“I Look Forward to Changing the Narrative”

Kristina Botelho, founder of kb&co, on entrepreneurship, COVID and downtown revitalization
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Beth Allard-Clough, Kristina Botelho and MacEwan University President Annette Trimbee

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This week, kb&co founder Kristina Botelho was named the 36th Allard Chair in Business at MacEwan University.

This is not a position that is advertised. A search team from the university looks at business leaders in the city — and then they reach out to the desired candidate.

“We want to let our students know that it’s not just about making money and being successful in the business enterprise,” said Richard Perlow, dean of MacEwan’s School of Business. “It’s about giving back to the community.”

Botelho has taken the concept of a vegan eatery, which first opened in downtown Edmonton, and transformed it into a full-blown franchise, with four outlets in the city, plus one more in Calgary and another in her hometown of Kelowna, B.C.

She didn’t have to close a location during the pandemic. After the announcement, UA spoke to her one-on-one about the challenges of the restaurant industry, downtown revitalization and her new role as a mentor.

How did you become the Allard Chair?

I’d definitely heard about it, but there was no application process. They approached me in mid-January. Truthfully, I had it on my vision board, a picture of a mentor and a picture of a microphone. I knew that, this year, I was going to spend a lot of time mentoring. I didn’t know what that was going to look like. Then, I got a call three weeks later and, when I spoke to Richard Perlow, I said ‘I was expecting to do this.’ That was my reaction — I manifested it.

We hear a lot about the challenges of COVID and inflation — and how it is hurting the restaurant business. How has kb&co coped?

I think community partnerships are first and foremost. I think we have a dedicated following. We have a very strong, specific culture in a family dynamic. I think people support that. Each location is independently operated, they put their heart and soul into it, they treat their customers like they’re family. It goes a long way.

What’s been the biggest challenge?

In the last year and half, it’s probably the staffing challenge. With certain subsidies and programs that are out there, it’s been a bit of a challenge. Inflation has hurt us to some degree, but we’re able to offset that with price increases on our end.

But raising prices isn’t something you want to do…

Not at all. You don’t want to put that back on the guest, but, in some cases, it’s unavoidable.

Your first location was opened in downtown Edmonton. How do you feel that downtown revitalization/recovery is going?

When I opened in 2016, the arena was still about a year away from being completed. It has brought a lot of life and vibrancy to downtown. In recent years, being downtown has been a little more challenging in terms of inner-city issues. Obviously, with COVID, it’s been quieter, as well — and we rely heavily on office tenants, people who are working downtown. So, if they are working from home, it does affect us. But, overall, I think it’s been great.

The positives outweigh the negatives?

Absolutely. I still see a lot of vibrancy.

What are you looking forward to telling the MacEwan students?

What is often missed when it comes to entrepreneurship are the lowlights. A lot of people showcase the highlights and showcase the growth, and I’ve done a lot of that. But, through my social media platform, I showcase the lows of it and the challenges — the very real challenges. Often, when people are asked, ‘why did you want to be an entrepreneur?’ the first thing they’ll answer is the flexibility and freedom. I haven’t had that in seven years! I look forward to changing the narrative for people. You have to know how to lead people and manage people. There’s a whole marketing component. I am still looking for work-life balance. I have been in and out of entrepreneurship over the last 20 years, and I still haven’t found it.