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How a John Molson alumna went from survival mode to success, promoting sustainability along the way

Since launching during the pandemic, Mishel Wong’s takeout packaging service has processed more than 700,000 reusable products
July 25, 2023
By Ursula Leonowicz, BA 97

Mishel Wong, wearing a black dress and boots, at the Grand Prix Dux Gala, accompanied by her director of operations at Bo. Mishel Wong and Shaun Bazinet, Bo’s director of operations, at the Grand Prix Dux Gala in November 2022.

Mishel Wong, BComm 12, never thought the warewashing business could be imperiled by an unforeseen disruption. But when the COVID-19 lockdown hit Montreal restaurants in 2020, that was suddenly no longer true.

“We basically went into survival mode,” Wong recalls. “Restaurants were only selling takeout, so the logic became, ‘They need something to sell takeout in’. As I went along the journey and learned what people look for in packaging, Bo was born.”

Bo — a reusable takeout packaging service that started with a handful of restaurants in Montreal’s Plateau and Mile End neighbourhoods — is now a full-fledged player in a niche industry. Since Montreal banned the distribution of certain single-use plastic items in restaurants and food establishments in March 2023, the business has expanded beyond restaurants to include other segments of the food industry such as grocery stores, cafeterias, catering services, festivals and more.

“We’re now working alongside the project manager of ecological transition at the Association des Sociétés de développement commercial, whose mission it is to support the merchants who are part of their commercial zones,” says Wong.

“This makes it possible for us to help reduce waste borough by borough, instead of just door to door.”

Bo is free for consumers as long as the polypropylene plastic containers are rinsed and returned to one of the company’s self-service return stations within 14 days. Consumers can download the Bo app or create an account through the web version. Each time they order takeout, the restaurant enters the customer ID then scans the containers’ QR codes to allow users to borrow containers for free.

Bo picks up the containers weekly from return stations and brings them to the warehouse for power washing, redistribution and reuse.

‘Doing good is a key element of entrepreneurship’

An industrial dishwasher that cleans takeout containers Bo’s takeout containers being power washed before being reused.

With 30 restaurants, 21 return bins, 800 users, over 40 institutional cafeterias, three major food festivals and 700,000 reusable products making up its business, Bo continues to expand. The company recently signed an agreement with the town of Prévost, in the Laurentians north of Montreal, to help develop and implement a system of reusable containers for ready-to-eat and takeaway orders in its restaurants.

Bo’s commitment to sustainability is being recognized with awards that include a Grand Prix Dux Better Eating prize for eco-packaging in 2022, an Accolades award in sustainable development from the West Island of Montreal Chamber of Commerce in 2023, and, most recently, a nomination as a finalist for the Association pour le développement de la recherche et de l'innovation du Québec (ADRIQ) prize in Innovation, in the young enterprise category.

The winner of the ADRIQ Prize will be announced in November.

“The growth has been meteoric and I honestly can’t believe how much we’ve done in 18 months,” says Wong, who credits Bo’s success to both the network of contacts she accumulated over the years working in the warewashing industry, and what she learned at Concordia.

“A lot of Bo was built on a ton of goodwill that was developed over the years. Doing good is a key element of entrepreneurship because there’s a very practical side to the judgment calls we make daily.”

When Wong was working on Bo’s business plan, she relied on what she learned in the Marketing Co-op Program at the John Molson School of Business. “The one piece that made the most difference was the course about how to write a business plan. It was so useful and it’s what I used to create the first version of the initial business plan for Bo,” she says.

“It was the seed that gave me the fundamentals to get to where we are today.”

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