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Jennifer Keith's Innovative Culinary Space for Collaborating with Local Chefs

© Early Days

In this interview, Jennifer Keith, CEO and founder of Epic Food and Drink, shares her unique journey from a corporate career in Human Resources to launching an innovative culinary concept. Epic Food and Drink provides a platform for independent chefs to showcase their creative menus in one space. Jennifer's passion for food and drink is evident as she discusses diverse menus and mixologists. Her ultimate goal is to be a positive force of change in the world.

Read the whole interview below or click on the button for the podcast video and recording.

Interview by Jackie Ray Greening.

To start, can you share a bit about your early years? Where did you grow up, and what were your interests and hobbies during that time?

I was born and raised in Edmonton, Alberta. I went through the Catholic school system, attending St. Pius, St. Mark, and Archbishop MacDonald high school. Later, I went to the University of Alberta twice. As for hobbies and interests, I loved reading and was quite studious. I was one of those students who loved to be involved in extracurricular activities like clubs.

I was the president of the AV club in high school, which was quite exciting because it allowed me to set up microphones, cameras, screens, and other equipment for various school events and activities. I enjoyed organizing and planning events and was also involved in the robotics club during middle school, where we built robots out of Lego and competed in various competitions, including a "Mission to Mars" event in Calgary. I won a couple of awards for that.

It sounds like you had a strong passion for organizing and working with technology from an early age. After your school years, you went on to the University of Alberta. Can you tell us about your educational background and what you studied there?

I pursued a business degree with a specialization in human resources and business law. Initially, I had plans to attend law school because I had always been interested in becoming a lawyer, thanks to watching shows like Matlock with my mom. However, as I got older and learned more about the legal profession, I realized it might not be the right fit for me. Instead, I found myself drawn to human resources and business management.

Can you share more about your early career experiences? What was your first job in human resources?

My very first job in HR was as a temporary employee at a recruitment agency, where I did recruitment work for about two months. After that, I worked for the City of Edmonton for a year, continuing my work in recruitment. Later, I joined EPCOR Utilities, where I spent a significant portion of my corporate career.

What prompted you to return to the University of Alberta for a second time, and what did you study during your second stint there?

My second time at the University of Alberta was when I pursued my MBA (Master of Business Administration). I specialized in innovation and entrepreneurship. I was particularly interested in technology and innovation, which stemmed from my experiences working on technology projects throughout my life. This interest led me to focus on technology and process improvement during my academic journey.

It's fascinating how your passion for technology and innovation played a role in shaping your career path. Can you tell us more about your transition from the corporate world to becoming the CEO and founder of Epic Food and Drink?

While completing my MBA, I met my co-founder, Luke Butterworth, during case competitions at the university. We trained together for an international case competition and realized we made a great team. Luke later started a health tech startup, and I helped him with the people management side of the business. After that venture, we discussed our shared interest in food and decided to collaborate on a new project. We wanted to create a platform for chefs to showcase their culinary creativity without the burden of running a restaurant day-to-day.

That's a unique concept. Can you explain how Epic Food and Drink works and how it supports chefs and their creativity?

Epic Food and Drink operates as a platform for chefs to express their creativity and design unique menus. We provide the infrastructure, capital, and business support needed for chefs to bring their culinary visions to life. Chefs-in-residence, as we call them, design and create menus, train our staff, and mentor other aspiring chefs. Our spaces become culinary education hubs and destinations for food enthusiasts to experience a diverse range of cuisines. We're currently working with several top chefs, each of whom brings their unique culinary style to our locations.

Currently, we have Chef Lindsay Porter, known for her experience on Top Chef Canada and FireMasters, creating our Italian-inspired menu. Chef Peter Keith, a prominent figure in the culinary scene, is designing our Spanish tapas menu. Chef Alex Edmonson, a semi-finalist on Top Chef Canada, is responsible for our French-inspired menu. Chef Winnie Chen, the head chef at Foo's Repair Shop, is crafting our Asian fusion menu. Lastly, Chef Oliver Butterworth, Luke's brother, is creating our plant-forward menu, which focuses on vegetarian and plant-based dishes.

That's an impressive lineup of talented chefs. It's clear that Epic Food and Drink offers a unique culinary experience for its customers. Are there plans to expand to more locations in the future?

Yes, we're currently working on opening a new location in Station Park, which is the old CP train station in Edmonton, on White Avenue. This location will be about twice the size of our current one, allowing us to offer a broader range of menu items. We're also exploring opportunities in other cities, including Calgary and Kelowna, with the goal of bringing our innovative culinary platform to more communities.

How does your family feel about your entrepreneurial journey and the success of Epic Food and Drink?

My family has been supportive of my journey, and they want to see me happy and successful. While they may have had some initial concerns and uncertainties, they've always rooted for me. Entrepreneurship can be challenging, and there have been moments of doubt and difficulty, but I wouldn't trade this journey for anything else.

Interview consolidated through ChatGPT.

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