Charlene Li is the co-founder of EATABLE — a Toronto-based company that creates small-batch gourmet popcorn infused with wine, spirits, and cocktails. Frustrated by the lack of clean yet flavorful snacks on store shelves, Charlene and her husband left their corporate jobs and worked for over a year to perfect recipes, collaborating with professional pastry chefs to learn the art of traditional confectionery and chocolate making to create the “perfect pairing” of their two loves: A good snack and a good drink. Now their gourmet popcorn inspired by Happy Hour is sold in over 200 retailers in the USA and Canada, earning plenty of press accolades and a spot on CBC’s Dragons’ Den.
My first job ever was… working at a donut shop. Sweets and coffee have always been a big part of my life!
I decided to be an entrepreneur because… I wanted to live life on my own terms, and create something that brought joy to the world in some way.
I founded EATABLE… to create a unique snack that helps people “savour” everyday moments in their lives. After all, food and drink is the heart of our celebrations. We wanted our snacks to bring people together and allow them to share a moment of indulgence, anytime, anywhere.
I’m passionate about the food & snack sector because… there is so much room for innovation, especially by women- and minority-owned businesses. The customer packaged food space has traditionally been dominated by large mass-market players with high barriers to entry. With more consumers moving towards online shopping with an appetite for discovering new better-for-you brands, the landscape is opening up opportunities to level the playing field for innovative, socially conscious, small companies to break through the noise.
My proudest accomplishment is… Being a mom of two young kids (aged 2 and 6) and finding a way to live through the day-to-day chaos of balancing my entrepreneurial life with my family life.
“If I were to pick one thing that has helped me succeed, it would be an acute awareness of my own strengths and weaknesses — it has helped me understand my own limits, and to start building a team that fills in the gaps.”
My biggest setback was… experiencing intense burnout during the COVID-19 pandemic. It was so challenging finding ways to pivot throughout the rapidly changing business landscape, and there was immense pressure to have everything figured out. I quickly learned that putting self-care on the backburner during these times took a massive toll on my physical and mental health.
I overcame it by… In order to continue being fully present in my business and in my family, I had to make self-care a priority. I found ways to carve out extra time to rest, took up meditation, and established firm boundaries between work time and family time.
My advice for aspiring entrepreneurs is… not to waste time chasing perfection before launching your idea. We spent over a year tinkering with our initial popcorn recipes before we found the confidence to release them to the market. Over time, we learned that nothing beats seeking continuous feedback for your product, and listening to what your customers tell you — they know best!
The thing I love most about what I do is… seeing people’s reaction when they taste our bestselling “Pop the Champagne” popcorn — the look of surprise and delight on people’s faces when they feel the popping sensation never gets old to me!
If I were to pick one thing that has helped me succeed, it would be… an acute awareness of my own strengths and weaknesses — it has helped me understand my own limits, and to start building a team that fills in the gaps.
I stay inspired by… reading books and listening to TED talks from great leaders and public figures that focus on the importance of keeping a positive mindset and always daring to think bigger.