When many Yellowknife businesses closed their doors and hunkered down in April during the strictest period of the pandemic lockdown, Agameima’s Kitchen was just starting out.
Owners Agatha Gil Barraquio and Jimma Jockpuol, initially sought to open a small, physical restaurant serving a range of international cuisines. They had been planning the business since last year and wanted to open in February, but due to delays in receiving their kitchen permits they had move the plan forward into April.
When the pandemic reached the NWT, they understood how large the risk would be to take out a loan and open a new restaurant, and they decided to change the concept to a home-based meal delivery service.
“Since Covid hit, we saw that everyone was closing and (realized) we had to be more creative in how we would introduce the business,” said Barraquio.
And so, on April 26, while many other established Yellowknife businesses were laying low because of the pandemic, Agameima’s Kitchen sent out its first batch of salads, cheese tortellini and roast beef dinners for four customers.
All dishes are made from scratch and planned so that each meal contains a balance of protein, carbohydrates and vegetables. Processed ingredients are avoided for fresh and whole ones.
Agameima’s is based on a subscription format. Customers order a five-day or seven-day meal plan and each week there is different cuisine: South American, Polynesian or Mediterranean.
The fourth flavour is “Agameima’s cuisine. Meals that I ventured and created in my own style,” said Barraquio, who does all of the cooking in her own kitchen, while Jockpuol shares with her the marketing, labelling, administration and delivery tasks.
The challenges the duo faced in the first two months would have tested the resolve of any new enterprise.
Barraquio said the hardest thing about the first six weeks were grocery costs. As a small startup, they don’t yet have a bulk supplier and pay the same retail price as everyone else at supermarkets.
They also try as much as they can to buy organic and fresh ingredients, which tend to be more expensive.
“Delivering was hard too because at that time we didn’t know who had Covid,” she said. “There was a lot of testing and self-isolation. We were at risk as well putting ourselves out there. We just prayed that at the end of the day we would still be safe and happy.
“And getting people to trust us because we’re home-based (was also difficult). How would they know if we’re safe? That was why we did the permit first so people can trust us and see that we’re legitimate.”
For Barraquio, the business is an expression of her passion: cooking. But it’s also her effort to share with Yellowknifers a pathway to better health that worked for her.
“I used to have a bad diet and I developed diabetes, but I don’t want to rely on medications. And I did some research and found ways of getting healthy by eating whole, healthier foods. I (controlled) the diabetes before the point that I needed insulin,” she recalled. “So I want to give customers healthier food. And not just food, but food for the soul. And I love to learn different cuisines because I think that if you can know the food you can know someone’s culture.”
Over the course of May and into June, the customer numbers slowly grew to 12. This week, their 27th customer subscribed to the meal service.
“That is the reason why we’re actually considering getting a (commercial) kitchen facility because my capacity at home won’t be able to meet the demand,” Barraquio said.
Almost six months into their new venture, they’ve managed to pay off their initial expenses and are making some profit. Barraquio estimates they’re doing two to three times more business than they expected they would.
The gratitude they’ve received from the community and from their customers has been the real highlight.
“The response from customers has made me so happy. It just makes you forget how tiring (the business) is. You forget how many hours you’ve worked,” she said. “I want to know my customers. I don’t want to see them as numbers. I like to have some sort of relationship with them. I know this customer, she’s been subscribing for a while. I know her food restrictions. I know what she doesn’t like. It’s like a personal relationship and I want to take care of my customers.”