This is the latest entry in a series called Who Owns That? We ask readers on our LinkedIn group to identify their favourite small businesses from across Canada, and we track down the owners so they can tell us their stories.
Introducing Marina Cortese, the founder of Oats & Ivy, a Toronto-based company that provides gourmet, nutritionist-approved lunches, fast and fresh.
1. Let's start with the basics. Can you briefly describe your business, including when it was founded, what it does, and where you operate?
Oats & Ivy is a food business that caters to people with busy lives who want to eat healthy 'on the run.' I'm a holistic nutritionist and I designed the menu so it checks the healthy food box and appeals to foodie taste buds. We have a range of organic, cold-pressed juices, blended smoothies and nut milks as well as lunch box options such as our Mediterranean quinoa salad and Asian chicken slaw. For those with a sweet tooth, we have desserts such as raw carrot-cake bites and black bean brownies. Our focus is on creating nutrient-dense foods made from high-quality ingredients so you never have to sacrifice health for convenience.
We launched our mobile food cart last month and serve lunch from the Oats & Ivy bike (think eco food truck) in Toronto's downtown core, Tuesdays to Fridays, at a different location each day. We rotate our menu in the cart weekly but we offer our full menu for catering. We're working on our website so that customers can pre-order their meals and have them delivered.
During the winter months we'll rely on our online store for customers to order and have their meals delivered and we are working on opening our permanent location next year.
2. What inspired you to be an entrepreneur and to branch out on your own with this idea?
It all started when I was in grade one. I opened The Odd Shoppe in my parent's basement, selling items I'd found around the house for ridiculous prices. A few years later I opened Hotel Marina. I drew up hotel blueprints of the rooms, its restaurants and amenities, and hired my sisters to work the front desk. Shockingly, neither of these ventures panned out but it seemed I had caught the entrepreneurial bug.
Oats & Ivy was born from my frustrations as a consumer. There really aren't enough (truly) healthy fast-food options and with my experience in the food and beverage industry I decided to do something about it. I'd hardly say that I did this on my own. Over the past few months I've worked with my adviser team at the Stone Soup Innovation Labs to conduct market research, build a business plan and learn how to launch the business.
3. Who are your typical customers, and how do they find you?
Our typical customers are awesome. They are generally office workers who live healthy lifestyles but don't have the time to slave away in their kitchens at home. It takes a considerable amount of time to make every meal from scratch. We offer the convenience of doing it for them so they can breathe easy knowing that what they're eating will sustain them through their busy days.
Most of our customers find us online or happen upon our cart randomly as they're walking out of their building. We post our menu and locations on our website and Facebook page as well as tweet exactly where we're at each day.
4. What are the roles of you and your co-founder in the business? Do you have any employees?
As we've just launched I wear about 100 different hats each day.
From bike-cart salesgirl to marketing manager, janitor to menu designer, I'm learning all of the various roles so that as we grow I know exactly what duties each future team member will need to execute. I don't have a co-founder but I have hired staff to do the morning prep – pressing our juices, chopping vegetables for our salads, packaging meals, baking desserts, and so on.
5. You've been identified by one of our readers as a standout business. What do you consider the key element of your success?
This is a toughie as there's no one key element. It's a combination of a million different factors (hard work, listening to your customer's needs) but if I have to narrow it down to just one I'll say passion. Is that a cliché? I think that being crazy in love with the products we create goes a long way toward the success of any business.
When I tell people we make all of our dressings and sauces in-house or that our packaging is all recyclable or compostable they're amazed that we care about the little details. I think you can taste the passion that goes into the hours of pressing our juices each morning. Our bottle labels say 'cold-pressed with love' and while that may seem a little cheesy, we really do love what we're doing.
Interviews may be edited and condensed.
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