions of medical expenditures as well [5]. Although eating lunch with other team members could foster a shared culture and help build one’s professional network, studies have also considered a health benefit associated with taking lunch breaks. For instance, a growing body of research indicates that stepping away from work actually increases productivity, performance energy levels and heightens mental acuity. In other words, lunch breaks make employees more efficient and less likely to suffer from a stress-related illness [6]. Moreover, Christine Marcus, CEO of Alchemista (a well-known US based catering business) was among one of the first to recognize that providing a wholesome, healthy meal to employees creates an environment for learning, growth and cultivating a shared culture among team members [7]. Therefore, implementing a corporate lunch program could help employees recognize that lunch is not just about eating; it is about building relationships as well.

Although they only started their journey four short years ago, Mahwish would describe the team as being “true catering gophers” because like gophers, they carry food from source to sink. In addition, the team has ambitious goals and have used their initial success as leverage for future growth opportunities. To date, Epicater has averaged “6000 orders per year and served over 5000 people per week across the greater Toronto area.” They work with over 70 partners and specialize in providing wholesome, healthy foods to promote happiness and well-being. Considering that Epicater recruits some struggling food vendors as partners, they have “been able to save entrepreneurs from going under by connecting them with events to cater.” Moreover, they receive up to 40-50 orders per month from different companies, indicating that their efforts to attract companies have been recognized. Although they are currently operating out of one office, they have plans to expand into other areas such as Vancouver and Ottawa, with the long term aspiration towards becoming an international catering service. In short, Epicater specializes in revival: they prevent food entrepreneurs from going under and ignite a social culture in workplaces.

[5] Hui, Ann. "Vast Majority of Canadian Food Waste Takes Place within the Food Industry - and Not at the Household Level, Study Finds." The Globe and Mail. January 17, 2019. Accessed February 18, 2019.

[6] Hui, Ann. "Vast Majority of Canadian Food Waste Takes Place within the Food Industry - and Not at the Household Level, Study Finds." The Globe and Mail. January 17, 2019. Accessed February 18, 2019.

[7] Ramdev, Vinil. "3 Ways Providing Company Meals Increases Productivity." Entrepreneur. July 22, 2016. Accessed February 18, 2019. https://www.entrepreneur.com/article/279546

Social and environmental benefit

How does Epicater contribute to the Community and Environment?

On one end, Epicater fosters a collective culture within work spaces through their catering services but on the other end, they also work towards helping food entrepreneurs gain market presence. Generally, Epicater targets smaller food vendors considering that they want to help cultivate a name for these businesses. The businesses they work with generally contribute to sustainable consumption by providing vegan/vegetarian foods, organically sourced foods and overall, these businesses provide healthier options than competitors. Based on the importance of health and responsible consumption, Epicater wants to help these small businesses thrive by providing them with the connections, solutions and the means necessary to succeed. Their dedication toward societal and environmental health symbolizes their adherence to Goal 3 of the UN Global Goal (“health and well-being”). To date, Epicater maintains relationships with over 70 food vendors and majority of these businesses provide healthy, environmentally friendly food options. Success stories relating to how Epicater helped transform small businesses are widely displayed on their website.

Developing meaningful relationships with the entrepreneurs/businesses they work with that is mutually beneficial is a key short term goal at Epicater. After all, if Epicater’s clients are winning, then Epicater is winning as well. This explains why often times, Epicater provides business advice to their partners (food vendors) in order to help them cultivate strong business models. For instance, in order to help differentiate a small sushi vendor from their competitors, Epicater brainstormed possible ways that the company could creatively display their sushi. In the end, Epicater suggested that the company should use “sushi boats” as a unique display method and this idea helped the vendor gain popularity with customers.

In the long term, Epicater wants to continue to provide healthier food options, help small food vendors grow and contribute to environmental sustainability. In other words, they want to ensure that sustainability is at the core of their business model. For instance, Epicater is planning to rent commissary kitchens to provide food entrepreneurs with a space to develop healthy recipes, master their signature dishes and overall, be in a better position to manage their business. Moreover, they want to strengthen their platform in order to inflict a larger impact on the food waste problem and become as waste-conscious as possible. Although they currently contribute to this issue through donating to shelters, they want to be advocates for food preservation and ingrain this mindset in their current and prospective clients.

Based on their long term commitments, it is evident that Epicater is working towards innovating the food industry for future generations, which aligns with UN Global Goal 9 (“industry, innovation and infrastructure”). Their ability to provide a platform to smaller food vendors by taking them on as partners and addressing the global food waste phenomenon demonstrates their commitment to sustainability and innovation. Although the business is still young, Epicater is driven by a team of ambitious leaders who hope to expand their horizons beyond national borders and potentially fulfill all of the UN Global Goals one day.

Interview

Mahwish Nasrullah, Resource Manager

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Epicater

Epicater

Toronto, Ontario, CA

Business Website: www.epicater.ca

Year Founded: 2014

Number of Employees: 2 to 10

When the word "work" comes to mind, it may not necessarily be associated with wholesome meals, good discussions with colleagues and building a shared culture. Epicater challenges this idea by serving high quality, healthy foods to companies across Toronto, through partnering with aspiring food vendors/entrepreneurs. By playing a middleman role, Epicater helps cultivate unique cultures within work environments through their catering service, courtesy of their food vendors.