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Jo Notkin, owner and head chef at Maison Zoe Ford 

Jo Notkin, owner and head chef at Maison Zoe Ford 

Published by Programme B

The ELLEvate Women Entrepreneurs Pre-Accelerator program is an annual program run by YES Employment + Entrepreneurship. It is funded by the Government of Canada, with the support of the Ville de Montreal and our corporate partners, Desjardins and SAP. 


In what city are you situated:


About your experience with ELLEvate:

Congratulations on winning the 3rd prize in the ELLEvate Women Entrepreneurs Pre-Accelerator Pitch Competition. What does this program, and this award mean to you?

Sometimes you just need to be around other women in similar positions in order to ellevate your ideas and to get working in the right direction. It was so nice to have the support of the other women and the program and to move forward fully with our brand!

What do you think sets the ELLEvate pre-accelerator apart from other programs available to entrepreneurs in Quebec? 

To me, it was important to be a part of an anglophone community. Although I speak French and we have incredible French clients and customers, most of our clients are in Ontario and in the US, and getting the opportunity to build our business from here in Quebec was incredibly important to us. We could have gone with a program outside Quebec but we wanted to keep it local and have the support of our immediate community and that was amazing for me. 

What was the highlight, for you, of the Pre-Accelerator Program? 

I think being pushed to think outside the box was important and also to have so many different vantage points from all the coaches was incredible. The speakers were always intriguing and brought a lot to the table and for us. We connected with our digital agency through the program and that’s been so fantastic! 

What was it like to be in a program that was focused on and consisted solely of women entrepreneurs? 

There’s a support that women give each other that is so valuable. It’s a close-knit feeling that I think is really much needed and to foster this kind of community in the world of small businesses is so timely. 

About your business and work:

What makes your business concept unique? 

I have eaten all over the world and the one thing that is always memorable to me is the incredible food. It’s what you talk about with friends and family years later (remember that incredible pie in France? Or that dumpling in Taiwan- it was the best I ever tasted and I dream of it!)

Our vision is to create a brand that helps consumers create memories that last a lifetime in the happiness of their own kitchen and with incredible results.

How big is your company? 

We have 4 employees.

Have there been any business support tools and resources you’ve leaned on to navigate through the covid-19 pandemic? 

TV! Being on TV for the last 2 years has been so incredibly helpful to keep the vision going!


What inspires and motivates you to work on your concept every day?  

Mostly the testimonials when people say they are the best pancakes they have ever tasted in their lives or that guests can’t stop talking about the brownies etc. That’s the whole point of the brand. Really connecting through food! 

What tools are essential for your professional life (apps, software)? 

Kitchens! haha. We use Shopify and Google, square, and many, many apps to stay organized and create a great customer experience.

What does your workspace look like? 

We actually work out of an electrical closet at the moment! Haha. We have a small space in a friend’s warehouse that we will be leaving this year in order to work with a new company that will handle all our shipping. We work with 2 manufacturers in Ontario at the moment to produce all our products and we have an amazing relationship with them. Even our pouches are made in Canada locally.

How do you organize your days to optimize your workflow? 

Most days are not organized as anyone who owns a fast pace start-up would know! We have plans for our days that get derailed by new retailers calling or meetings about lead times that we have to meet or even a day we need to take for extra testing because the product isn’t quite perfect. No two days are the same!

What’s your best tip for saving/managing your time? 

We keep major lists of everything that needs to get done but sometimes we just have to go with the flow! We have priorities in order to meet deadlines but often we have to divide and conquer on larger projects 

What does your brand represent/reflect? Who is your customer? 

Our brand is about sharing and making memories and our customers love us because they want to look like pros in the kitchen and feel like we are right there with them. We are in many ways! We believe in the art of hospitality!

What is the best advice given to you? 

Sara’s Blakeley from Spanx once said not to tell others about your ideas too soon. They can talk you out of things that feel intuitively right to you. To us that means to follow your intuition and try not to compare yourself to others- It happens but I try to nip that in the bud!

What are some of the biggest challenges you’ve encountered as an entrepreneur? 

Mostly supply chain and manufacturing issues. Sometimes there are sugar shortages or things arrive late and you really have to get creative in order to navigate those scary times! 

What kind of support would you need to take the next steps to bring your vision to life?  

We are currently looking for the right partner to take our vision to a broader level where we can share with more consumers and really bring our vision to a wider public. We are now partnering with a company that assists people with disabilities to find jobs in the workplace. Our goal is to be a socially responsible business in any way that we can to involve the community around us.

What advice would you give to someone who wants to start a business? 

You have to absolutely love what you do because on the hard days you still have to want to do it and love the mission you’ve set up. Even the absolute best companies have challenges and have to 100% believe in their visions to get them through! |