When Emily Meko was a teenager, she decided to make a change in her diet and adopted a vegan and gluten-free lifestyle.
The downside? There were few options in her community that supported her new eating habits.
Emily’s mom, while supportive, prompted her to learn new cooking skills to help support her diet. And though Emily’s cooking was born out of necessity, after some encouragement from university friends, she began to sell her food at the local farmers’ market.
The verdict was in: Her food was a hit. Every summer break from the University of Guelph, Emily shared her vegan and gluten-free creations with the community.
After finishing university, as well as culinary school at George Brown College, she’s turned her summer job into a full-fledged business, with a brick-and-mortar location in Chatham, Ontario. Her restaurant, Eat What’s Good, specializes in ready-to-go meals that are both vegan and gluten-free. Their menu changes daily, and Emily utilizes the power of social media to stay in touch with more than 18,000 Facebook followers.
BMO and Your Financial Life sat down with Emily to pick her brain about what drives her business. Here’s what she had to say…
Advice for business owners
Emily had already been running her business seasonally for four years before she committed to making it a full-time endeavour, but that didn’t stop the skeptics.
As she was making the transition to becoming a full-time business owner, Emily was faced with concern by others — “Do you really want to do this? What about doing something else [a traditional job]?”
But Emily stayed strong and persevered. Her advice for would-be business owners is to have faith and courage to pursue your dreams: “Be ready to work really hard and to have faith in your business… if you believe your business is good, don’t let others talk you out of it.”
Running a business can require a lot of energy — luckily, Emily has a constant source of motivation to keep her going. Emily says her customers are her number one source of motivation and that “it’s really addictive to see customers that are really enjoying your product. We have some people that come in every single day.”
But it’s not just about customers enjoying her food. What really inspires Emily is seeing her customers’ health improve and receiving comments from customers about how great they feel enjoying her creations.
How BMO supports her business
Emily has been a long-time BMO customer, so when she expanded her business, she utilized the small business services BMO offers.
“It’s been nice feeling like there are people at the bank that I know… feeling like you have people working there that know you personally and you aren’t just a customer. We try to embody that in our business, as well.”
Through BMO, Emily set up a joint chequing and savings account to help manage her business expenses, while also saving for the future.
On the future of Eat What’s Good
While Eat What’s Good is serving healthy, delicious meals to the local community in Chatham, Emily has a vision to bring her food to a larger audience. Eat What’s Good launched a wholesale menu this year, and is currently supplying a handful of stores in southwestern Ontario. In five years’ time, Emily wants to introduce Eat What’s Good products into more stores across Ontario and ultimately across Canada.
She worked with the CFIA to get the certification and labeling requirements necessary for her to ship her products to other retail stores. Her nutrition education was helpful in this endeavour, and although it was a lot of work to develop labels for wholesale, the project was well worth the effort.
On being a business leader
As a business leader, Emily wants to pave the way for local and sustainable foods. “There has to be a better way for how food should be,” she says.
Her commitment to local, healthy foods is seen in every detail. Eat What’s Good packaging is sourced locally, and much of the produce comes from a local organic farm only 20 minutes away. In addition to supporting the local food movement, Emily also wants to help shape people’s outlook on healthy food and eliminate some of the negative connotations associated with healthy eating.
Ultimately, she wants to spread a message of health and empowerment: Love your food, love your body.
Looking for more business inspiration? Meet more entrepreneurs in our Small Business Spotlight series.