One of the most masterful feats a restaurant team pulls off is making an overall experience look effortless. We recently recognized these outstanding restaurants in our 50 Most Loved All Stars list in Canada.
Our Most Loved restaurants are featured on the DoorDash app home page, which helps them build credibility, find new customers, and provide them with marketing materials to display their hard-earned status.
Kokomo was one of these featured restaurants. When I spoke with Katie Ruddell, Kokomo’s founder, I met someone who focuses on the smallest details — and revels in setting big goals.
From brand strategist to the owner of a plant-based restaurant, Katie proves that success can be achieved in many ways — even when you take a risk and pivot away from a well-worn path. Katie’s always believed in goal setting; at her previous ad agency job, she wrote down a few: make more money, live in a different apartment, and feel active.
Then, she outlined two paths she could take to reach her goals: asking for a raise or getting a new job. She achieved those goals, but took that drive to Lululemon, where Katie told her soon-to-be boss that she would quit and start her own business within five years. “She said, ‘Honey, you don’t have the job yet,’” Katie remembers.
“I got my dream job at Lululemon on the Women’s Brand team. But I was using all this energy to create strategy decks and other corporate materials, and I couldn’t see how it impacted people in their daily lives,” she says. “The vision for Kokomo was born out of a desire to have that impact: to bring the energy and warmth of summer to your daily life through fresh, nourishing, plant-based bowls, a sun-filled space, and gratitude.”
Katie chose Kokomo’s first location partly because of her understanding of the market — and a bit of childhood nostalgia walking around Vancouver’s Chinatown. “I chose Chinatown because I felt it was really at the crux of different communities, going about their busy lives, and I wanted to meet them where they were," she says. "Also, growing up in Singapore, although that doesn’t look like Chinatown every day, I’m always nostalgic as I walk through this neighborhood."
Making way for a bigger vision
Katie soon realized that while opening Kokomo was no small feat, she needed to expand her footprint. “Originally I never thought I’d open more than one location,” Katie says. “But the more I studied, the more I realized that in order to pay myself a real salary and not just volunteer at my own company, I had to scale.”
This insight led to two additional locations. “Our second location in Kitsilano has a wonderful beachy summer feel to it. That just made sense, since our restaurant name and food are inspired by the feeling that sunshine gives you,” Katie says. “Edgemont Village was a new community for me, but I brought in a business partner, Colin Denton, who introduced me to it and that’s how we evolved there. DoorDash helped us choose locations and make sure we’re not cannibalizing ourselves.”
Along with disproving the idea that we are all only destined for one career, Katie dispels the notion that vegans fit a particular type. “Because I used to work in brand strategy, it originally worked for me to create what I call my ‘muse’. I expected my typical customer would be a freelancer, probably working in the creative field, contributing to brands that they feel aligned with, by spending on them,” she says. “Never did I imagine that our actual guests would also include young women working in fashion and construction workers. I don’t think some of them even realize they’re eating vegan food — they just love the taste and the way it makes them feel!”
Feeling the love
It’s not just locals who love Kokomo’s great dishes and attention to detail, but a few famous faces, too. “Our Chinatown location sometimes has movie trailers outside, and the producers have even rented out our bathroom. I love when a cast member comes in to pick up food and tells me they wish we were available on set!” Katie says. “LeAnn Rimes ordered plenty when she was in town and even posted on her Instagram. And then Alicia Silverstone, who I adored as a kid, is vegan, and also shared her experience on Instagram, ordering with her son. This love goes a long way for a small business like ours.”
It means so much to be on this list. We’re fanatical about creating an incredible guest experience. That doesn't just mean customers. It also means how we show up for our Dashers.
Inspired by Katie’s journey, I asked her to give some parting advice for anyone considering making the leap to run their own business. “Think about how you want to feel in ten years. Who do you want around you? What’s the legacy you want to create in a decade?” she says. “Close your eyes and have someone ask you those questions. I’ve seen crazy emotions come out from those conversations, and that helps you get down to the smallest detail, so you can work back from that to set your goals.”
For more amazing stories of entrepreneurs at every step of their journey, explore our Unlocking Success series where we dive into the businesses that enrich lives and foster community.