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Calgary’s Next Economy: Menu Mandala cooking up healthy, sustainable, ready-to-eat meals

Menu Mandala meals are made with whole foods, plant-based proteins and are gluten-free.

Ricky Kawa said they’re out to create the healthiest meal prep in Calgary.

He, along with fellow co-founder Jasen Stein, are bringing Calgarians sustainable, ready-to-eat meals through their company Menu Mandala.

“We’re in the business of automating your health and well-being through dedicated nutrition and delicious meals,” said Kawa.

Kawa said they want to give their customers access to plant-based protein meals, sourced mainly from local producers. Their meals are also whole food and gluten-free.

Stein said they try to push the envelope with the meal prep.

“We’ll try and sneak in healthy ways of doing everything in the food,” he said.  

“There’s always something fermented in every dish because that’s healthy on the gut. We don’t use white rice because it’s processed and not healthy carbs. We make all our own sauces, or we try and source locally as much as possible. We’re trying as many Canadian companies and products as possible.”

Kawa’s years of kitchen experience at Calgary restaurants, plus his nutrition program training at SAIT, along with personal training have helped them design the right kind of meals.

Stein had experience as a line chef when he was in his teens, but went the route of many Calgarians, and spent 10 years as a professional engineer.  He then looked at pursuing his MBA, but Covid-19 sidetracked that as he didn’t want to do it virtually. 

Then, he and Kawa started up Menu Mandala.

“That was a crash course MBA, I would say,” Stein said.

Meal prep service at its core

When you go to the Menu Mandala website, you place your food order. You can get one of two sizes: Convenient (one person), or Communal (roughly equivalent to four Convenient portions.)

The meal is then prepared with local goods in a facility where no gluten or animals have been processed. It’s done in a kitchen right here in Calgary.

Once complete, the meal is delivered (within Calgary), ready to eat. In essence, it’s a meal prep service like others that have popped up in recent years.

“One thing that has changed is the cost of food, the time to be able to go out, procure that food, prep it at home, and then also take care of your life as well as all the things that are going on outside of your life,” said Kawa.  

“Time is the biggest commodity and currency that we have as humans and the more we go on in life and all these busy aspects keep coming in, the less time we have.”

While you might think all meal prep companies are cut from the same cloth, Kawa and Stein said they’re committed to sustainable food prep.  That means limiting waste, too.

Kawa said other providers, like Hello Fresh, you’re getting extra packaging and you’re cutting all your own vegetables – creating more food waste.

“We go that extra mile to save all of our veggie scraps, turn it into stock, which has ventured into soup,” Kawa said.

They’ve also got their mind on the community. Last month, in the wake of devastating earthquakes in Syria and Turkey, proceeds from select dishes went to relief efforts.

Invaluable connections through the Velocity program

The first thing that comes to mind, when asked about the impact of the Alberta Catalyzer – Velocity program through Platform Calgary, is the connections.

“I would say that the number one thing has been the network and the connections — the people that we’ve met, and it’s been invaluable,” said Kawa.

Stein said that the program also forced them to think about areas of a business that are easy to neglect. Things like governance and corporate structure.

“That’s something we did very early on, and we haven’t touched since because there’s so much else to do,” he said.

At the beginning of 2022, they were seeing 30 per cent growth each month. Then they hit a point where they had to take a step back and re-evaluate future growth. There is only so much order-in business.

Kawa called it their first entrepreneurial roller-coaster dip.  

“We have a new trajectory and a new projection of where we’re going to be and we have a much better idea of how to forecast and plan accordingly and pivot,” he said.

“It forced us to get really creative and figure out that we have different avenues to go after. So, it was a blessing and a curse.”

They’re looking at having meals prepped for local grocery chains. There’s also an opportunity to do private catering for larger events.

“It’s been really unique to see where we could go,” Kawa said.

“There are four different doors. It’s a matter of which door we want to choose to walk through.”