Little Kitchen Academy co-founders Felicity and Brian Curin reflect on remarkable growth.
For years, Felicity Curin had wanted to find a way to combine her passion for health, food, and children into a business. “Initially I wanted to open a bakery where veggies would be baked into delicious treats, but then I realized we shouldn’t hide vegetables in our children’s food. Instead, we need to engage them in the process of cooking, so they actually want to try a mushroom or some zucchini,” said Felicity, founder, president, and COO of Little Kitchen Academy.
“I have always been passionate about food and trained as a chef early in my career. Later, I was inspired to go back to school and received my AMI degree after I fell in love with the Montessori pedagogy. That process helped me realize that cooking was the perfect vehicle to help children develop their independence and learn practical life skills, and the idea for Little Kitchen Academy developed from there. We are a cooking school, but our real purpose is helping our students grow into happy, healthy, independent children!”
Successful from the start
Felicity’s dream became a reality in 2019, when Little Kitchen Academy opened its Vancouver flagship location. Immediately, Felicity’s husband Brian knew they had to share this concept with the world.
“We are a cooking school, but our real purpose is helping our students grow into happy, healthy, independent children!”
Brian is a proven global brand and franchise expert and serial entrepreneur who has built brands like Flip Flop Shops, Cold Stone Creamery, and Moe’s Southwest Grill. “It’s incredibly fulfilling for me to use the skills and experience I have in the franchising world to bring this incredible concept that Felicity has created to more children,” said Brian Curin, CEO and co-founder.
Brian and Felicity set out to find like-minded people and have amassed an impressive group of investors (including Ryan Holmes, founder of Hootsuite; venture capitalist/TV personality Bruce Croxon), advisory board members (including Iron Chef Cat Cora; founder of Yves Veggie Cuisine and Gardein, Yves Potvin), and global brand partners like AeroGarden and Emeco.
“As we began telling people in our network about Little Kitchen Academy, they kept saying, ‘I have to be involved in this’,” said Brian. “To have an individual like David Kahan, CEO of BIRKENSTOCK Americas, say that he not only wanted to join our advisory board, but that he also wanted BIRKENSTOCK to be our official footwear partner, I almost couldn’t believe it. Knowing he had such a passion for and belief in this concept was really powerful. And then David introduced us to Iron Chef Cat Cora, and she fell in love with the concept too!”
“We’re grateful to have found people who love this concept as much as we do”
“When I first met Brian and Felicity and learned about Little Kitchen Academy, I immediately knew that it was something I wanted to be a part of,” said Cat Cora. “When I experienced a class and saw how empowered and independent the students were in the kitchen in response to the caring Montessori inspired approach, I was certain that we had to share this incredible gift with as many children as possible.”
The Curins also found like-minded individuals to open franchise locations in Canada and the U.S. They have more than 70 locations in development, three Canadian locations currently open, and a fourth location, the company’s U.S. flagship, opening August 16 in Los Angeles.
“We’re grateful to have found people who love this concept as much as we do,” said Brian. “We’ve had multiple occasions where franchisees have signed a deal for one or two locations, but after beginning our Starting from Scratch process and seeing the thought and detail that goes into every decision we make, they sign on to open more locations. To us, that’s the ultimate indication that we are supporting our franchisees properly.”
The Vancouver flagship has managed to see remarkable growth, even amidst the COVID-19 pandemic, with 50 per cent YOY growth in 2019-2020 and 200 per cent YOY in 2020-2021. The LKA team attributes a significant portion of its success to high repeat and referral rates.
“We have some students who have been coming every week since we opened two years ago,” said Felicity. “It’s wonderful to see students ‘graduating’ from one age group to the next or welcoming their younger sibling to their first class.”
The flagship also maintains low food costs and very favourable margins. “We guide our students to celebrate using local, seaonal ingredients as much as possible because it’s better for the environment, better for them, and the food tastes better. But it also allows us to keep our food costs low and maintain healthy profit margins,” said Brian.
Putting students at the forefront
Despite their early success and rapid growth, for Felicity, Brian, and the LKA team, everything they do comes back to their students. “Little Kitchen Academy really is the key ingredient for an independent child,” said Felicity. “We see the independence in our students growing every day. It starts from the moment students walk in the door when an instructor hands them their chef’s coat and helps do up the first button, then encourages the child to do the rest. We’ve seen some interesting ways of buttoning a chef coat and buttons are frequently missed, but it’s about the effort, not the result.
“And with many of our students who have been coming for a while, we see them starting to help others with the same process. We had two siblings come in together and the sister helped her younger brother with the first button and said ‘I’ll show you how to do the first one, and then you can do the rest.’ Seeing that independence and empowerment is truly inspiring.”
Little Kitchen Academy is seeking multi-unit franchisees, area reps, and development partners in markets across Canada and the U.S., and master franchisees for Australia, India, the MENA region, Singapore, Spain, and the U.K. Key U.S. markets include Arizona, California, Colorado, Florida, Illinois, Mississippi, North Carolina, Oregon, Texas, Washington, and Wisconsin.
At a glance
Number of franchised outlets: 4 locations operating, more than 70 franchises in development
Location of units: California, Oregon, Washington, British Columbia, Ontario
Investment Range: $274,453 – $631,124
Minimum Required Capital: $250,000