From time to time FBC profiles people who are making an impact on Canada's food scene - from authors to producers to chefs and more. In this edition of Canada’s Tastemakers, FBC’s Ethan Adeland chats with Jeremy Bryant and Andrew Hall from Mealshare.
FBC: Hey Jeremy and Andrew! Welcome, can you start off by introducing yourselves and tell us what you do?
Jeremy: My name’s Jeremy. Originally from Calgary, I moved up to Edmonton for school and have settled down with my wife. With my best pal Andrew, I started Mealshare three years ago after working as an accountant and realizing it was not the life for me. I spend a good portion of my time at Mealshare finding new talent and leading the team. As well, I handle external facing things at Mealshare like partnership development, new city expansion, fundraising and the like. When I’m not working, you’ll find me running on the trails in the river valley, or picking away at the never-ending list of reno’s we’ve got for the house!
Andrew: I’m Andrew! Also from Calgary originally, but I’ve seen the light and now live on the West Coast in Vancouver. During the workday I mostly work on internal facing things for Mealshare — systemization, HR, managing team members, material/package/website/branding design, that sort of thing. Outside of work I’m interested in all things physical; lately it’s been running, hiking, and soccer, but I enjoy pretty much any sport. I’m always chipping away at bucket list items and travel, too.
FBC: So let’s start with the basics … what is Mealshare and what are you guys trying to do?
Andrew: Mealshare partners with restaurants and places our logo next to a few menu items. When a customer orders a 'Mealshare Item' they get their meal, just like normal. And, we also provide one meal to someone in need! Buy one, give one — simple! We provide meals through local charity partners and an international partner (to a lesser extent) who help youth and kids. Mealshare was launched three years ago in Calgary and Edmonton, and has already provided over 800,000 meals to people in need.
Jeremy: Welp, Andrew summed up Mealshare fairly well, so I’ll tackle the part about what we’re trying to do.
We grew up with our Grandmother instilling basic values into us (we’re cousins!). She would always say to us, “finish your food, there are starving kids in Africa!”. At the time we weren’t exactly sure how finishing our Brussel sprouts would help those kids, but now that we’re older the lesson has sunk in.
So, what we’re trying to do now is create a world where sharing is easy. We’ve got this dream, that one day we’ll be able to sit in rocking chairs, all old and grey, and explain to our grandkids that youth hunger USED to be a huge issue in our world. And, we’re hoping they won’t even be able to comprehend that, becasuse they’re never experienced hunger for themselves, don’t have any friends who come to school hungry, and never have turned on the TV to see news stories about hunger. We’re trying to end youth hunger, and we think Mealshare can play a huge role in that.
FBC: So about 3 years ago, you were doing the 9 to 5 corporate thing. Was there a specific moment that triggered everything or was it more something in the back of your mind for a long time?
Jeremy: We had both tried the ‘corporate thing’ and realized it was just not for us. I think the biggest turning point for me was realizing that I didn’t have to buy into the ‘American Dream’ and work my whole life to build up wealth and then have a nice retirement. That works for some people, but for me I realized that my biggest passion was helping people — when I’m helping people is when I feel most alive. Once realizing that, I couldn’t just work a job anymore. So I quit, and we started Mealshare.
Andrew: For me it was a bit more gradual. I was a bit more comfortable with my career work and was working on some cool projects, but I couldn’t shake the feeling that I wanted my career to allow me to have more of an impact, and to be more in my control.
FBC: What made you focus on your charity being a food-related initiative?
Andrew: We wanted to start with the very basics. We were inspired by Toms' 1-for-1 model for shoes, but we figured there are even more important things than that that need to be solved in the world. We toyed with concepts that would provide people with the most primitive needs — food and water. We settled on food because we had a solid model for it and we know how hard it is to get ahead in life on an empty stomach. Try skipping food for a day, or even a meal! You’ve got a headache, you’re grumpy, and you have no drive. We want to make sure everyone is equipped with that basic necessity and fuel in order to not only survive, but thrive.
FBC: When Mealshare began, you were partnering with food banks and shelters but you’ve recently shifted your focus to youths in need of meals. I’m sure it was a difficult decision because every cause is so deserving, but why the change in direction?
Jeremy: You bet. There are so many important causes and people to help in the world. For us, it was just a matter of seeing what our team and our partner restaurants were most passionate about. We all seem to have a soft spot in our hearts for youth in need, and we’re excited that we can be helping thousands of them every month through Mealshare!
Andrew: And that’s not to say we don’t still work with shelters — some of our local charities are shelters, they just have a focus on youth.
FBC: Can you tell us a bit as to where the meals are going and who you’ve partnered with? You’re now working with KidSafe and Breakfast Club of Canada in Vancouver and Save the Children in a more global initiative, right?
Jeremy: You nailed it! Locally, we work with charities that support youth in need, and no one does it better in Vancouver than KidSafe and BCoC. Both of them provide healthy and nutritious meals, and those meals then give kids the energy they need to focus at school, which in turn reduces behavioral problems, increases attendance rates, etc.
And, internatonally we partner with Save the Children in much the same way: meals are provided to youth at school, which provides them with the nutrition they need. And, it also helps increase school attendance rates, especially among young girls.
FBC: Can you take us on the journey over the last few years? Can you share some highlights and lowlights?
Andrew: The highlight I always go back to is the very first time we went down to the Calgary Drop-In Centre for a meal that we had fully funded. A thousand people were fed, and we got to see it with our original restaurant partner and actually put the meals on the table. That’s when we knew Mealshare had some magic. Some other highlights include being flown to Toronto to accept a national Small Business Achievement Award from AirMiles, and our team retreats we hold twice a year to help plan and set goals for the next six months.
Jeremy: The highlights definitely outweigh the lowlights! But, the very start of Mealshare was definitely tough. We had come up with a brand new idea that we knew had the potential to help the world and fit in perfectly to a restaurant's business. But, as with any idea, it was tough to get off the ground. Luckily, we had a couple amazing first restaurant partners who took a leap of faith on Mealshare and tried it out with us!
FBC: One highlight has to be that Mealshare has provided over 832,000 meals to those in need. The march toward one million meals is going strong! Other than 2 million meals, what’s after your 1 million goal for the short and long term?
Jeremy: In the long run, we’re looking forward to sitting in those rocking chairs and telling our grandkids how youth hunger USED to be a big problem in our world.
Andrew: And in the short term we want to continue polishing off the model and make it highly repeatable. If we can have 80 cities running Mealshare instead of eight, the numbers we can help are going to climb really quickly.
FBC: You’re now in eight cities across Canada and partnering with over 250 restaurants, which is very impressive, but the work never ends, right?
Andrew: Not when your goal is to see an end to global world hunger! We’re just putting drops in the bucket for now … but we know there’s a huge opportunity still. Gotta keep plugging away! Hopefully the work does end someday and there’s no more hunger.
FBC: When you first began, what type of reaction/response did you get when approaching restaurants? Want to give a shout-out to a couple of your first restaurant partners who said “yes” and began the journey with you?
Andrew: For a while, we heard a lot of crickets! We started off with emails, and literally just heard nothing back — worse than no’s or constructive criticism! No one had the time of day for us. It took a while to battle through the first few restaurants. Once we could start saying we had partners and a track record, people started to listen a bit more.
Jeremy: Our Founding Partner restaurants were Blue Star Diner and Dairy Lane Café in Calgary. The owner there, Shayne Perrin (we call him Uncle Shayne) is an incredible guy who has a heart for the community and a knack for running amazing restaurants. When we managed to get a hold of Uncle Shayne, he was stoked about the concept of Mealshare and helped us get it off the ground! That was really the start of this whole thing.
FBC: I imagine you did a lot of approaching to restaurants when you first began, but are restaurants starting to approach you now? What are you looking for in a restaurant partner?
Jeremy: Yes! It’s awesome. We hear from a restaurant every week or so that wants to join, which is just an incredible feeling. The first times that started happening was a big turning point for us in terms of momentum.
Andrew: We really work with a HUGE variety of restaurants, and are happy to. We welcome pretty well anyone! The restaurants that resonate BEST with us are the ones that are already taking steps towards being more sustainable, whether it’s vegetarian items, local, Oceanwise, etc. They’re already cognizant about food choices, so adding a social component makes a lot of sense for them.
FBC: Describe a typical day for you…
Jeremy: My day starts at 7 (a little before if I’m on my a-game!) with a fresh pot of coffee. From there, I’ll do a bit of reading while enjoying a bowl of Greek yogurt, followed by a short commute to my backyard office. Emails and calls start coming and going, and don’t typically stop (except for a quick lunch break, and an occasional afternoon run) until about 5pm. From there, it’s back in the house for dinner with my wife, and then most often out to see friends or fitting in a run if I didn’t get to one earlier.
Occasionally Andrew and I will have a ‘Mealshare bender,’ which is how we describe afterhours work, normally starting at 9 or 10pm and lasting until the screen starts to get blurry (I think the record is 3:30am). It’s amazing what you can get done over a few hours when no emails are coming in to bog you down!
Andrew: I get up around 7:30 and grab a smoothie and hopefully do some stretching. Then I head to my laptop and plan out my priorities for the day for work; before diving in, it’s great if I can have a plan. My days are usually fairly solo work, but almost every day involves connecting with Jeremy for a while, and I usually touch base with another employee or two. I usually work until around 5 if it’s quiet, but sometimes during the busiest seasons I’ll wrap up more like 7pm. I ALWAYS try to get out for some kind of a workout in the evening. At night I try to read a book relevant to Mealshare, and then my guilty pleasure is to wind down with an episode of comedy TV — right now I’m working my way back through “The Office”.
FBC: What’s up for Mealshare in the next three months?
Andrew: I’m really working to get things systemized and documented for all the new people and cities we’re bringing on. Then I’ll be onboarding them and managing them through their first few busy months before a break around Christmas.
Jeremy: So much! Beyond running the machine and sharing meals with all our amazing partner restaurants, the Mealshare Team will be growing by three new family members in the next month, which coincides with launches in Montreal and Austin later this fall. Beyond that, we’re just starting to plan and get all our ducks in a row to launch in Chicago in spring 2017.
FBC: What’s up for Mealshare in the next 12 months?
Jeremy: Starting with launching Mealshare in Chicago in spring 2017, we’ll then jump to Denver and Seattle. We’re also really excited to be developing our corporate engagement strategy and hope to partner with some large companies to continue fueling all the growth that’s happening.
Andrew: We’ll really be building infrastructure to support that. We’d like everything to be very calculated and repeatable so that success is easier to find! It’s an exciting time for us and one that involves quite a bit of structural change and maturing.
Jeremy: Oh, and most exciting of all: we should be getting close to hitting two million meals shared in the next 12 months!
FBC: How can restaurants and chefs become involved in Mealshare?
Andrew: The easiest thing to do is hop on our website at www.mealshare.ca. All the info is there, and there’s a contact form as well. We’d absolutely love to hear from great restaurants and chefs who want to join the fight to end youth hunger!
FBC: Other than eating at Mealshare restaurants, are there any other ways diners can become involved?
Jeremy: Certainly! One huge thing that helps is actually letting restaurants know that you appreciate them supporting Mealshare. And, if you find yourself in a restaurant who is not yet a partner, put in a good word for us! Helping spread the word on social media is also a great way to support Mealshare.
Andrew: Other than that, if you have a particular area of expertise, reach out and let us know. We also keep a “wish list” on our website at all times, so check that out!
FBC: Any final words?
Jeremy: Thanks to y’all who took the time to read this (we know it’s a long one!). We’ve been overwhelmed with the amount of support and excitement there is for Mealshare, and it’s so incredible to think about the impact we’ll be able to have together in this world!
Andrew: Thanks so much for the feature! This type of thing is huge for our success too.
FBC: Thanks for your time guys! And all the best in your march to one million meals and so many more!