Ever since he was sixteen years old, Rio Infantino has been a self-proclaimed “serial-entrepreneur.” As a teenager, he owned businesses ranging from dry cleaning to janitorial services. Fast forward a few decades, and Infantino is now the CEO of Montreal’s very own health-food franchise: Copper Branch.
It may seem obvious that someone so committed to entrepreneurship winds up as, well, a successful entrepreneur. But Rio’s story has a surprising beginning: before entering the world of purpose-driven business, he worked for years in the fast food industry for Subway and McDonald’s. So, what made Infantino open the original 8 Copper Branch stores in 2014? In his words:
“I was fascinated by the fast food industry, but I just knew… the food is artificial. It didn’t benefit people.”
Instead, he set out to make something that helps both people and planet… through food.
“I had read lots and lots about how food affects peoples’ health, emotions, how it affects children, how it affects our learning… I just wanted to be a part of that.”
As it turns out, this was something the people of Montreal wanted to be a part of, too. The “healthy fast-food” restaurants have attracted diners ranging from students to professional athletes, and currently have 48 locations around the island. In the next nine years, Infantino plans to open another 2,000 stores.
Copper Branch serves 100 per cent plant-based, vegan dishes, and spearheads social and environmental initiatives. Surprisingly (or, maybe not) the brand targets a mainstream audience. In fact, 80 per cent of Copper Branch customers are regular meat-eaters or “flexitarians.” Infantino cites his own experience eating a mostly plant-based diet as inspiration for the brand’s approach.
“I personally feel so much better eating something [plant-based]. You get up and your body is energized all of a sudden… on our menu, we don’t have any isolates – our bodies don’t react well with stuff like that.”
As for the meat-eating clientele?
“We work with great chefs, so our food is delicious, regardless whether it has an animal in it or not. It really is just great tasting food.”
Copper Branch also works with the Rainforest Trust to plant trees and provides recyclable and compostable containers and utensils with its food. The company is also pioneering the use of compostable water bottles in its stores. For Infantino, creating positive impact is central to Copper Branch’s operations, and the sky is the limit for what it can do.
Infantino’s advice for aspiring social entrepreneurs that want to change their paths?
“Do lots of homework and be passionate – do something that you truly believe in… and serve people well – give them something that’s honest, that’s good, and that improves peoples’ lives.”
With Copper Branch’s speedy success, growth, and positive impact, it is hard to imagine Infantino’s humble beginnings in entrepreneurship at age sixteen. It is even harder to imagine the CEO ever working for fast food chains. But if Infantino can turn a change in perspective into a success story for social impact, then maybe the sky really is the limit to what purpose can achieve.