When Mandy and Rebecca Wolfe first opened Mandy’s Salads at the back of a Westmount boutique, they didn’t have culinary or business degrees — but they did have passion and positivity. Fifteen years later, they’re working on their eighth store in Quebec, scouting for their first Toronto location, and finding new ways to use technology to improve the service they provide their growing customer base.
by Shelley White
When Mandy Wolfe and her sister, Rebecca, founded their salad business, they were looking to serve one particular demographic: themselves.
“We were the customer,” says Mandy, a Montreal native. The inspiration stemmed from Rebecca’s experience as a student at Parsons School of Design in New York City, in the early 2000s.
“Rebecca saw these salad shops popping up everywhere with lineups out the door, and she was a customer there,” Mandy adds. “We were looking for someplace like that to eat in Montreal, and nothing was available.”
That quest for the perfect lunch spot was the genesis for Mandy’s Salads, which Mandy describes as a “gourmet, fast, casual, upscale salad experience.”
The sisters started selling their fresh, colourful salads in 2004. At first, they set up shop in the back of a trendy Westmount clothing shop, Mimi & Coco, which was owned by Rebecca’s husband.
“That allowed us to have very affordable rent and a chance to perfect what we were doing,” says Mandy of those early days. “We weren’t formally trained with degrees in culinary school or MBAs. So the time that we were inside the boutique allowed us to gain that confidence and that traction that gave us the final boost to go out and open up our own location.”
Now they have seven locations around Montreal and will soon have an eighth opening in Laval, Quebec. Mandy says that both she and her sister have personalities that are well-suited to entrepreneurship.
“We’re both very creative people and we grew up in a creative, entrepreneurial home,” she says. “I have enjoyed having the liberty to create a menu as I wanted it to be. And Rebecca has enjoyed designing all the locations as she saw them. We don’t have to answer to anybody or fit into any box, and we get to do what we love to do.”
Some of the biggest challenges have stemmed from the fact that neither sister has an educational background in business, says Mandy.
“There are so many facets to owning a business, whether it’s human resources or payroll or figuring out what profitable margins look like, or maintaining consistency across seven locations. These are all things that we’re still learning about and striving towards and it’s a constant challenge and every day is different.”
“We have a strict rule that when you have to go pick up the kids at the end of the day, you’re off, and it’s kind of a blackout time. You don’t answer work-related calls or emails or texts until 8 pm when they’re asleep, and if you feel like getting back to work after that, you can.”
Another challenge has been ensuring they are using technology to their best advantage. That’s one of the reasons Mandy and Rebecca got involved with Cisco’s Women Entrepreneurs’ Circle, an initiative supported by BDC — Canada’s bank for entrepreneurs — that provides networking, education and technology support for women-led businesses. The Wolfe sisters found out about the Circle of Innovation (one of the programs within the Women Entrepreneurs’ Circle) from BDC, a partner since they opened up their second stand-alone location in 2015 — a 2,000-foot shop on Crescent street.
“Crescent was our scariest and biggest leap of faith, and BDC was there to help us all the way along,” she says. “The Circle of Innovation came up casually in conversations and meetings with BDC, and when the opportunity came up to join we said, ‘Yes, absolutely.’”
Through the program, Mandy and her team were paired with Chloe Macdonald, an industrial engineering student at the University of Toronto. Chloe interned with Mandy’s remotely this past summer, working with the company on several key initiatives. For example, she researched and outlined a plan for data retention and cybersecurity, and also implemented a new way to organize, track, and manage their customer feedback email account. Chloe also created a web app to extract data from Google reviews.
Mandy says the internship experience has been fantastic, helping them learn more about how technology can improve the service they provide their customers. These insights will no doubt help Mandy and Rebecca with their next big endeavour — finding the perfect spot to open a Mandy’s in Toronto.
“I think that Montreal’s a very unique market, where it’s easy to become a big fish because the pond is smaller,” Mandy says. “We do have conviction and faith in what we’re doing, but there’s always the question, would this work somewhere else? Going to Toronto is not like going to Paris, but still, Toronto is a whole other market.”
They will start looking for a location this fall, Mandy says. Rebecca recently had a baby and is taking some time to “be a mom,” she adds. Because both sisters are moms (Mandy has four children and this is Rebecca’s third), they have been careful to make those responsibilities a priority.
“There’s a deep respect for our motherhood roles as well as our entrepreneurial roles,” she says. “We have a strict rule that when you have to go pick up the kids at the end of the day, you’re off, and it’s kind of a blackout time. You don’t answer work-related calls or emails or texts until 8 pm when they’re asleep, and if you feel like getting back to work after that, you can.”
Mandy says it definitely helps that there are two of them at the helm. “We often tell each other how grateful we are that we’re not doing this alone,” she says. “We also have a fabulous team and supportive husbands.”
It’s enabled them to strike a balance between working hard and playing hard — and when you hear what the sisters like to do on their own time, it’s no wonder they’ve found success with Mandy’s Salads. “We love to travel. We love dancing. We’re very positive, happy people.” Mandy explains. “We love getting together with friends, having dinner parties — family, food, fun.”
The Cisco Women Entrepreneurs’ Circle — a program led by Cisco in partnership with the Business Development Bank of Canada (BDC) — addresses some of the obstacles women-led businesses face in building their tech capabilities. Are you a business owner? Fill in a short survey to register for free virtual training from the Cisco Networking Academy and fill in your knowledge gaps. Are you considering becoming a business owner? Access BDC’s free How to Start a Business module to discover everything you need to be a successful entrepreneur.