Lunch is an Ottawa-based grab-and-go-style restaurant chain that brings a fresh food experience to Canada’s capital. The owner and creator of Lunch, Tim Van Dyke, is an entrepreneur who is passionate about whole, healthy, and delicious food. It was quite serendipitous that Rebel chose Lunch to cater our Friday lunch the day I spoke with Tim (it was coincidental, I swear!). So, after devouring a Lunch hummus wrap (hummus, spinach, marinated carrots, onions, and romaine spears — so good), we got straight to the interview.
What is the story behind Lunch?
The brand itself was inspired by a company in London, England called “Pret a Manger”. I lived in London in the mid-90’s and my wife is from there as well. Pret a Manger was just this good, healthy, fresh food offering and I loved the brand; Lunch is almost a total derivative of it. I had a pretty substantial background in food, beverage, and retail, so it seemed natural at that point to work towards launching a relative version of it of my own in Ottawa, where I’d grown up.
How did the brand name come to be?
It came from a bit of spit-balling, but I was pretty firm on Lunch when I had it in my head. The simplicity speaks for itself, but it certainly comprises my ability to sell breakfast or dinner! I worked with a friend, then out of Toronto, on the logo and brand aesthetic prior to opening. We revisited the branding a number of times, but I certainly enjoy the simplicity of it. Fundamentally, that’s what we wanted to be selling — simplicity.
The name actually makes SEO a bit easier – if you Google “lunch Ottawa” we come up right away. Even from day one, we’ve had clients joke with us that they found Lunch by taking to the Internet to decide what to do for lunch that day, and Lunch popped up. We’ve been able to have a bit of fun with the brand, right down to our own in-store POS (point of sale) terms, like “lunch money” and “lunch box”.
Why do you think having an online presence is so important for building your brand?
When we started, we came out of the box with “thinklunch.ca”. That was chosen by its affordability; “lunch.com” or “lunch.ca” was too cost-prohibitive at the time. We were pretty ambitious from the get-go in terms of e-commerce because the Internet is a cost-effective way for us to reach our audience. Ultimately, we want to simplify ordering processes and give our clients a better understanding of our brand and our food.
Ottawa’s a small enough town that when we first opened, I thought that word-of-mouth would be the most effective method of advertising. We deliberately avoided print and traditional media buys because of their costs. In my experience, traditional advertising is not necessary for the Ottawa market. The best way to communicate is either through social media or our website. It’s cost-effective, it’s easy, and it’s fun for us to work with. We’re finding that our Ottawa clients, in particular, are now embracing some of our services available and really making good use of them.
What’s the most valuable thing you’ve learned from being an entrepreneur?
It’s probably only been a few years since I could comfortably embrace the title “entrepreneur”; it seems to come with a lot.
You need to go in with a healthy level of naivety from the get-go. It’s not an easy path. It’s scarier looking back than it is looking forward. Perseverance and conviction are very important traits, and you’ve got to be proud of what you sell. Entrepreneurship involves a lot of different things. I’m in the business of selling a product to people, so my conviction really helps. I need to be proud of what it is that we create in order to feel comfortable selling it to people.
Do you go anywhere for inspiration or have anything in particular that inspires you?
It’s cliche, but I love to travel. Large, cosmopolitan, urban centers are just a true passion of mine. I’m inspired by everything – from culture, diversity, and design. It’s always good to check up on what’s happening in other inspiring urban centers. Lunch was conceptualized and created from my time in London. Travel and food, they just go hand-in-hand.
What advice would you give to a young entrepreneur?
There are so many things. Everyone thinks being an entrepreneur is sexy, right? But there is so much “un-sexy” in running your own company. Due-diligence and really knowing your marketplace are huge. Inevitably, you’ve just got to do it, dive in, and take the risk. And, again, just stick to your convictions.
What has been your greatest struggle?
The struggle is not cutting corners. There’s always an opportunity to make more money. Going back to conviction, my mantra has always been “we’ve created the best product we can afford to market”. That is truly a challenge because the expectations and the standards are high, but I think I’ve been ahead of the curve on it.
Current market prices make it a huge challenge. You have to educate your client base so that they can appreciate why we have to raise our prices sometimes, and then we come up with a fine balance. It’s an on-going challenge and I don’t think that challenge will ever change. In my opinion, the food service industry is a real challenge. I don’t know if the market always understands what the real cost of it is.
What are your plans for the future with Lunch?
In Ottawa, we’re looking at two potential locations this year in which we’re working with individual clients. We’re also very confident that we’ll be entering a new market by 2017. That will be a huge move for us, logistically and as a human beings. There’s so many pieces to the puzzle in terms of tackling a new market that isn’t Ottawa. That’s where Rebel and our online presence will become paramount as we explore new markets.
I feel that we have a great thing going on in Ottawa, but I can’t extend from a retail-site perspective as much as I’d like to because Ottawa is small. I feel like we’ve cornered what it is that we can do effectively in our marketplace. We keep growing from a client perspective. Our catering division is huge; we see hundreds of big clients over the course of a year. But in order for us to grow the tangible experience, we need to move into a new market.
Do you have a favourite dish at Lunch?
It’s interesting, but I don’t! I’ll eat whatever is left over. The thing that I love about Lunch, having been in food and beverage for so many years and knowing that it’s common to get tired of eating similar product for as many years as I have been, is that I still have lunch at Lunch everyday. I’ll eat at Lunch for multiple reasons: One, to reduce waste of leftover food and two, for general quality control. But in it’s own right, we have a great core product selection. A nice soup and a sandwich is certainly my go-to Lunch experience.
Hungry for more? If you live in Ottawa, Lunch has plenty of locations throughout the downtown core. If you’re not nearby, check out Lunch at thinklunch.ca and on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram for some major fresh food inspiration!
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