Learning and Loving with Kristina Botelho of kb&co

Author: Fiona Dempsey

Having only just opened her plant-based eatery in Edmonton, Canada, Kristina Botelho has already filled the space with loyal customers and delicious recipes inspired by some of our favorite comfort foods.

Just walking into kb&co’s space, you immediately feel healthier. It wasn’t long after entering that I was greeted by Botelho, who emerged from the kitchen with flour on her apron. “Sorry, I’m always making something,” she says. As she made a salad, she spoke about her own health issues - being lactose intolerant, suffering with IBS, and intolerances to certain sugars and gluten, Botelho quickly took to a plant-based diet. “I found that the more fibrous foods I ate, the better I felt. I had more mental clarity and energy. I get really excited talking about this because I’m like, ‘I feel fantastic.’”

It was that excitement and passion that founded kb&co, as Botelho had a deep desire to make delicious, healthy food accessible to everyone. However, the process wasn’t easy. It took three years of determination, meditation and visualization to open the doors to kb&co. “I asked my husband about it and honestly, he wasn’t all that supportive because it was such a niche market. He was nervous, and the friends I told were nervous, but I was on it and I wasn’t going to give up. I felt like I was onto something. My husband’s in commercial real estate, so he was on the hunt for locations and I spent three years trying to find money.”

Botelho is in no way oblivious to the misconceptions surrounding plant-based eating, which her business has to fight daily. “It’s boring, it’s not substantial, it’s not filling, it’s deficient in vitamins and protein... these are just some of the many misunderstandings," she says. “The main misconception is that those who eat a plant-based diet are starving."

This was something Botelho quickly set straight with one simple sentence, “Do I look like I’m starving? Have you seen my ass?”

It’s kb&co's mantra of “casual conscious eats,” that really sets it apart from other establishments. “I’m very conscious about what I eat but I’m also very casual. I’m not rigid. I allow myself to indulge and have treats," Botelho says. "That’s what I want to see; to have more people be casual conscious eaters. I want there to be a balance, because that’s what’s sustainable.”

“I’m a fighter, I’m a go getter. I think at some point you have to get up and make sh*t happen."

Being a mother of three, and having been in the industry for years, Botelho said she’s made the mistake of “putting business first and mommy on the back burner.” Something she’s never doing again by ensuring that she has the right people in her store. “It is absolutely crucial to find the right people that have your back when you’re not there. I can be at home with my family and not worry about how the salads are going to look.”

It was evident talking to Botelho that no matter what, her family comes first. Whether it’s just taking a walk, or having her daughter come in after school to help make cookies in the back. But finding this time doesn’t come without sacrifice - Botelho starts everyday at 4:30am, something she’s been doing for eight years. “Basically it’s long days and early mornings, because otherwise I won’t get the balance and time I need with my kids.”

And it’s not just her kids Kristina makes time for. “I do make time once a week to go out with my husband for date night or to go out with friends. It’s so important, I think, that even though we’re all busy, we schedule and make time for the people most important to us.”

When it comes to food at kb&co, everything on the menu was thought of, made, and tested by Botelho herself, from her decadent smoothies to her famous oat and hemp seed waffles. “Mostly when I come up with recipes, it’s inspired by something I’ve had that’s not good for you and me thinking, how do I make this healthy but still taste like it’s not healthy?” It’s from there that Botelho will research how to make these recipes “clean, vegan or raw,” adding her own spin on it and tweaking the recipe until it is perfect. Trust me, I tried the waffles, and they are to die for!

Botelho has to be one of the most grounded people I’ve had the pleasure of interviewing. Listening to her talk so candidly about some of the biggest lessons she’s learned thus far in life had us both on the verge of tears. Having gone through a divorce with the father of her first two kids, Botelho attributes it to herself getting caught up in ego and success. “As a teen mom, I was so determined to prove I could be successful,” she says, adding that at the time, success to her came in the form of things she owned and what she could show off. “In hindsight, knowing what I know now, my family is my biggest priority. Who cares what you drive and what you own? At the end of the day, don’t worry about what other people think. The money that you do have or don’t have really means f*ck all. Nothing matters more than family.”

In the three years leading to the opening of kb&co, she spent about two years practicing heavy meditation, even becoming a certified Reiki healer. Meditation, lots of praying, and visualization, according to Botelho, are what helped her get through opening the store. That and hard work too, of course. “I’m a fighter, I’m a go getter. I think at some point you have to get up and make sh*t happen,” says Botelho, adding that her daily affirmation is “to stay in my own lane. To just be KB. You can get sidetracked with what others are doing and how they’re doing it and it can cause jealousy, insecurity, stress and worry, and that’s just no good.”

Botelho and her store’s future show no signs of slowing down, with the possibility of more locations on the horizon. She’s also looking at food truck ideas for schools, and starting a non-profit organization, KB&Kids, to promote healthy eating. Having been a teen mom herself, Botelho is also working with Terra - a school for pregnant teens - on a potential mentoring program through kb&co.

As we were wrapping up, I asked her what MISSBISH means to her. She responded, “Empowering women, that’s inspiring to me. I don’t think there are enough women who feel empowered to follow their dreams and they really should.”

Photographer: BB Collective