Vancouver values those who hustle. This city is a working machine that pumps creativity through its veins, thanks in part to its start-up mentality. Entrepreneurial empires have been built on home soil, and an independent vitality brews at the heart.
For entrepreneurs in Vancouver’s ever-growing food scene, the hustle is a distinct type of personal mission—one where life and career bleed into each other. The priority here? Health and happiness. The decision to leave the traditional behind for an opportunity to jump into the unknown is taken by most young food changemakers who want to connect nature to health-focused collectives. It’s not just about the product: it’s about how you do business, building a community behind what you believe in, and hoping others will join your commitment to do good. These homegrown products embody all that is well and good about Vancouver.
Meet three young small food business owners who prove the delicious risk is always worth taking.
Moonbrew Tonic Co.
In the land of green tea and honey, Jaime Lee Mock sits on the throne. She is Vancouver’s queen of jun, a probiotic tonic that promotes alignment of the mind, body, and spirit. “I am the gal!” she says brightly at her production facility inside Oddity Kombucha, acknowledging the fact that her company, Moonbrew Tonic Co., is one of the only jun producers in Vancouver. The delightfully smooth fermented sip is similar to kombucha, but as Mock explains, the true difference between the two lies in the ingredients: as opposed to kombucha’s black tea and refined sugar, jun is brewed with green tea and honey.
Mock discovered jun while studying holistic nutrition at the Canadian School of Natural Nutrition, and she allowed it to become the sweet source for healing her chronic digestive issues. Sipping on jun with Mock, it is easy to see that she is a hands-on worker, led by a pure approach. When she first started Moonbrew, leaving a position in the corporate world behind, Mock knew it was a risk. “I had no idea what I was doing,” she says. “From there, it was figuring out, well, everything.” And figure it out she did. The first taste of Moonbrew’s original antioxidant tonic Genuine is a reviving exuberance; but it’s Spirit, a calming blend of blueberry, lavender, mint, and a dash of the magical E3Live, and Goddess, a supportive and purifying blend with hints of blackberry, chamomile, and yarrow, that allow the curious to explore what jun truly is. When asked how she developed the beautiful flavours of her six potions, Mock’s answer is a simple homage to the moon: “Total intuition—I just knew that the flavours would work together.”
The Good Stuff
A love of smoothies began for Michael Steele and Tonner Jackson when they proudly sported UBC’s blue and gold colours on the basketball court. Like most student athletes, their lives revolved around health and high performance. After graduating, Steele, Jackson, and good friend Graeme Taylor entered the working world, but quickly realized one thing: they weren’t as healthy as they use to be. And they knew they couldn’t be the only ones feeling that way.
With a vegetable garden in their backyard, roommates Steele and Tonner began to package their greens and send them off to friends as smoothie start-up kits. The natural next step? The birth of The Good Stuff, a ready-to-blend smoothie business that offers subscribers delicious smoothie programs geared at specific goals, whether they be about marathon training or cleansing.
“It was the combination of filling our own personal need and seeing what kind of opportunities were on the market,” Steele says at the company’s smoothie cafe of the same name, just a stone’s throw away from UBC in Point Grey. Among the most popular smoothies is Easy Greens, a vegan blend that beautifully mixes apple, pear, and mint for a refreshing kick. But for those who prefer something a bit sweeter (chocolate, anyone?), the Diesel Monster is the perfect post-workout choice, jammed with plant-based protein, cacao nibs, and peanut butter to aid muscle building. With vibrant new packaging, the blends are now available at Stong’s Market, West Wood Organics, and Vegan Supply. And the business partners have brought their journey wonderfully full circle: “One of our biggest suppliers of kale is UBC Farm,” Steele says. “It’s a big part of our story: we learned there, we grew up there, and we buy from there.” Now that’s perfectly blended.
For Tiffany Shen, the overwhelming demand of the nine-to-five grind started to take a physical toll on her body. “Having an office job, your lifestyle really changes from a lot of stress,” she reflects. “I found that I didn’t have the energy on the weekends to do the things I loved to do.” After researching how she could once again find her happy place, she decided to try clean eating, which included completely cutting out refined sugar, gluten, coffee, and alcohol. To simply put it, Shen went vegan. But the drastic change left the UBC graduate puzzled about what exactly to eat (one can only ingest so much kale), so she took matters into her own hands and began to create snacks that enhanced her lifestyle. Thus, Kapow Now! was born.
Now stocked on the shelves of more than 200 stores across Canada, including Whole Foods, Nesters, and The Juicery, Kapow Now! is Shen’s dream-come-true of fuelling her adventurous life. From “crackers that taste kind of cheesy without the cheese” to mouth-watering Chocolate Glop that is as delectable as it sounds, Kapow Now! lives by the philosophy that change is ours to make. “We’re not a brand that says, ‘Eat our food and you’ll be a better person,’ it’s not about that,” she says. “You will make you a better person. We’ll offer you options on your journey that taste good.”
Kapow Now!’s trailblazer product is the Breakfast Cup: it’s not chia cereal or granola; rather, it’s a “supermix” that only needs a splash of water or almond milk to activate it into a miracle snack. It’s the formula Shen, the founder of Good Food Biz—a tightknit community of individuals in the food industry helping each other with the challenges of running a small business—credits to changing her life. “These were created out of my self-love, my journey to find self-love,” she says as she joyfully looks upon her products. “Healthy eating can taste good.”
UPDATE, August 2018: Moonbrew Tonic has shut down.