Hungry Box: A Must Read Interview with the Owner, Sean Scourse

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ONE for ONE, 365 days a year.

For every Hungry Box purchased, the exact same meal is donated to the hungry and the homeless.

As Montrealers, it is almost impossible to walk downtown without noticing one of the hungry and homeless citizens we pass by on the streets.  While we know that this is not solely a Montreal issue, I am proud to say that there is at least one business in our area that has a goal to eliminate the “hungry” part of being “hungry and homeless”.

 Thanks to Hungry Box, over 16,000 of those in need have been fed so far!  I am honored to talk to Sean Scourse, the Owner and Founder of Hungry Box.  You may have heard him on CHOM, Virgin Radio, CJAD, Radio NRJ or you may have seen him on CTV, BTMontreal and CBC Daytime along with write ups in several publications such as The Suburban and The Gazette (featured below). If you love the Hungry Box concept as much as I do or haven’t heard of it yet, read on to find out even more about how it all started and how it continues to help people and children in our community.

Thank you so much for taking the time to do this! Before I begin, I first want to say, I absolutely love everything about Hungry Box and I think that what you’re doing is inspirational to many people.

That’s very kind of you to say. Thank you.

How did you come up with the concept behind Hungry Box?

It was born out of an experiment. I enjoy cooking, more so than most. I particularly love boiling recipes down to fundamentals and making everything from scratch. Not only does this make for a much more delicious end result but it is also much more nutritious and less expensive than buying ready made ingredients. This was about four years ago and Toms Shoes had made an impression with me in a big way. For every pair of shoes you buy they donate a pair to kids in need. Many businesses donate a portion of their profits (often for tax reasons) but this was the first time that I had seen a social cause built into a for-profit company. I was curious if it would be possible to apply that model to my love of cooking and perhaps do some good in our own city.

How long did it take for you to take the idea of Hungry Box and turn it into a reality?

It took about 2 years of writing and re-writing my business plan, soliciting feedback etc. Accumulating ideas from traveling, doing research.

What was the hardest part or, what did you struggle with the most when you first opened?

The hardest part is the psychology of the owner (me). It’s not easy making decisions everyday that will make or break your business. Combined with a slow week or a weak employee and even simple matters become tricky. Often, it seems like there is no right or wrong answer, just a, do we go left or right? Trying to manage the cash-flow has been tricky too. We are very proud to work with many companies but in doing so we need to adhere to their payments terms which often put us without cash for longer then we would like.

To date, how many of the hungry and homeless have you fed?

This is how we measure our success. 16,838 hungry people fed so far!!

This photo was taken closer to when Hungry Box first started.  The number has multiplied since then and is so close to hitting 20,000 - I can't wait to see it happen!
This photo was taken closer to when Hungry Box first came to be and now they are at 16,838!  I can’t wait to witness the 20,000 mark!

All of the ingredients are fresh, locally sourced and handmade- that must take a lot of work and energy. How many people do you have on your team to make it all possible? 

That’s right. Jeff is my right hand man. I come up with the recipes, buy ingredients, do the delivery and distribution. I like to say that Jeff keeps the promises I make. He comes in really early everyday and makes delicious sandwiches that somehow always seem to taste better than the day before. We are a small team. We try to leverage volunteers to help during busier months.

Do you have vegetarian/vegan friendly meals? Allergy accommodating?

We don’t use nuts in anything that we make. One of our most popular sandwiches is our roasted root vegetables with feta. It’s so good we put it on a poster. We are actually designing a new vegan sandwich now. In the mean time though, all of our sandwiches are available on lettuce wraps.

What are your top selling meals?

Terry DiMonte from CHOM coined our Smoked Chicken Salad as the best he has ever had. I agree!

You have mentioned an inspiration for Hungry Box is TOMS Shoes (who I also love). Have you ever been in contact with them to maybe join forces and collaborate?

Not outright – I wasn’t sure that they would perceive the inspiration as positive. I probably should though.

What about something more local, like Dans La Rue?

Very cool organization. So far, one of my favorite things to do is to hand out sandwiches. We like knowing that our food goes exactly to who needs it. Who knows what the future holds though.

Have you been able to have a Kiosk at charity events like runs or walks etc around Montreal?

Not really. We were asked once by a Yoga group for an annual event but how to keep things cold etc. proved to be tricky so it never materialized. Also, because we need to pre-make the meals we will sell this gets tricky. It would be hard for us to turn down participating in any event that furthers our goal of no more hungry people in cities where we operate.

Are we able to find any of your sandwiches in supermarkets? If not, have you ever wanted to have a partnership?

No, however establishing a re-seller network is something we are doing as we speak. Not necessarily grocery stores although that is a great idea but coffee shops and the like is where we will begin. Places where food is not their primary business.

Restaurants in general can have a really hard time making profit and that’s without them providing more of their dishes to charities. You also have AMAZING prices so, has it been difficult for you to stay afloat?

Yes, we have had to close our downtown store for this reason. It certainly isn’t easy. If it wasn’t for our ambitious goal I’m not sure we would still be operating.

Do you have any partners/sponsors or help from any other party?

No but we are actively seeking help. Sponsorship etc.

Courtesy of The Montreal Gazette
Credit to Dave Sidaway -Click the photo for the Full Article by Bill Brownstein Courtesy of The Montreal Gazette

Has there been any interest shown by anyone with celebrity status, local or otherwise? If not, if you COULD have someone to help promote the Hungry Box, who would it be?

Cool question – I’m not sure. Someone who is congruent in their beliefs though. The person would need to be congruent with our values. I guess if it could be anyone though, I’d go for Carey Price! I have been very fortunate in meeting the crew at CHOM and Terry DiMonte specifically. Terry introduced me to Bill Brownstein from the Gazette and Leisa Lee a local well respected publicist. These introductions are surely why we are still in business.

You mentioned volunteers earlier. What are the ways the general public can help?

Of course, you can come out with us when we feed the hungry, you can influence your employer or friends to use our catering services. We can always use help translating our collateral into both languages. We love help!

Up to now, what is a special memory you have of your adventure with Hungry Box?

We’ve had many special memories to date. We started with essentially two bare bones stores and I had a ton of help in making them pretty amazing. Long nights scrapping paint off the walls with my girlfriend, designing a drop ceiling with my Dad and getting the whole family to come out and help paint. I think the best though was taking a local company out to do the distribution to the homeless last winter. The company made a large donation to us and asked that we feed as many people as possible. We fed 650 people over the course of a few days and some of their employees came out with us to help. A few brought their children and watching young kids doing what comes so natural to them (helping others) was pretty amazing.

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You were featured on CTV News (the entire segment made me tear up, by the way) and they mentioned a location in the tunnel between Place Ville Marie and the Eaton Centre. Is that location still open or is the sole location now in NDG?

Running a business is super tough. One thing I do regret was not having a partner earlier on to share in the responsibility of decision making. We lost some funding early on which stopped us from being able to spend what we should have on marketing and getting the word out. The CTV article, Gazette article etc were incredible and helped tremendously but until I met Terry DiMonte radio host from CHOM we were not getting any attention from the media despite our best efforts. After a little more than a year in the tunnel we started to make profit in the tunnel but our back debt was too high to get out from under. We were lucky and had a pretty awesome landlord who gave me an opportunity to regroup and engage in the fall. Even our NDG location might be moved in the coming weeks due to the same problem. That being said I am committed to reaching our objective. A favorite quote of mine “you can’t be beat if you never give up” is something I believe whole heartedly.

What hours are you open?

Currently we deliver at anytime and this is our primary business whether it be to individuals or companies. The NDG store is currently open from 9h30am – 3pm .

What is the best way for people to reach you?

Email or phone is the best bet. Email is sscourse@hungrybox.ca or catering@hungrybox.ca or call me directly at 514.295.6272

What are you hoping to see happen to Hungry Box in the future/ what are your goals?

As Mike Tyson said, “Everyone has a plan, until they get punched in the face”. Our plans and goals are constantly evolving as time flies by. The goal that has never wavered though is to eliminate the number of people going hungry or who are forced to eat the nutritional equivalent of cardboard to survive (hotdog, pizza).

I have heard of many incidents where people who want to help, are skeptical about where their money goes when they donate it instantly to the homeless and therefore, walk away without doing anything.  Instead of walking away, please- contact Hungry Box.  Feel GOOD knowing that a meal will be handed directly to someone in need, simply because you chose to have a delicious, handmade, gourmet and amazing priced meal.

If you don’t live in Montreal, I hope this inspires you to either help a facility close to you that has similar values or even better, strive to open a similar place yourself!

Pay it forward.

It has been an absolute pleasure to get more information about this amazing business and although Sean is very busy, he still took the time to answer my questions.  For that, I want to thank him and I also want to thank everyone who is a part of Hungry Box for all of their hard work and dedication.  If you want to help them out, please, contact Sean at either the number/ e-mails listed above or check out their Official Website and be sure to like and share their Facebook page!

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