Interested in starting your own entrepreneurial journey in education but unsure what to expect? Then read up on our interview with Shai Mandel, founder and president of Rooks to Cooks, located in Toronto, ON, Canada.

What's your business, and who are your customers?

Rooks to Cooks is GTA's leading culinary school for children. We offer a large range of programs such as virtual classes, in-home birthday parties, after-school programs and workshops, and summer cooking camps.

Our customer base is vast. If you're a "rook" and strive to be a "cook," we've got you covered! Our focus, however, is on youth ages 4 - 16 as we aim to help bridge the gap we see in the school system and the lack of food literacy education that is out there for youth these days.

Cooking is not only an integral life skill that everyone should learn. It is also a vessel where all subject matter and life lessons can be taught (i.e., math, science, language, art, etc.). Rooks to Cooks is all about using culinary education to empower our students to become more independent, self-sufficient, confident, and kind.

Tell us about yourself

I am a professional chef and certified teacher through and through. I am passionate about the culinary arts and education and feel as if my life purpose is to help better the lives of others through the wonderful world of food.

I first had the idea of starting a culinary school while in teachers college. I was running a cooking club at my school and was exposed to how severe of a food literacy gap my students had at the time. This hit me hard and made me realize I had more to offer this world than teaching math, science, and physed. Instead, I would open a culinary school and make it my life mission to educate youth on how to cook.

When I opened my first location in 2016, my goals were streamlined - teaching kids to cook. However, in the process, I realized how much value a culinary education brings to a child's life. They left my program more confident, self-sufficient, empowered, kind, and beaming with pride. Their newfound skills and confidence began to bleed into their lives. I received countless emails and notes from parents sharing stories and observations about the positive changes they've seen in their children as a result of the program. I was beginning to digest the true impact this work could have and how important it was to expand our offerings and touch more lives.

Each day, what motivates me is the drive to spread joy to others, help others love themselves, and be confident in themselves. I believe confidence and self-love are the main ingredients to living a happy and successful life. My culinary abilities have always been a source of confidence for me and an outlet to show kindness and bring others joy. All I want to do is inspire others to love themselves and live their lives spreading more love and joy, too, as I feel this world will be a better place if we all practice this more.

What's your biggest accomplishment as a business owner?

As a business owner, I would say my journey with Rooks to Cooks. I started the company in 2016, with one camp location running summer of 2017. I then opened a head office, employed a team, and expanded to 10 locations in one year (it was very stressful but worth it). Then in 2019, we ran 12 locations, perfected the program, and proceeded to open 15 locations for summer 2020. As we all know, the pandemic hit, and we weren't allowed to run our programs after nearly eight months of investing and preparing for the summer. I lost everything, the office, the team, and had to sell off our equipment to escape bankruptcy. It was the most devastating, scary, and defeating time.

Somehow I found the strength and motivation to go on and re-built the company from square one with our virtual format, positioning R2C to be sold. It was something I was considering before the pandemic as I never intended to build a giant company, and running it was taking away from what I love to do. I closed the sale in May 2021 but remained president, ensuring our mission continued.

With this being said, I think my biggest accomplishment was not giving up, rebuilding, and eventually selling the company all before my 29th birthday. I am very proud of R2C, what we do for youth, and myself for starting, building, rebuilding, and selling within a five-year time frame.

What's one of the hardest things that come with being a business owner?

Achieving a healthy work-life balance and setting healthy boundaries for yourself. There's a true art to this.

What are the top tips you'd give to anyone looking to start, run and grow a business today?

  1. Have a clear vision/mission and stick to it.
  2. Choose colleagues who can offer your different perspectives, have different strengths, and balance your skills.
  3. Lead with love, generosity, support, and kindness. This applies to your customers and staff.

Is there anything else you'd like to share?

Ideas are a dime and a dozen. Success takes relentless hard work, dedication, and determination. Life is too short, don't permit fear of the unknown or the risks of failure to stop you. Regardless of whether your business succeeds or fails, the experience will be worthwhile and teach you many valuable lessons that you can take with you. It's so typical, but it's true. Life is a marathon, not a sprint. Go for it and get yourself a mentor to help guide you. Working in a vacuum is lonely and difficult. Good luck!

Where can people find you and your business?


If you like what you've read here and have your own story as a solopreneur that you'd like to share, then email; we'd love to feature your journey on these pages.

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