Dine out, help out

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Have you seen this logo recently when dining out at your favourite restaurant? Do you recall ordering a meal that had the image of two plates and a fork next to it on the menu? If you answered yes to either of these two questions, you may have already supported this wonderful and unique initiative. You may now put a marble in your good deeds jar.

I must admit I am not sure if I’ve ever bought a meal that was marked with the Mealshare logo but since interviewing Derek Juno, Mealshare’s Executive Vice President at the end of July, I have spotted it several times on the doors of various food establishments across Ottawa.  I hope that after reading the following lines you will, too.

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In 2013, Jeremy Bryant and Andrew Hall, two cousins from Alberta, came together and co-founded Mealshare whose mission is to “turn dining out into helping out,” later joined in this endeavour by their mutual friend, Derek. While travelling in Mexico together, Jeremy and Andrew saw a level of poverty that didn’t exist in their community. Having landed in corporate jobs after university, they realized they were helping rich people get richer and didn’t feel fulfilled in their work. Recognizing the absence of a national food programme and learning that one in five Canadian youth live in poverty, the three friends have been working on growing this amazing social enterprise since July 19th, 2013.

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What is Mealshare?

When you spot our logo next to a meal on a menu and order that meal, you are automatically purchasing a meal through a local or international charity. Mealshare is thus a local and international charity partnership, and half of the meals we provide go local, the other half international and customers don’t pay anything extra for their food. It’s that simple. Buy a meal, give a meal.

Who are the participating charities and restaurants in Ottawa?

There are currently three local charity partners in Ottawa – Boys and Girl Club of Ottawa, Operation Come Home, and Parkdale Food Centre. Our one international charity partner is Save the Children Canada. Ottawa restaurants include Pure Kitchen, Clocktower, Heart and Crown, Art is in Bakery, Craft Beer Market, Beckta, Coconut Lagoon, Whalesbone, Pressed Café and dozens more!

Where else does Mealshare operate?

We presently operate in several other cities across North America, including Calgary, Vancouver, Toronto, Montreal, Austin, San Antonio, and Los Angeles. Our goal is to expand across the US and the grand vision is to cover all of North America and make it ubiquitous across the continent in the restaurant industry. One new American city is added annually and in 2020 the number of cities added will double every two years.

It is quite remarkable that you had no capital expenditure at the beginning.  

Indeed. The only expense was our time. We worked as volunteers for the first year and a half. Then came an honorarium followed by a small salary and now we have 17 hired part-time and full-time employees.

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What have been some of your greatest setbacks and difficulties to date?

At the beginning it was very hard to recruit restaurants. Mealshare is a philanthropy program that provides marketing and promotional benefits to restaurants. So, in a sense, there is no other program like it, and we have to do a lot of explaining about what the service is. A lot of education is needed, but restaurant owners are hard to pin down. Therefore, there were no best practices we could follow and there was a lot of pivoting before we identified what works best for us.

What have been the biggest accomplishments and milestones?

Hitting 10 000 meals felt amazing but the greatest milestone to date was in 2016 when we hit 1 000 000 meals. It took us three years to get there and now we proudly provide one million meals every year, hoping for two million in 2020. We realize we really are turning people’s lives around.

It is worth mentioning a recent trip to health sites across rural Ethiopia with Save the Children Canada. The main issue there is child death due to malnutrition. We met a mother who, through Mealshare, received support for her children, brought their weight back up, and also learned about correct nutrition practices. Having seen how these meals are literally saving lives and moms crying and thanking us for what we are doing for them was an exceptionally touching and rewarding experience.

Last but not least, Andrew and Jeremy recently received the Meritorious Service Decoration (civil division) from the Governor-General of Canada, Julie Payette. The award has been given out since 1984 and it recognizes citizens “for exceptional deeds that bring honour to our country.” The decorations form part of the program that includes the Order of Canada, the highest service award bestowed upon Canadians.

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Do you view yourself as a leader?

I consider myself a leader, both within Mealshare and in personal life. I want to influence people to be better and make our world better. As for Jeremy and Andrew, they are great leaders because they consistently act with candor, honesty, and trust, they are amazing role models, and people rally behind them and want to learn from and support them.

What piece of advice would you give to someone thinking about launching a social enterprise but hesitating?

Don’t dive; rather, slowly walk into the water. Don’t put all your $ into it either. Also, don’t give up. Failure is success that never gave up. People are so afraid of failing on a large scale and they let it deter them. When Mealshare first started, we didn’t ‘sell the farm’. Instead, we carved out time to gradually work our way in the right direction. The key is to figure out as quickly as possible what is and isn’t working and make necessary pivots. And remember that no first iteration is going to be perfect. The right ‘fit’ will come – it is not a matter of if, but of when.

What have you seen, heard, or read recently that made an impact on you?

Ryan Ellis – Lessons from my 20s. It is a great free resource, there is a PowerPoint presentation with hyperlinks, and it is applicable to everything in life.

 

 

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