There’s a new player in town

Four MBA graduates are bringing new ideas to Edmonton’s food scene.

It’s a concept familiar to entrepreneurs the world over: take an existing idea and make it better. Then, bring it to market. 

That’s exactly what four Alberta School of Business MBA graduates are doing with their latest venture, JustCook Kitchens

JustCook is an Edmonton-based startup designed to reduce some of the tough barriers to entry for chefs wanting to open or scale up their restaurant or food-based business but don’t have the capital or resources to operate their own brick and mortar. 

“I've always really been interested in this idea of figuring out ways to innovate our underutilized assets and resources in our economy and in the [service] industry,” said Jennifer Keith, CEO and co-founder of JustCook.

The premise behind JustCook is simple: to create a space that allows for foodpreneurs to bring their concepts to market, with far less risk than opening their own location.

And to be one of the must-eat destinations in Edmonton, of course. 

outside shot of the 5th street food hall

Their first location? A heavily foot trafficked space (with closeby parking spaces for pick-up orders) in Edmonton’s Ice District on 105th Street and 104 Avenue, aptly named Fifth Street Food Hall. 

The food hall is retrofitted with four commercial-grade kitchen units, completely optimized for many different types of cooking and both in-person ordering and delivery. They’ve already secured their first four chefs. 

So what makes JustCook different from any other restaurant or food hall? They handle everything, from infrastructure to point-of-sales systems and even some of the supply chain, to give chefs the capacity to quickly and efficiently launch their restaurant. 

For starters, they’ve developed in-house technology that’ll leverage data for each chef to quickly identify food or dishes that sell and ones that don’t, which will increase efficiency, reduce waste and save costs. They’re also providing delivery (rather than relying on third-party apps) to ensure more money goes to the chefs.

“The restaurant business still hasn’t moved towards leveraging technologies in the best way, so we’re really trying to integrate that into our design,” said Maëlle Piquée, JustCook’s chief marketing officer.

They also require just a one-year lease instead of the typical five to 10 when leasing an entire building. JustCook will charge its chefs both a rental fee (at a lower lease rate than other food halls) and a percentage of earnings. By using this strategy, said Piquée, JustCook is invested in the success of its chefs from day one.

They’ll help with marketing and branding, insurance, permits, human resources, technology — essentially everything needed on the business side of owning a restaurant — so the chefs can focus on cooking delicious food for their customers.

“What we wanted to do was enable those up and coming businesses that have either struggled or don’t have the right connections or resources to successfully launch their own business,” said Keith. 

And everyone involved in the project is interested in finding ways for local businesses to thrive. For example, the Fifth Street Food Hall will feature the regular chefs six days a week. The seventh day will be for pop-up kitchens, allowing different chefs around the city to use the space and showcase their products.

Their first location is just the start. Co-founder and Chief Operating Officer Luke Butterworth said JustCook wants to expand their concept to other locations in Edmonton and nationwide to help more chefs get off the ground. 

“The restaurant business is hard, and every single time someone wants to open their own restaurant, there is no platform for it, no starting point that gives them an advantage,” said Butterworth.

But, with a new player in town, perhaps that’s finally changing. 

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