Sarnia-Lambton/Huron County Women in Food (2019): Entrepreneurs in Good Taste

Berni Gelinas
Kitchen Widgets, Sarnia

In business since 1995, we are a gourmet kitchen store, catering to those who love to cook or want to make cooking easier. From cookware to bakeware, dinnerware, knives and widgets “we find the right tools for the right job.” Many of our products are Canadian-made. 

We provide the necessary items for preparation and serving of food and drink. We love birthdays, anniversaries, weddings and “just because” occasions so we also provide a gift registry. 

The fact that we are in our 24th year of business is very satisfying, but best of all are the many amazing people we have met during our journey.

I am not really one to give advice. I feel that each situation is unique. Different times, different measures.

We have worked hard during the past several years doing something we love. We were honoured to be the CGTA Retailer of the Year. I say “we” because I could never have done it without the people around me. You are only as good as the people you surround yourself with.

Leanne Kavanagh
Shopbike Coffee Roasters, Bayfield

My partners and I dreamed up Shopbike one cold Bayfield winter, six years ago. We had a vision of a vibrant Bayfield surrounded by craft breweries and wineries. We pictured roasted coffee and a cute café, smack dab in the middle… so we ordered a coffee roaster, sourced green coffee beans and taught ourselves how to roast them. 

We have evolved in six years. We team meet at the end of every season, shave off what didn’t fit and dream up new ideas for next season. 

As an all-season business we have learned to enjoy the ebb and flow of Bayfield, super busy in the summer, slower in the winter. 

We have many local suppliers such as Ferguson Apiaries and Bayfield Maple Syrup as well as New Age Port Stanley, Culture Shock and others. We wholesale to places such as Cowbell Brewery in Blyth, The Black Dog Pub and Bistro in Bayfield, and Killer Cupcakes in Guelph. 

I develop roasts with our business partner/roaster Shaun Henry. I am also responsible for client relations, staffing, café creations, front of house, deliveries, bill paying, mopping floors, you name it! As a small business owner, you take it all on. I am also involved with the Bayfield and Area Chamber of Commerce as president 2018/2019. In my free time I work on the promotion of Bayfield as a food and drink destination for tourism. 

I love working with many other businesses, the unlimited coffee and the freedom to be creative. 

What made the choice easy for me was that I love coffee. I wanted to learn more, such as how to roast and how to make drinks. Most of all when I see someone enjoy something I helped create, it feels so good. If you love it, do it!

My passions and drive have allowed me a lovely little life with my friends and daughter in one of the most beautiful places to live. I can hear the lake and drink a latte whenever I want. It is not without dedication and hours in the day, but it is totally worth it.

Anne Kurtz-Alton
Alton Farms Estate Winery, Plympton-Wyoming

My husband and I own a small vineyard and winery in Lambton county. In 2005 this city mouse moved to the country. The following spring we planted grapes with no experience or expertise. We began with one acre and by 2013, with 6 acres behind us, we obtained our winery retail licence from the LCBO and opened the winery. To this day the planting, pruning, tying and picking is all done by hand. At harvest time we press the grapes through an Italian grape press, sometimes as much as 20 tons in a season. When the wine is finished it is gravity fed into the bottles. The corks and labels are done singly. 

Along with the manufacturing of the wine, we sell our wine in our retail store and tasting bar as well as at LCBO stores and farmer’s markets. 

Most satisfying about the business? Naturally, the wine, the end product! Watching people as they taste the wines, telling them our story and teaching them basic wine facts is very rewarding.

Getting into the wine industry, especially, requires a lot of knowledge and skill. I had neither so it must be a passion. There are many different aspects to Ontario’s wine industry, all of which are equally challenging to both sexes. 

As a mother of five, my focus until 2005 was my family. Since then I have learned many skills! Driving a tractor with no breaks, working heavy equipment, viticulture, wine making, marketing, accounting and retail, to name a few. I became a farmer. 

When I look back, I would have never dreamed of my husband Marc and I owning and running a winery and vineyard. 

Caitlin Vail
Cait’s Café, Goderich

Cait’s Café is a coffee shop in downtown Goderich specializing in European pastry and espresso beverages. We offer a full lunch menu of deli sandwiches, soups, salads and a variety of house-made treats such as muffins, cookies and squares. 

I am the owner/operator along with my husband Spencer. One of my major roles is to produce the baked goods. You will also find me scheduling employees, making espresso, clearing tables, washing dishes, ordering from local farmers and responding to catering inquiries. 

There are three things that are very satisfying about this business. Seeing how happy our customers are. We have many regulars and the community support has been incredible. They love our place. With no family nearby for either of us, the community is our family. 

Working with local farmers and producers has been an honour for us. Knowing that our produce, eggs, cheese, coffee beans, etc. come from high quality sources is what sets us apart. We love the idea that when someone supports our business, they are supporting a string of other local businesses and producers. 

Lastly, seeing our staff strive and enjoy their working environment is very satisfying. Hearing them laugh and enjoy themselves is music to my ears. They work hard, so it is important to know they are also finding joy in what they do.

While your passion can take you places, it is the hard work and perseverance that will take you all the way. You must be physically and mentally prepared, knowing that there is a lot of stress and long hours. If you have a strong work ethic, you can go far. Set measurable goals both long and short term, to keep you on track and to keep the business growing and exciting. 

I just became a mom to our beautiful daughter, Gabrielle. I joked with my husband that if you can start your own food and beverage business, you can do anything. I wasn’t quite prepared for motherhood, but it is rewarding. The community loves seeing her at the café. 

Melissa White
Soups Up!/Sticky Fingers, Sarnia

Upon graduating from college, I wanted my own business. I created a business plan and opened Sticky Fingers in 2003. I started off small, as my belief is to grow when you know what sells. In 2010 I took over the unit beside Sticky Fingers and prepared to open Soups Up! The day that it was to open I was hospitalized. That same day a woman drove into our newly renovated building. We opened after rebuilding in December 2010. We have since moved to 1143 Confederation Street, are busier than ever, and planning an expansion. We provide a large selection of homemade soups, kaisers and cinnaminis to our walk-in customers and through on-line ordering. We also have a catering business. 

From day one I have played a key role in all aspects of the café, from business plans to mopping floors as well as the catering business. 

Being my own boss and being creative are satisfying. Fighting for every dollar I make, I appreciate it more. 

Many times, I wanted to give up! People doubt you, so be tough and persevere. I am a people pleaser which is an advantage and a disadvantage. It upsets me when someone isn’t happy, but it has made me stronger and the business better by improving our ways.

I have been nominated for and won several awards for “Young Entrepreneur of the Year” and “Outstanding Business of the Year”. Thank you to family, staff and customers.   

About the author

Nancy Loucks-McSloy

Nancy Loucks-McSloy is a freelance writer who loves cooking and entertaining. Her work has appeared in Chicken Soup for the Soul, The Fur-Bearing Trout and Other True Tales of Canadian Life, McLean’s, Vitality and many other publications.