Amélie Morency has been making waves in the startup community for her culinary co-working space, The Food Room. Some of that exposure is thanks to a recent stint on the Quebec version of Dragon’s Den, Dans l’oeil du dragon, and the $600,000 investment deal that came out of it.
But her current success has been anything but overnight; a born businesswoman, Morency has been hustling since she was a kid, selling everything from oranges to tampons door-to-door before starting her own catering business while in culinary school. Everything she does she does for her business, and using terms like “rockstar” kind of misses the whole point.
It’s because I work so hard that I’ve found a bit of success. But people don’t see that. I was terrified to speak in front of another human being two years ago. I got better at it because I kicked my ass to do that. I didn’t do that to show off, I did that because I needed to be good at pitching in order to bring my business somewhere. And I feel like that’s the part people don’t get. They see that as ‘Oh, you’re a rockstar, whatever’. I’m a businessperson.
Morency’s first introduction to the art of pitching came from selling things door-to-door as a kid.
“I sold everything it is humanly possible to sell door to door. I’m pretty sure at some my point my neighbors wouldn’t open the door when they saw me coming. I had to start going to other streets. I was blond and cute and would sell random stuff. I remember my mom went out to shop for stuff, and she used to buy these bags of potpourri. So I built these cylinders out of colored construction paper and I stuffed them with the potpourri, and I did two sizes, smaller one for $3 and a larger one for $5. And I went door to door and sold them all and made like $80 in a day.”
Next she sold oranges for school, and at one point was selling tampons door to door.
“My dad is an electrician, and this lady didn’t have the money to pay him so she offered him tampons, huge boxes of them. They were little demo boxes of four, and he told me if I sold them for $1 each, he would give me $0.50. I remember being super ashamed, I didn’t even have my period yet I was like 10. It was weird, but I actually sold a lot of them. After that it was easy for me to sell anything.”
She started off studying architecture in CEGEP, but was frustrated with the lack of freedom and creativity, and switched to culinary school instead.
“Basically the minute you start cooking school, for all your family and friends, you’re a chef. Therefore you can do catering for whatever events they have. So I started catering a couple weeks in, and I really liked it. I had had my own business before as a teenager, doing lawn work, and I really liked the business aspect of that.”
After culinary school, she returned for courses in restaurant management, all the while running and growing her catering company. To drum up business, Morency would attend multiple networking events each week, sometimes two a day, by signing up for every free networking event she could find on Eventbrite. She thought she was walking into one such networking event two years ago before she realized it was actually an information session for the Founder Institute. She decided to stick around anyway, and found herself hooked by the thought of the challenge.
“I’ve been swimming really high level for a couple of years. And it’s the kind of commitment you get with having a business. When I went to the info session and I saw Sergio explaining how hard it was going to be, I connected immediately to that because it’s similar to swimming. It was easier for me to see the value instantly. He was saying that their typical person is a guy in his thirties or forties, has a tech background with lots of tech experience. I had none of that. I’m a girl, I was 23, I had no idea about tech, so I felt like I had a lot to prove right away. There were only 7 girls in the program out of 52 people, and I was the youngest of everybody.”
I think, from a personal point of view, that it’s bad that some people say you’re a rockstar because you have a business. I think it sends the wrong message. I feel really uncomfortable with that, or with people going ‘Oh, you’re the girl from Dragon’s Den’. For me, it’s business. It’s not something that I want to celebrate ever day or something, it’s just something I had to do to get my business somewhere.
Through Founder Institute she developed her idea for a kitchen co-working space, what would become The Food Room. While running her own catering company, her business had grown to the point that she needed a real kitchen and didn’t know where to turn. In fact, she had gotten kicked out of the kitchen she was using before right before being accepted to the Founder Institute, so the timing was perfect.
The Food Room just celebrated its one year anniversary, and now has around 35 customers. But there’s still a lot of hard work ahead to complete Morency’s vision of the Food Room as not just a shared space, but a community.
“We’d like to get to a point where we can pick the customers we want. It’s going to have an impact at the end of the day on the quality of the community that we have in the kitchen. But right now we’re just trying to find people who need help and getting them the help they need. My mission at the beginning was to have a kitchen and get people to use it. But I’m hoping to grow it to be more of a community-based thing. I have some of my customers that were there at the right moment and got some really big sales because they got to work with another customer who was really into their product. One of my customers got a contract with the Queen E, and their products will be in the minibar of all the rooms. And now he’s actually talking to them about getting into all the Fairmounts. And that’s huge. His life changed because he was here the right day. That’s what I want to happen every day. That’s why I do this every morning, that’s why I wake up.”