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Alumni startup has baskets of quality foods

Menos is the startup company created by three U of T Scarborough alumni along with a graduate of OCADU, devoted to bringing the best food items from around the world to Toronto.

Now that gift-giving season is reaching its peak, three graduates of U of T Scarborough are busier than ever bringing quality products from around the world to the local market. 

If you were at the campus’s Management Alumni Association event “Managing Change” earlier in the fall, you might have seen guest speaker Carrie Kirkman, former president of Sears Canada, and her on-stage interviewer receive elegant thank-you gift baskets filled with intriguing food items.

Those were the work of Menos, a startup formed by three alumni who are bent on spreading the word about healthful imported specialty foods, from Spanish olive oil you can drink to artisanal dark chocolate from Peru. You’re sure to see more of their unusual wares on campus and around Toronto.

“We are doing everything we can to introduce these high-quality, healthy products to the Canadian market,” says Sebastian Capatina (BBA, 2015), the seven-month-old company’s director of internal affairs. “The response has been great.”

Adds Christine Arsenault, Managing Director of the Department of Management: “UTSC has an entrepreneurial spirit, and Menos is the embodiment of this.”

The story of how Menos came about is a mixture of serendipity and UTSC grad smarts. The founders, joined by a colleague from OCADU, are Capatina, who graduated from the Management Co-op program with a specialization in marketing; Ryan Howes (BSc, 2015), who graduated from the Science Co-op program with a specialization in mental health studies and a minor in philosophy; and Christopher Kreisel (BSc, 2015), who graduated with a major in biochemistry and a dual minor in biology and philosophy.

Capatina says they hung out together at UTSC, drawn by each other’s ideas. Then, after graduation, German-born Capatina took Howes to visit his father’s vacation home near Barcelona in Spain, and Dad served some authentic local olive oil. “It was a real moment,” says Capatina. “We just couldn’t believe the taste. You could drink it from the bottle.”

Dad, an entrepreneur, suggested they import Spanish oil to Canada. Researching the market, they found that the standard of extra virgin olive oil here is very uneven—even when it sells for $60 a half-litre. So after a search, the Menos team selected an award-winning, 400-year-old family farm as supplier and arranged for a half-ton shipment.

Early on a Saturday morning last May, Capatina and Howes appeared at Weston Farmer’s Market at the Weston GO Station, selling half-litre bottles for $35. It was still a premium price, “but once people tried it, they understood,” says Capatina.

More shipments followed, and more farmers’ markets around Toronto. Impressed, their partners in Spain invited them to New York City in June for the Summer Fancy Food Show, where Capatina and Howes discovered a cornucopia of international delicacies on display. Enter Guayusa tea, grown by Indigenous people under the canopy of Ecuador’s rain forest and strong on antioxidants, and Shattell dark chocolate, an Indigenous product from Peru made from rare criollo cocoa.

Two other products also joined the line-up: stone-ground matcha tea from Japan, and spiced Ontario raw honey from a bee-keeping couple they met at Weston.

“Once we had five products, we asked ourselves, what’s the best way to introduce them,” says Capatina. “We decided on gift baskets.” When Capatina mentioned the idea to Arsenault, she promptly offered to help design them.

The Department of Management put in an order, and the Menos team is talking to other organizations about the baskets as Christmas approaches. They will also sell their food products at the UTSC Indoor Market every Wednesday until March. 

Menos is now seeking wholesale and distribution deals for its foods to reach retailers throughout Toronto and across Canada.

As for the name, think back to those philosophy minors. Although menos happens to be Spanish for less, says Capatina, “really it comes from one of the Socratic dialogues, the Meno, which addresses the question, ‘What is virtue?’ Menos is our answer.”

 




© University of Toronto Scarborough