During his more than 40 years in the food industry, Martin Cownden has come to know a few things he considers absolute truths: He’s doing what he loves and the result is making a difference in people’s lives.
That may sound a tad grandiose from a man who has carved out a career by producing take-home meals geared generally for seniors. But Cownden, president of Chef on the Run and Complete Fit Cuisine, sees his business as much more than the sum of its parts.
“What we do makes a difference in people’s lives,” Cownden said. “I think our business is more about what we do than the actual business itself.”
Cownden said people such as Walt Disney did more than produce movies and attractions. “He created happiness and joy, that’s bigger than what they made,” he said.
“These meals help people. It helps them stay in their homes, helps them recover, helps sustain them and, if they want to live a healthy life, it keeps them going and provides easy access to good nutrition,” Cownden said. “We are more a service than a business.”
When he talks about his business, Cownden quickly gets animated and his mind zips from one facet of it to another, with a tangential jump tossed in here and there.
He’s at once practical, laying out how the two businesses work, and then can lean toward the philosophical as he recalls what keeps them humming is a commitment to improving people’s lives.
Through it all, what comes through is a renewed passion for the industry, likely the byproduct of a healthier focus in his own life, which accompanied the renovation and expansion of his business about a year ago. “I love it, I absolutely love it,” he said, noting Chef on the Run has basically existed since 1982 and now boasts 14 employees. “If you do what you love, you never have to work a day in your life.”
The new-look Oak Bay Avenue storefront has an open concept that’s bright and welcoming with an expanded freezer to deal with increased demand, and a new eight-seat cafe area.
He’s also changed himself, losing about 40 pounds over the past year as he set a goal of enjoying his life more. The renovation and a new focus to the business rekindled something inside him. “I’m working in a medium I like, food, and I know I’m helping people and, on the fitness side, I know we’re helping people achieve their goals.”
The Chef on the Run business is geared to the older population and provides nutritious fresh or frozen meals for about $8 a serving. On the fresh side, each week the commercial kitchen produces seven entrees and customers chose an entree, a starch and a vegetable serving and it’s all packed to take home.
There are also a series of staples that are always available.
About half the orders are delivered to people, many of whom have a week’s worth delivered at once, while customers can also come into the store and order to take out.
The new focus, which Cownden hopes to see grow, is the Complete Fit Cuisine business.
For the most part, it operates online with people ordering custom meals to have delivered or to pick up. It’s much like the Chef on the Run business, but the meals are designed to balance protein, carbohydrates and fats. Complete Fit Cuisine now accounts for 10 per cent of his business.
Cownden said it’s likely to get a boost with more seniors living longer and healthier lives.
“As they approach retirement they are very active. They are into hiking, mountain climbing and we need to be fit to do this stuff,” he said. “They want to live a healthy life. There are two components: doing the exercise and what you put in your mouth. We came up with what you put in your mouth.”