Female Founder: (June) Destiny Moser

On the first Tuesday of every month, we’ll announce a new Female Founder, including a video interview of them sharing their business story. Want to be featured as a Female Founder? Contact Heather Hutchings for more details. The Female Founders Program would not be possible without our Title Sponsor, Scotiabank.

To learn a little more about the Scotiabank Women Initiative, and why they’ve chosen to sponsor this program, see the video below.

The next Female Founder we’re featuring is Destiny Moser, Owner & Head Chef, FoodZen.

Hi! I’m Destiny, the owner & Head Chef at FoodZen. As a working mom of three, I understand the demands of a busy schedule and the challenges of a work/life balance. That’s why I created FoodZen, a personal chef and pre-made meal delivery service designed to bring some zen to your busy life.

Although I specialize in a wide variety of international foods, as an Indigenous chef my focus is to create meals using ingredients that are hyper-local and ultra-seasonal. This farm-to-table approach supports many local businesses and favours whole foods over processed ones. Because of this approach, many of my meals are free of most priority allergens.

I also work closely with the Indigenous community to provide teaching and workshop experiences for others to learn about not only Indigenous food but about healthy eating, food sovereignty and sustainability.

So, whether you’re a working professional looking for a stress-free meal plan, a family trying to juggle it all, or a senior wanting to maintain your independence, FoodZen’s got you covered. Let’s bring some zen to your table and make life a bit easier. Cheers to good food and good vibes!

To learn more about Destiny and her journey as a Female Founder, watch the interview below (or read the written format).

Tell us about your business.

So, at FoodZen we have a couple different avenues.  We are personal chefs, so we go in your home, cook your meals, do your groceries and just leave it in the fridge with reheating instructions.

We also do pre-made meals, so we’ll cook on Wednesdays and deliver them every Wednesday. We have an indigenous education component of that as well. And then FoodZen has also partnered with Bingemans to open Cedar Spoon, which is indigenous catering.

Where did your business idea come from?

So, I opened FoodZen in September 2021 and it was really because I couldn’t find the food I was looking for. So many boxed meal kits have processed foods, lots of packaging. They’re getting their food from many parts all over the world. And as an indigenous chef, I really wanted to make sure that my family was eating whole foods, hyper-local, ultra-seasonal.

What were you doing before you started your business?

So, before I started FoodZen, I actually was in the tech world for 17 years. Food was always my passion, it was my love language, but I did spend 17 years in the corporate world, which has helped me open FoodZen because many of the skills that I learned there helped me open this business and make it successful so quickly.

What have been some of the highlights of your entrepreneurial journey?

I would say that the biggest highlight for me is rediscovering my indigenous roots. My mom’s part of the Sixties Scoop. She was adopted by a German family here in Waterloo region. So I always had this understanding of farm-to-table food, but definitely that, you know, kind of surprise at really digging into the indigenous culture and learning about their food ways, food sovereignty, things like that has definitely been my biggest surprise and a big part of my healing journey as well for me, my mom, and also to stop generational trauma for my kids moving forward.

What are some of the challenges your business has faced?

I would say the biggest challenge for me is the marketing side. I’m new to the marketing side. So up till now, it’s been great. There’s word of mouth. Obviously, people are really interested in the indigenous side of things. So, when you Google indigenous food, there’s really only me who comes up. There are other indigenous chefs in our region, but there’s very few of us. So, I would say the marketing side. It’s just hard to understand where to put your money so that you get a return on that investment.

How do you adapt to those challenges?

Before I’ve navigated the marketing side, just by looking at people in the industry who are already doing it and doing it well and seeing what you are trying, what’s working for you, what’s not working for you. And sometimes it’s just throwing something out there and seeing if it catches. But the biggest component for marketing is always word of mouth and getting in front of people. So, get to many networking events and talk because every networking event I do, I usually leave with one to ten different business opportunities.

Knowing what you know now, is there anything you would do differently?

I think that the biggest thing for me is that I kind of went into this initially, like quitting my corporate job, going to culinary school in the middle of a pandemic. I wanted it to be a hobby. It was kind of like, you know, that semi-retirement plan. And when they started finding the unmarked graves, that really took me in a completely different direction. And I realized that I had a bigger purpose. I think that I struggled for about a year to decide if I wanted to do this or not, because I kept thinking, how am I, you know, am I ready? Do we have enough money saved for our kids’ education, for our retirement, to continue to do the things we love? And I think that when you follow your passion and you just jump in and put everything into it, it works itself out. But if you just talk about it and don’t actually make action, you’re just delaying yourself. So, I wish I wouldn’t have held back so much at the beginning. I wish I would have just jumped right in.

What career advice would you give to young people?

I talk to a lot of kids in schools, and they always ask me, like, what advice can I give them, you know, to help them move forward in their careers? And for me, I’ve always volunteered within the community. I’ve networked a lot. You know, I’ve enjoyed cooking. So, I was already cooking with many known chefs in our area.

So that networking side is really what helped me go, like, get off the ground fast. So, if this is something you want to do, your business is going to grow because of who you know. And if you have a large family or you have a small family. That’s fine. That’s great. Your family can only take you so far. You really need to network and get out there in the community, volunteer for the things that you’re striving for.

How was it transitioning from a full-time career to going back to school?

So, I grew up with dyslexia, which I didn’t know about until I was in grade 11. And so, school was never an easy path for me. I was great at that kind of hands-on verbal communication. And that’s why I was able to grow through the corporate world as quickly as I did because it was like, show me what you want me to do. I’ll copy it. You criticize me, correct me, and then I won’t forget it. So, learning became my superpower because it’s easier for me to listen and sit and have a conversation with you to learn.

And so, learning, if I’m not learning, I get bored. And so going back to school wasn’t really something new for me because any time there was a cooking class, this started with me just Googling what cooking classes are happening. We’re kind of stuck at home. What is there to do? And I was always going into as many cooking classes as I could. And I came across this school, Top Tooks, which was liaison at the time. And they were offering this program. And I never had a university or college degree because that route didn’t work for the way I learned my style. And so, it’s kind of cool to be like, oh, I could have a degree.

Going back to school was not something that was weird or different, just because learning is my way of kind of just getting through life.

How do you keep integrating that learning process in your business?

Food is the easiest place to continually learn because there’s so much cultural foods, one in our region, but then there’s so much food that we haven’t even been introduced to. And the other fun thing has been really following the anthropology of food. So that’s how I learn about what was indigenous to Canada prior to the settlers because I can see that this plant or this animal or whatever was here or not.

And then as you dig into it, you quickly learn, wait, tomatoes aren’t from Italy. So, what did Italians have before tomatoes? And they couldn’t have had the pasta because we didn’t have a way of refining the flour into today. So, you really have an opportunity to kind of just travel the world, not physically, but through the food to discover what was indigenous before settlers in that region. And, you know, what ingredients are they using today that we might not even have access to? It’s an area that if you want to always learn, you learn history, you learn food, you learn about the indigenous cultures from around the world. And it’s never ending because the world is so big.

What methods have you used to grow your business?

For me, it’s the education side that’s really been the biggest way of growing my business. I know that I’m not the only one who’s struggling to kind of reconcile what has happened within Canada to learn that the indigenous food of Canada is labeled as exotic or specialty or illegal. So, when I started to learn that it was natural for me to learn it and then go around with this passion of, did you know, did you know?

And the education side and having that excitement, I think, and sometimes I get overly passionate about it that I might scare people sometimes. But I think that the education piece and getting out there and just talking about it has been the biggest way for me to grow my business.

How do you define success?

Honestly, that is such a good question, because when I was a kid, I remember thinking there’s no point in striving to be a millionaire. That’s a hard goal to achieve. And I remember my friends would be like, oh, I want the big house and I want a fast car. But that’s not necessarily going to happen for most people. And so, for me, my idea of success originally was when I can go to the grocery store without like a list and a calculator, like just to go and be like what’s on sale, what looks good. I usually personally for me start in the meats.

And then I build my dinner from there. I knew that that day that I could do that without having to look at all the flyers and look at all the deals and not have to have a calculator or put things back when you got to the till. I knew that at that point I made it, that I was successful. And then I started my next goal and then my next goal. And I think that if you build these small baby goals, you feel successful and accomplished at many points in your life. But if you decide you want to be a millionaire and then you hit 50 and you’re still not a millionaire, you’re just going to feel down and like out on yourself.

So just make small goals to define what your success is in the next like year or three years or five years.

What small goals have you set for yourself right now?

Right now, I’ve set a really big one because I feel like I have been successful so many times throughout my life. I feel very accomplished. My biggest goal right now before I die is to take the word exotic off the indigenous food of Canada.

What are some of the core values of your business?

Core values that have been important to me, especially growing up in a corporate world, is my I hate being called the boss. It bugs me. These are my co-workers. They are my team. Like we work together. So, it’s important to me that everybody feels like they are a big part of what we’re trying to build. That’s a huge one that they’re being paid fairly. So, I’m not just looking at living wage.

I’m looking at living wage and beyond what we need to survive. So, a lot of the people on my team do get paid more than me sometimes because they’re out there doing the work and I’m in the background doing the administrative stuff. So, it’s really important that I reward them for that.

Other key values are to stick to what we know and don’t try and do things that we aren’t sure about. It’s learn it first and then do it because there’s no point in going out there and faking it. So, if somebody says to me, can you make me Indian food? Sure, I can, but I can’t make it the way your grandma or your mom or your auntie would make it. So, I can do it the way I can give you some of that flavor profile. But don’t say, yes, I can make it because I’m a chef and I know how to do it. So, it’s really learn it, respect it and stick to hyperlocal, ultra-seasonal.

That’s even from a business side. So, when I’m selecting programs to use or if I have to buy a new computer, well, yes, the computer is still going to be made by the big 1 percent, but you can buy it from a store that’s local, small business. So it’s really don’t just take hyperlocal, ultra-seasonal into our food, but even through all the products and things we need to buy as well.

What does your team look like?

Yeah, so right now we have a team of four and we are heavily recruiting for at least two more positions. Most of the people who are hired on are personal chefs. And so, they go into people’s homes and cook and then some of them will actually come into our FoodZen kitchen on Tuesdays and Wednesdays to help us get prepared for the pre-made meals.

And then myself and Chef Sumit, who’s our head chef, we do a lot of the education components.

What’s your strategy for recruiting talent?

That is something that I’m still learning. In corporate world it’s very easily easy because you just have to check boxes.

Do you know this? Do you know that?

In culinary world, just because someone can cook doesn’t necessarily mean that they know how to build a menu or create a recipe or even follow it or it tastes delicious because they know how to tweak it because the recipes don’t always work. So, it’s definitely a lot harder in the culinary world to hire somebody. You almost have to, you know, bring them on temporarily for a temporary paid position just to get to know them, their learning style, how they cook.

So, I would say that is totally different than what I’ve come from. It’s a lot more things you have to dig into to decide if this person really fits into our culture. We strive to not use processed ingredients.

So, if I give you a recipe and it calls for pasta sauce, then are you making that pasta sauce from scratch or are you going and buying it from the store? Because we need to make sure that that fits into our culture. It’s actually cheaper and just as fast to make it from scratch because a lot of people don’t understand that pasta sauce doesn’t need to actually sit there all day. It just needs to have that flavor profile.

So, it’s really making sure that people fit into that hyperlocal, ultra seasonal, try to avoid processed food as much as possible. As a culture in general, I think we’ve just gotten really used to it and we’re on a mission to change the way people see, eat, and buy food.

What are some of the advantages of establishing your business in the Waterloo Region?

I grew up here and its home to me. I’ve left a couple of times, but what we have access to, the fact that we are this big city, not gigantic metropolis, but a big city surrounded by farmland, to me, how much better can it get? We’re so close to just driving down the road and you get to know your farmer. I know a lot of the butchers. I love just driving up to Barry’s Asparagus and seeing what they have and buying as much asparagus as I can while it’s in season.

You don’t have that in necessarily other places. And if you’re in a smaller town, then you’re missing kind of that city feel. So, I think this is like the perfect region that you can, depending on your business, you can feel like you’re in a big city and get all the resources you need.

But you also have this ability to kind of escape and leave it as well.

Why is the aspect of community so important to you?

I think it’s important to give back, like even for my kids, before they were kind of mandated to do volunteering, it was important that they got involved into the community. It was important for me, too, for them to understand charity work and the value of giving and to understand that we’re very privileged.

I grew up, you know, in a poor family. There was we had a house, but there was many people living in that house to help provide for us. And I don’t feel that I’m different than anyone else who was kind of born into that.

And so, everything that I have been given up to this point. Yes, I’ve worked hard, but lots of people work hard. So, I feel that it’s important that I honour that and like I’m grateful for that. Gratitude is a huge part of everything that I do. I’ve now learned that’s a huge part of the Indigenous culture, which is really cool to learn that so many things that were niche about me or weird about me, it turns out it’s what makes me Indigenous. But giving back, even in the Indigenous culture, they measure wealth by what you can give, not what you have.

So that’s kind of cool to learn, too. But it’s important that I don’t forget where I came from and to make sure that I understand that I have privilege and that I have luck, I guess you could say, and to share that and allow other people to, you know, feel like, oh, today was such a bad day. And then maybe I show up with food and they’re like, oh, my gosh, thank you. Like, I love feeding people’s souls. You know, I know it’s medicine. I know it’s healing.

It’s also power, because if you know how to cook, you can turn, you know, a bin that you get from the food bank into something wonderful. And it can feel like you have control and power over something.

Tell us more about your partnership with Crow Shield Lodge

So right now, I partnered with Crow Shield Lodge. I’m also partnered with SOHOC in Cambridge. So, both are Indigenous organizations who are really working towards reconciliation, not just within the Indigenous community, but educating allies. There are so many people right now who are trying to, who are saying, what can I do and how can I be an ally and how can I, you know, be educated? And so definitely reaching out to Crow Shield. They always do different allyship teachings. If you want, we can do allyship teachings. Plus, I can provide food so we can talk about the food.

With SOHOC, it’s more focused on the Indigenous community right now and just educating them on food, on food, how to cook it, how to shop. A lot of the Indigenous people have diabetes. We are the largest population in Canada with diabetes because of the food that we weren’t accustomed to that has kind of been forced on us.

So, we’re really having to unwind that within the Indigenous community. I teach a lot of cooking classes there. I also partner with other organizations like the Multicultural Center. We have a lot of newcomers coming in. It’s great to be able to kind of kick off and learn about their food and then figure out how they can still make that here by using local ingredients, not necessarily having to have it shipped from far away. I teach in almost all of our high schools for the Waterloo District School Board.

I’m also now with the Guelph School Board and the York District School Board. So, I’ve been doing a lot of in-school education. I have a lot of friends who are teachers who keep telling me how excited they are when they get to teach Bannock to their kids. And I right away I’m like, great, but Bannock’s not Indigenous. It’s something we’ve adapted. It has become a major part of our culture. But it’s a food that represents repression and it represents death. And it’s also one of the reasons why our population has such high rates of diabetes. So, all this kind of combined, it helps me reach different ages. It helps me reach different organizations. And then obviously bringing awareness to these amazing organizations that we have in our community that pretty much anybody can go to for support and help.

What inspires you?

Oh, my gosh. Honestly, I am just driven by food. It doesn’t matter what I’m doing, whether I’m traveling, whether I’m hanging out with my friends, you know, a family get together. If its food is not the core of it, I just feel like what’s the point? You know, I thought I remember during COVID people were losing their taste buds. And I honestly thought, what would I do if I didn’t have taste buds? Even for like a week, it would be hard because food is such a huge part of everything I do. I learn because of food. Oh, I want to go to this country so I can learn this food. I want to get to know these people. And then you sit down, and you break bread together and learn about each other. So, I think that that’s my driver… is food.

And it’s something I’m super passionate about. It’s my love language.

What advice would you give to other business owners?

So, I would say don’t try and do everything all at once. Decide what you want your business to be in the long term and then take it piece by piece. So, I knew that eventually I would want to do pre-made meals. And eventually we want to do kids meals. But I don’t want to launch it all at once because that’s just a lot to take on. Start with one thing, get it going, making sure that it’s a well-oiled machine. It’s kind of managing itself and then move on to the next project. I think that, yes, you do have to have kind of those, “OK, this is my job and this is kind of my hustle on the side.”

I do believe that. But don’t try and take on too much. And it’s ok to say no at the very beginning of your career. You want to say yes to everything because you think that’s how you’re going to grow your business. But if you can’t do everything at exactly the way you expect it to be done and you just kind of, you know, do half the job, it’s not at your expectation, then say no, because that’s going to hold you back.

How do you manage your time?

It’s really important to schedule your work, but also to schedule all your personal time. So, I make sure that every week I put block because that’s my day to just catch up. And I will purposely go through my whole calendar year and write in vacation, and you might have to change it. But if you strive to say, ok, I know I’m going on a vacation in August, you work around it. But if you don’t see it in your calendar, you’re likely to book something there. If you need if you’re one of those people who struggle to find time to eat healthy meals, book lunch, just have it as a reoccurring meeting.

And so if you don’t have an organized schedule, you’re just going to feel chaotic and disorganized and you’re always going to feel like you’re catching up. So have a day to do admin work, have a day to do, hey, I just want to go and do self care, whether it’s going for a walk or going to a spa or going out to eat with your friends.

I have to even book to sometimes go pick up my kids because I get so passionate about something that I’m doing that I don’t realize what time it is. And I’m like, oh, no, I have children to pick up.

It’s just important to have a really good schedule, because if you do that, all of a sudden you don’t feel like you’re always catching up.

What is your favourite dish to make right now?

Right now, my favorite thing to make is venison rack of like ribs, so it’s like lamb rack, but it’s venison. And I was very fortunate enough to go to Four Quarter Butcher at the Kitchener Farmers Market, and I saw it there. And at first, I was confused because it looked like rack of lamb, but it was huge. And so, I was like, what is this? I bought it.

I googled how to make it. And now I think I crave it. It’s hard to get because obviously venison is considered exotic.

And so most butcher shops can’t sell the meat. But when I do have access to something like that, I’m definitely making it. I’m inviting people over and it’s so delicious.

What audacious goals do you have for your business?

So, the parts that we really want to grow is I know for me as a kid, you know, you got to go home for lunch. And so, if you were lucky enough, you had a mom or a dad or a babysitter who cooked your homemade food for lunch. Now kids are staying at school. And when you look at the way our kids are eating at school, some of them don’t even have access to whole nutritious foods. Like I’ve been into my kids’ schools, and I see a lot of kids who are staying at school, and I see them open their lunch box and it’s like chips and like a granola bar. And so, what we’re really missing is food within our schools. And so many schools can’t do lunch programs or meal programs or even pizza day. These things aren’t there anymore. So, I really want to launch our Kids Meal Program.

if you’re ordering food for your family already, but you would love to have, you know, friendly sizes and tastes, then we definitely want to get our pre-made meals for kids off the ground. And we’re hoping to launch that for the next school year.

What can we expect from you in the meantime?

June is Indigenous History Month, so if you want to learn more about foods and about Indigenous food, keep following along because we are posting everything we can.

There’s lots of events coming up. So right now, it’s really focusing on getting through Indigenous History Month. And then this summer, I’m lucky enough that I get to travel again to Europe, so I get to learn. I talked about Italy a lot today because it’s in the top of my mind, because that’s where we’re going. And I’m excited to learn more about the more Indigenous food of that region.

Where can we find out more about your business?

Yeah, so you can find us at foodzen.ca and under there, you’ll under there, you will see our personal chef stuff. You’ll see our pre-made meal things. You’ll see our Indigenous education. And you’ll also get to learn about Cedar Spoon and everything we’re offering there as well.

And then we’re on Facebook and Instagram.

*This interview has been edited for length and clarity.