“I Knew It Was Worth Pursuing”: How Josée Corbeil Is Making Healthy Eating Easier for Busy Families
Small businesses across the country have gone great lengths to overcome challenges brought on by the pandemic. Though no easy feat, many motivated business owners are thriving in the face of adversity and feeling optimistic about the future. Among the Canadians embodying entrepreneurial resilience is Josée Corbeil, co-founder of évoilà5, Quebec’s premier meal kit service. As this month’s CB entrepreneur-in-residence, Corbeil’s enterprising spirit is an example of hard work—and smart work—paying off.
Since its launch in 2013, évoilà5 has opened twelve boutiques across the province, providing customers with curated, ready-to-make and nutritionist-approved meals for busy weeks and big appetites. In conversation with Mike Bonner, Head of Business Banking at BMO, Corbeil discusses building the perfect business plan, sizing up competitors and remaining resilient amidst unprecedented challenges.
Have you always been interested in entrepreneurship?
There were signs of my entrepreneurial flare from a very young age, when I would charge my friends to watch my gymnastic routines. In some ways it has always been a part of my nature. I remember writing in my high school yearbook that my dreams were to compete in the Olympics, which I was lucky enough to accomplish with my volleyball career in 1996, and to become a woman in business, which is a dream I’m thrilled to be living today.
How did the concept for évoilà5 come to be?
Yiannis, my husband, co-founder of the business and a visionary with franchise experience, has always been a fantastic cook. His father was a well-known chef in Greece and he grew up around fabulous cuisine. Despite friends always telling us that we should open a restaurant together, something didn’t quite feel right. Having been a competitive athlete for so much of my life, I’ve always known the importance of eating right to take care of myself. But with two young kids, it became easy as a parent to become lenient about food and rely on frozen lasagna, pizza, or other quick and less-nutritious dishes. Immediately, it became clear that there was a problem here, and we started to brainstorm a solution. This is why, at évoilà5, we focus on providing five healthy, delicious meals for our customers to pick up and enjoy stress-free. Most importantly, the ingredients are fresh, healthy and affordable.
Was there an “aha” moment that inspired you to pursue this venture?
My husband would sometimes pitch fun business ideas to me but we would always shrug them off. I think because we knew how much these meal kits could make a difference in our life, we couldn’t possibly be alone. Once I started to imagine how this idea could serve others, I knew it was worth pursuing.
How have you remained resilient amidst the challenges brought on by the pandemic?
One thing that has always been very important to us in building évoilà5 is remaining flexible. When the pandemic hit, every day was an adjustment. Luckily, we have an amazing team that understands the importance of this flexibility. What was most difficult for us was accessing the supplies we relied on to prepare our ready-to-cook orders. Thank goodness our loyalty to our suppliers and partners paid off in the ways that they were so loyal to us during this tough time. Working hard is very important, but it’s important to work smart about how you manage your business. Our community of suppliers, customers and partners such as BMO really showed up to support one another during this exceptional time.
What was your experience like in finding support during this time?
Our business still maintained quite a demand during the pandemic and during lockdowns since people didn’t necessarily want to spend too much time outside shopping for groceries. While our sales were continuing, there was a lot changing. When it came to managing the business and the changes that we did have to endure, BMO was always there for us and provided a huge sense of support that made a difference. Their business banking solutions offered an assurance that while there was work to be done, we had the necessary tools to succeed.
What do you consider to be the most important components in building a successful business plan?
To make sure that you are passionate about what you are doing. It’s also important that your product answers to a need in the marketplace. In our business plan, which was pages and pages long, we tested our approach with a number of possible scenarios and challenges we might face down the road. This way, we were certain that our model was secure and adaptable. It’s also important that once you’re ready to get your business off the ground, you set yourself with the right financial tools to manage everything that comes with owning your business.
What are some of the biggest challenges you’ve faced as a business owner within a competitive and growing industry?
We opened in 2013 when there was virtually no competition in this sector. Since then, we’ve of course seen a rise in meal kit services and delivery services that made us think, Should we be worried about this? But we stayed focused on our plan and the success that it has brought us. Since we do not offer delivery, the personal interactions we have with our customers held a lot of value when compared to the companies that began to pop up. What was very important for us at this time was to stay true to ourselves and our vision.
How do you manage the pressures, workloads and stress?
I certainly had experienced my fair share of stress as an athlete, but running a business introduces a whole new type of stress. I keep very close to my family and my team which keeps me grounded. It’s all about balance. When we first started, it was difficult to do this when we had to put in so many extra hours to get going. But now that we have a routine and set a precedent, it’s a balance that we practice every day.
What’s the one piece of advice you’d give to entrepreneurs beginning their journey today?
I wouldn’t advise anyone to start a business if their only interest is to make money. You should start a business if you are passionate about what you are doing and determined to see your idea become reality. The rest will follow.