Paintbox Catering & Bistro

Welcome back to our last episode of the three-part Food for Thought series. It has been a pleasure having each of you join us on this learning curve! This week, our sustainability warrior Paintbox Catering & Bistro will give us an insight on what it is like to be a for-profit social enterprise that commits itself to hiring marginalized residents in a gentrified community.

Disclaimer: Before taking a look at the video, I would like to let you know that after my best efforts of salvaging footage with the least compromised audio (or Mariah Carey singing her heart out in the background music), the results ended in a much shorter documentary. Therefore, please be advised that the 5-minute clip presented below will have its little kinks along the way, but that it is not reflective of how valuable the information presented is!     

Paintbox Catering & Bistro is largely a catering company with an on-site bistro and entertainment space in Toronto. CEO and President Chris Klugman founded Paintbox back in 2011 after seeing an dire need to create a positive impact in Regent Park, which was known at the time as Toronto’s poorest neighbourhood. He did so by incorporating a hiring model that partners with employment agencies to only consider individuals coming from rough backgrounds and those who meet their social mandate. Over time, Paintbox has taken on their own hiring practices by openly inviting those who have undergone difficult life circumstances that deem them “unsuitable” for hiring under traditional employment profiles, such as having a past criminal record or engaging in theft, abuse, or drug use. By providing employment, training, and career development for individuals facing barriers to employment, Paintbox shows that on-the-job training realizes its benefits beyond the workplace setting as it empowers individuals to foster dignity and hope in their abilities. Klugman’s efforts against the oppressive effects of gentrification helped Paintbox claim the title of being Canada’s first B-Corp certified restaurant in March 2013. Paintbox’s success later earned the “Best for the World” title in September 2016 as one of the top 10% B Corporations, reflecting their strong community mandate.

Another unique company trait that sets Paintbox apart from others in addition to maintaining its social pillar is its ongoing desire to improve on the sustainability of food served, while presenting new and creative catering options. During our interview, Klugman shared that what discourages him most is the amount of greenwashing he sees in companies who say they do good for people and the environment, only to find that they were just words spoken by a cynical employer. Not long after this, Klugman posed the question: “How can we be of more benefit to more people?” It was then that I realized that this question has essentially been the foundation and inspiration for many of Paintbox’s endeavours. I was very much so inspired myself! But even with the best intentions, one’s success must be measured one way or another. Thus, with the support of the BMW Foundation, Paintbox gauges the performance of their business model based on the United Nation’s Sustainable Development Goals (UN SDGs), especially with the new trend of adopting plant-based menus. Being mindful of their environmental footprint recently helped them launch Paintbox’s new “Plant Powered, Seriously Delicious” meatless menu.

I think that running a business such as Paintbox requires more than just professional expertise to manage business profits that fund social projects. It requires empathy. A lot of it. You can see it in all aspects of how Paintbox works with its employees to prepare them for higher up roles with peers and mentors rather than bosses and supervisors. The end result is shown through their strong and naturally talented leaders who have become assets to business operations. I am deeply encouraged by the fact that this company can be a home and safe space to many of its employees who see each other as family. No one is above the other and there is a mutual understanding that they are all working towards the same goal, to make life better together for each other.

Ultimately, my fellow readers, it is my greatest hope that after having journeyed with me through the Food for Thought series, you would take some time to reflect on how you can be a part of the change alongside our three sustainability warriors. Of course, it does not have to be these three companies exactly because, thankfully, there are more (but not enough) organizations with big hearts out there. To be frank, implementing sustainable practices into our own lives or businesses poses its own challenges. However, I hope that you would first consider how much more difficult it is for those who are impacted from not having your help because we are inclined to turn a blind eye on the things that make us uncomfortable. The Food for Thought series has served as a humbling reminder for me to continue to speak for those who cannot speak for themselves. It has brought every individual in the businesses we have observed much joy and purposefulness to share their prosperity with those in need. Remember, business can be used as a force for good while still being successful, and I am confident many of us can do something about it given the right mindset! So what are you waiting for? Get cracking!

The aim of the Food for Thought series is to raise awareness about how business can be used for good and how it can create shared value (CSV). Different from corporate social responsibility (CSR), creating shared value seeks to create economic value for society and addresses its needs and challenges. Instead of focusing on just the bottom line, UGSRP and I, Michelina Martinez, want to challenge businesses who claim that they are driving sustainable change to see how they can create meaning through pure motives that benefit their less fortunate neighbours.


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