Princess Diana once said, “Carry out a random act of kindness with no expectation of reward.”
“I love Princess Diana,” says Ola Ahmed, her voice trailing off in adoration. She references the late royal philanthropist as her biggest inspiration while speaking on a panel of female entrepreneurs during Women Entrepreneurship Week 2019. Her admiration goes beyond that of a regular fan; Ola walks the walk as a local entrepreneur and founder of Kindness Café, a social enterprise with a platform based on kindness, generosity, and the general well-being of the Windsor-Essex community and beyond.
Ola’s journey began at a young age. Growing up in Egypt, she watched as her mother created fresh and delicious meals for her family every single day. But she also saw leftover food from the day prior being thrown into the garbage. Something about that didn’t sit well with Ola, especially as she grew up and became more observant of the world around her, seeing hunger and famine taking over communities.
After obtaining her Bachelors of Biotechnology in Egypt, Ola came to the University of Windsor to complete her Masters of Medical Biotechnology. Upon arrival, she accepted a position at a local coffee shop. “I noticed a lot of food waste in Egypt,” says Ola. “When I came here I thought I wouldn’t see the same thing, but I noticed when I was working as a barista that every shift the supervisor would dump everything out even though it was packaged, healthy, and delicious. I started to feel like this was happening everywhere.” She knew it was time to do something about it and thus, Kindness Café was born.
Ola’s initial business model included placing refrigerators around the Windsor-Essex area and having community members donate food items for those in need, similar to the idea of a free library. It wasn’t until she enrolled in the EPIC Founders program at the University of Windsor EPICentre that she pivoted her business model to what it is today: a transient restaurant with a pay-as-you-feel platform. “Kindness Café is a pop-up-driven restaurant that serves surplus and unsold food donated from restaurants, cafés, bakeries, farms, and citizens,” explains Ola. “We serve it back to the community as a meal with a pay-as-you-feel concept so people will decide the value of the food that they get. If they don’t want to pay for it, it’s okay for them to take it for free.”
According to the National Zero Waste Council, one third of all food produced globally is wasted and 63 percent of food that Canadians throw out each year could have been rescued. Ola’s platform aims to alleviate this problem within the Windsor-Essex community by turning food surplus into the same delicious meals she watched her mother make when growing up in Egypt. “I get the unsold product, which can be anything like a box of tomatoes, three boxes of lettuce, and cans of chickpeas,” she explains. “I’ll start to think of how I can mix all the ingredients together into a delicious meal. So I’ll make salads, a hummus—it all depends on what I get as a donation.
“Someone once told me that my hummus is the best hummus they’ve ever tasted!” she adds.
Although Kindness Café rescues unsold food items, Ola is still mindful of the fact that her meals must be of the highest quality for her customers. Any food waste that she produces or donated items that have passed their best-before date are then donated to the local composting company, GreenerBins compost to either feed the chickens in their chicken sanctuary or turn into compost. “It’s a cycle—people, then livestock, then soil—to help produce the next generation of food. It’s a 100 percent zero-waste plan.”
With the pay-as-you-feel platform, the menu at Kindness Café can cater to anyone’s budget. The money she does receive goes right back into purchasing ingredients to help expand her menu. “When I prepare meals, I still need more ingredients sometimes like salt, pepper, tahini, so I buy it using the pay-as-you feel fund. The money goes back into the business for packaging, marketing materials, and, of course, more ingredients.” Ola says she would like to further reduce her environmental impact by investing in biodegradable takeout containers.
Kindness Café is still in the early stages of development. Ola is currently enrolled in the Libro-EPIC Social Enterprise Program at the University of Windsor EPICentre, a 16-week accelerator program where she and three other local social enterprises are working to validate their businesses.
Despite the fact that Kindness Café is still new, Ola has big plans for the company’s growth. “I want to add a food truck, but it’s also a good idea to have a permanent location for the sake of deliveries and donations,” she explains. “So we’ll have a kitchen and either a café setting where people can eat there, or we will take it out in the food truck and go to the places where people need it most. It’s ideal in Windsor to have a mobile system because Windsor is such a small city and it’s very convenient to just drive around and serve people.”
Meeting Ola, it’s apparent that the word kindness is not only synonymous with the café’s business platform, but also something that radiates through her. Her idea was born out of the immense need to make the world a better place, starting with her own community. “Because Windsor is a small city and has a smaller population, we can manage the situation here and maybe, in the future, we can expand to other cities,” she says.
For now, you can catch Ola and her volunteers at various pop-up locations around the community with menu items ranging from fattoush salad, hummus, and traditional Egyptian Koshari, just to name a few. To learn more about Kindness Café or to check out their next pop-up location, be sure to follow them on social media @KindnessCafeWindsor on Facebook and Instagram.