As the great Whitney Houston once sang, “Children are our future. Teach them well and let them lead the way.”
Few know the importance of these words more than Nicholas and Angela Popoff, the first franchisees for Montessori-inspired cooking school Little Kitchen Academy (LKA). Years before he invested in the Vancouver-based business, Nicholas himself learned the value of real-life experience in the pursuit of personal success—through his earliest entrepreneurial venture as a preteen.
He recently spoke with Canadian Business Franchise about how his past prepared him for business ownership, how LKA has evolved since its early flagship days, and what his ambitions are for the franchise in the coming years.
Canadian Business Franchise (CBF): Did you always envision yourself as an entrepreneur?
Nicholas Popoff (NP): I started my first business when I was 12 years old, so I always wanted to be an entrepreneur. It all started with Nick’s Lawn Mowing Service. I created flyers and walked around my neighbourhood, leaving them on people’s doorsteps. I created a pricing strategy for small, medium, and large lawns. I think I had about four or five customers, and I would push my dad’s lawn mower around the neighbourhood with a jerrycan of gas. I recall passing by other kids playing street hockey in the cul-de-sac, and as much as I wanted to play, I knew I had a responsibility and a job to do. I made pretty good money, and it helped me buy my first car when I was 13.
CBF: Why did you choose franchising?
NP: We did not choose franchising, it chose us. LKA managed to find us, and we have always lived our lives believing everything happens for a reason.
CBF: How did you discover this franchising opportunity?
NP: We were raising capital for another project, and I was presenting my pitch to my friend and social impact entrepreneur, Praveen Varshney. On the day of my pitch, he brought along the co-founder of LKA, franchising expert Brian Curin. I was in the middle of my pitch when Praveen mentioned we should have a look at a project he was working on with Brian and his wife, Felicity Curin, called Little Kitchen Academy. From that point, we drove to the LKA location in Point Grey, Vancouver, to check out the operation. As soon as I saw the children, their engagement, and how joyful they were creating these beautiful, healthy recipes from scratch, I knew it was something so special, and we had to do everything we could to be part of it.
CBF: When did you buy your franchise?
NP: We purchased the rights to develop multiple locations throughout British Columbia at the beginning of the pandemic. We believe in LKA so much, my wife Angela and I decided to sell our house and go all in on the company. We have been fortunate enough over the years, as owners of high-end restaurants, to meet many other successful entrepreneurs, and have been able to secure additional financing through those relationships.
CBF: What was involved in opening your franchise?
NP: Everything you can expect from starting a business. Long hours, hard work, and no days off.
CBF: Describe your opening day.
NP: I will never forget watching our first students walk into LKA, their eyes were filled with so much curiosity, joy, and delight. It was truly a goosebump-worthy moment that brought a tear to my eye.
CBF: Describe a typical day of running your franchise.
NP: Currently, I am responsible for real estate and construction, sales and marketing, and HR and culture, so every day brings a new challenge to overcome and an opportunity to chase.
CBF: Do you feel your educational background helps in your day-to-day tasks and overall business decisions?
NP: I strongly believe the school of hard knocks is something every entrepreneur must go through. These lessons are extremely valuable, and if you acknowledge them, they enable you to rise up and become a better leader. They push you every day to put one foot in front of the other and never give up on your dreams.
CBF: What have been some of the highlights and challenges of running your franchise?
NP: Being part of something so special that is truly helping change lives from scratch has easily been the highlight. We have opened several businesses throughout our entrepreneurial careers, and I would say the last two years, with so much uncertainty, have easily been the biggest challenge.
CBF: Is there anything unique about your market?
NP: Every community is unique, but the need for practical life skills leading to a confident, independent child is always the same.
CBF: How do you make your franchise stand out amongst others in the market?
NP: Our team and the purpose behind what we do each day is what makes LKA special. Being the first of its kind also does not hurt.
CBF: How has the business evolved since you started?
NP: We were the first franchise partners to open a location in the LKA system, and like any start-up, things change along the way as we all learn together. LKA is committed to always making things better, so operationally speaking, the brand is continually making improvements to support and improve the student experience and franchise partner experience. Running any business is not easy, and it takes a tremendous amount of hard work and “stick-to-itiveness.” We have learned so much in the last year, and although we have had our ups and our downs, I can truly say we are proud of the direction we are heading.
CBF: What are your plans for the future?
NP: To continue to develop LKA throughout British Columbia, and to become a leader in teaching practical life skills and food literacy, for a more educated, independent, and healthier society.