Elite+ Mompreneur® Member Ruthie Burd is based out of Concord, Ontario, and is the founder of The Lunch Lady Group. She is passionate about helping families find healthy options for their kids’ lunches, and we are so thrilled to share her Success Story with you!
What inspired you to become an entrepreneur?
I had no business experience or training, and there was no real history of self-employment in my family, so I am not sure what made me want to be my own boss. What I can say is that my Father raised me to believe I could achieve any goal I set my mind to, and over time I came to believe him. It was the idea that there are no limits except the ones you impose on yourself that influenced me the most. My first shot at owning my own business, apart from 2 months of AMWAY and 1 day attempting unsuccessfully to sell encyclopedias, happened in the 1980’s when I was a partner in a small window blind manufacturing concern in Montego Bay, Jamaica. It was hard work and a little unsettling not knowing whether or not there would be a pay cheque at first, but I loved my 5 years there and learned a lot about being self-reliant and fearless.
Over 5 years later, it was necessity that spurred me to find a new venture here in Canada when our middle son was diagnosed with autism in 1993. I had no idea what exactly my business would look like, but I was confident I could come up with a solution. It was just an accident I started a food business. I had no training or interest in the kitchen. I chose food because I assumed it would keep the afternoons open for Brendan’s therapies and appointments and provide the extra funds we would need.
What’s the best part about owning your own business?
I love that The Lunch Lady makes a difference in the communities we serve. We get to make lives a little less hectic for busy parents, support healthy school food environments, and help others achieve their own dreams of self-employment in a supported environment through franchising.
Can you describe a typical day?
Nope…. I am happy to say I have never had what you could call a typical day and that’s what is so exciting about business – something unexpected is always happening and that is what is so addictive and exciting – even the bad stuff. I work about 10 hours most days, often weekends, and can be found either at my kitchen counter, at our Head Office, in a Lunch Lady kitchen, or in one of the schools we serve.
Who do you count on for help? Do you have a network of family that answer the call?
I have a fabulous husband, David, who has been a wonderful support, especially during The Lunch Lady’s lean times, when the business that was created to contribute to the family income was often doing just the opposite. I also have 2 work husbands, Jim Essex and Steve Robinson, who are my partners at The Lunch Lady, as well as a dedicated Head Office team, and dozens of Lunch Lady franchise partners who build our brand every day. I am so fortunate, but then as an only child, I think building my own internal support group has always been important to me. I am a big believer in collaboration and partnerships that create success for everyone.
Have you ever had to sacrifice something at home for work? Or vice versa?
I get asked a lot about the work/home balance thing. It’s one of those rabbit holes I am not going down and I do not spend much time thinking or worrying about it. I just accept everyone will not be happy with me all the time and do my best. Sometimes I get it right and sometimes I do not. That’s all I can reasonably promise.
What do you do on a day off? Do you even know what a day off is?
I do take the odd day off, but still I am usually thinking Lunch Lady thoughts like how to solve a problem, improve a process, create a new food item, build our business – however when I am on holiday, I pull the plug completely.
Are you active in your community? What does supporting local mean to you?
I have always had some volunteer interests, but now most of my interests are in working with others to ensure all Canadians have easy access to healthy food. I am getting involved with more and more projects that share these goals through my participation in a federal project called Nourishing Schools Communities. Franchising, of course, is a wonderful way to share a business idea while supporting local economies. My dad used to say, “Money works best when everyone has some”. I also enjoy mentoring other entrepreneurs, and I do this independently and through a volunteer program at the Canadian Franchise Association. We are all working together to build the kind of Canada where anyone can be successful and supported.
Name another entrepreneur who inspires you.
It is too hard to name any one entrepreneur. I must however, thank my mentor Mac Voisin, founder of M&M Meat Shops for his support, wisdom and encouragement in the early years. I enjoyed listening to his experiences and stories. Anyone who travels the entrepreneurial road is an inspiration to us all. When I was young, the focus was on the professions, and business was not really talked about as a meaningful career path. I think that has changed, and this bodes well for the future. There are amazing men and women creating new opportunities and building brands. The whole process of possibility is what I find so inspiring. Each entrepreneur has their own story with its myriad ups and down, joys and tears. When I am discouraged I have only to read one of these stories, suck it up and move ahead. Our journeys are a testament to the power of perseverance, belief and persistence.
What does the future look like for you and your business?
I am so proud of our brand and how we have evolved from a service selling convenience to a leader promoting healthier food environments. Our transition from Pogo dogs and blue juice, to Smarter Meals featuring options like Teriyaki Chicken Noodle Bowls with side orange slices, has been such an incredible and positive journey. I am not sure what the future looks like but I am looking forward to being a part of it for many years to come. This is the true meaning of success.
Any tips for moms thinking of starting a business?
Many potentially successful businesses fail, but not for the reasons one would think. Yes, running out of money is a factor, but even more damaging is losing confidence and belief in one’s own ability. Surround yourself with as much positivity as you can. Seek out mentors. Look for others on a similar journey; listen to their stories and learn what keeps them going on those dark days that we all have. When thinking about embarking on a career in business, be honest with yourself about what is motivating you if you currently are working for someone else. Dissatisfaction with your current position is not a reason to work for yourself, and will not sustain you through the trials and tribulations of start up. No matter what type of business you pursue, it is necessary to have a passion for it, to believe that what you are doing makes a difference, and that you will fight to protect it. Make sure your family is onside with your plans and prepare them for a change in the family dynamic. Roles and responsibilities usually have to shift around to make life work with an entrepreneur in the family.