JustCook Kitchens

Jenna Marynowski, BAA Communications Committee Volunteer - 17 May 2021

Four MBA grads from the Alberta School of Business — Jennifer Keith, Luke Butterworth, Maëlle Piquée, and Spencer Brawner — have teamed up to bring a fresh take on food to Edmonton through JustCook Kitchens. JustCook Kitchens aims to break down barriers to make it easier for chefs to bring their concepts from a great idea to “tested and approved” by the market, faster. Their first location, 5th St. Food Hall, is set to open this July and is destined to become one of the must-eat locations in Edmonton.

Four MBA grads from the Alberta School of Business — Jennifer Keith, Luke Butterworth, Maëlle Piquée, and Spencer Brawner —  have teamed up to bring a fresh take on food to Edmonton through JustCook Kitchens.


BAA: Tell us about your experience at the Alberta School of Business. What were your favourite memories?

Jennifer: The MBA program is just an amazing opportunity to meet and work with like-minded individuals who grow to be in your close network for life. It gave me a number of fantastic opportunities to travel with fellow students through the China International Study Tour and case competitions I participated in. One in particular, the John Molson International Case Competition in Montreal, was like a case competition on steroids; an entire week of round robin-style competition with one or two 3-hour cases per day. I spent months with my amazing team preparing and practicing for the competition and, despite being super sick the whole week, it was definitely my favourite memory. 

Luke: I entered into the UofA MBA program in 2016 and used my first year of the program to start a Telehealth company. The MBA opened up a window of opportunity for a life in entrepreneurship. I graduated from the executive program and discovered a love for case competitions. My favourite memories were created on our trip to South Korea.

Maëlle: I came to the Alberta School of Business in 2015-2016 as an international student for an MBA in International Business. I loved being able to meet with people from all over the world, with various backgrounds. This led to some great discussions, both in and out of classes, as well as some lifelong friendships.

Spencer: I have always been passionate about technology, but over time developed an interest in how technology is able to support business strategy. After participating in one of the University of Alberta’s Executive Education courses, I became interested in the MBA program and what I could learn. I was very impressed with the faculty, and even more so with the cohort that the School of Business put together. My favourite memories include volunteering with some of the people in our cohort and creating friendships that have continued outside of the classroom.


BAA: Tell us a bit about your business. How did you start it and what was the inspiration behind it? What problems are you hoping to solve for your clients?

Jennifer: Luke and I met through being teammates for the John Molson International Case Competition. After graduating, we continued to work together on a telehealth start up and, following that, I expressed interest in starting something up in the food industry to Luke (actually at his wedding!).  After trying to start a restaurant business with his brother, Luke and I started developing an idea to help chefs start their own food businesses without the high start up costs and immense barriers to entry. We wanted to find ways to leverage our strengths so that talented chefs could leverage theirs. We have a unique partnership model that doesn’t exist in the industry today to support local, independent concepts come to fruition (that may have never seen the light of day otherwise). We pair this with curating and retailing amazing local products, fully integrated digital experiences, arranged in strategically located food halls to bring customers places that will be the best spot to try new things. 

Luke: I really can't add much to what Jennifer has said in terms of origins. I'm thrilled to bring amazing new experiences to chefs and local suppliers. These two groups have a challenging start and scaling journey. With JustCook, we can help small businesses through an online market, supply chain innovations, and a turnkey kitchen. We're all passionate about food and tech: our goal is to continue building for the problems that chefs and manufacturers face.


BAA: Congratulations on launching JustCook Kitchens, especially in a time when the food industry has experienced both challenges and changes. What drives your passion for the restaurant and food entrepreneurship space?

Jennifer: The pandemic has certainly highlighted a number of the challenges that individual restauranteurs face in the food industry. My personal life goal is to be a force of positive change in the world, and I want nothing more than to be an enabler for other entrepreneurs to realize their dream. I feel like for chefs at the back of the house specifically, there has not been a ton of innovation and focus on their well-being and prosperity. Beyond that, food in particular is of interest to me because of how it transcends every line we draw that separates us; it is a universal experience. It is a powerful connector that brings people together and satisfies something profound in all of us. I’d love to do what I can to contribute to innovating this space so we can see amazing concepts come to life. 


BAA: Technology is a core part of JustCook Kitchens, yet when many think of the restaurant industry the 'offline' experience may dominate their perceptions. Why was it so important to you to ensure the business leverages technology from day one and how have you integrated that into the business?

Maëlle: Especially now with the pandemic, most restaurants’ business is run through take-out or delivery, most often through online channels. This highlighted the need for restaurants to ‘get with the times’ of technology and innovate. This is why we put technology at the center of our JustCook food hall and market model. We want to bring the data-driven business mindset to how the chefs run their restaurants, like quickly noticing which dishes work well or not, upcoming trends in customer orders, and more.

Spencer: When you consider how restaurants have operated for the last 100 years, there has been little change in this sector. Most technology has been focused on digitizing menus, customer transactions, or reducing meal prep times. Our goal with technology is to look at each portion of the process, from farm to table, to identify ways to provide transparency, ensure compliance, offer convenience, and optimize costs. Ultimately, we believe that by rethinking the end-to-end experiences, we are able to improve the experience for stakeholders and customers in ways that increase the odds of success for each chef and supplier that we work with, especially given the increased challenges that they face today.


BAA: What advice do you have for other entrepreneurs, or budding entrepreneurs, looking at starting a business given the opportunities and challenges of the current environment?

Luke: Find a great team, surround yourself with inquisitive people and make sure that customers understand your value proposition. Start building, learning, and iterating on your small business. Build towards where the market is going to be rather than where it is. Contact me if you have questions.

Jennifer: Just do it! I think the current environment is a total catalyst for self-reflection, evaluation, and ultimately innovation as we navigate the post-pandemic world. There were more entrepreneurs starting businesses during the pandemic than before it and we’re on our way to economic recovery. Find an opportunity that speaks to you. Take advantage of this time to do something you’ve always wanted to do. Surround yourself with people who will support you. 


BAA: Where can people learn more about JustCook Kitchens? How can alumni support your launch?

Maëlle: Follow us on social media, spread the word to your friends, family, colleagues and others about our business and our upcoming opening in July (nothing better than word of mouth!), and of course join us in person (if safe) or through take-out or delivery to try out the four amazing restaurants at 5th St. Food Hall.

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