Stratford Women in Food (2019): Seven Sisters with a Seat at the Table

Written by Bryan Lavery

Stratford has no shortage of outstanding women who have made inroads into a milieu that has been ­traditionally male-dominated. Many Stratford women come to their professions, in part, with dedication to improving the world through access to food. The following list of culinary stalwarts is just the tip of the iceberg.

Anne Campion
Owner & Barista, revel
Anne Campion is committed to the core values of social justice by procuring and serving ethically and sustainably produced direct trade coffee. She can be seen pulling espresso shots or making consistently perfect cortados at revel, her busy coffee shop off Stratford’s Market Square. Behind the scene, she’s ensuring that her business is modelling all aspects of the ethical culinary conversation. “Our desire to be for the good of our community, both locally and globally, informs all our decisions,” says Campion.

Launched with the assistance of just two staff people, Campion now employs 18. In addition to baristas and front of house staff, two pastry chefs now bake all of Revel’s pastries in house, using products from many local farmers.

A formative coffee relationship with Las Chicas del Cafe (read about the sisters behind this business in our “Elgin Women in Food” story in this issue), who developed signature Nicaraguan blends for revel, continues, while a new association with transcend coffee + roastery in Edmonton, AB (founded in 2006 by Poul Mark) is opening doors for new growth.

Working with transcend’s green buyer, Josh Hockin, and an all-female roasting team led by Kate Sortland has allowed an expansion of revel’s exclusive coffee offerings. In the fall of 2018, Don Moncho from Costa Rica was featured. This winter, Rudy Perez from Guatemala was introduced. There will soon be another new coffee from Costa Rica, and Campion is especially excited about bringing in an exclusive coffee from Ethiopia later this spring.  Building direct trade relationships with coffee growers through her partnerships with Las Chicas del Cafe and transcend coffee, and joining forces with other businesses to support local community initiatives, is as fundamental to Campion’s business as ensuring the proper brew and pour of the next great cup of coffee at revel.

Dee Christensen
Owner, The Planet Diner
Restaurateur Dee Christensen is a writer, social advocate and the former owner/editor-in-chief of Recovery Wire Magazine, a leading addiction magazine. Christensen used her life experience as well as an academic background in Criminology and Social Work to establish the common interest publication. Fortified with hospitality experience and a background that includes experience as a financial manager for the field of commercial design and a Commercial Investment Analyst, Christensen conceptualized and opened The Planet Diner in 2018. 

With red metal flake upholstered booths and a 1950s vibe, the 26-seat carnivore-friendly vegan diner with a 14-seat seasonal patio is warm and welcoming with enthusiastic and well-informed staff. Christensen says, “This is where herbivores can bring their carnivore friends.” Most items on the menu are derived from plant-based foods with a few meat-based options. The fledgling diner has been a success since it opened.


Michelle Hern
Owner, Olive Your Favourites
Michelle Hern became an entrepreneur later in life after already having had a successful career. Nearly a decade ago, while visiting her sister in Traverse City, Michigan, Hern discovered an upscale speciality shop offering unique and exceptional quality extra virgin olive oils (EVOO) sourced from around the world. Customers were invited to taste oils before purchasing from stainless containers called fustis. On subsequent visits, she would sample and purchase oils and vinegars that she offered to her friends and colleagues to taste. In the spring of 2011 while eating a salad prepared with the oils and vinegars she had purchased, she noticed the supplier’s contact information on the bottle and decided to contact them.

Hern ended up talking to the CEO of the company and made pages of notes. Looking for an entrepreneurial opportunity she began a laborious mission to find a perfect location for a store. With equal parts determination and passion she found the optimal location on York Street facing the Avon River to showcase her products. Olive Your Favourites carries dozens of types of EVOO, some infused with pure fruits and herbs, as well as dark and white balsamic vinegars. The latter are also pure products and made from grapes in Modena, Italy. Hern’s knowledgeable and down-to-earth approach and the ability to hire friendly, intelligent and well-versed sales personnel have led the business to tremendous success.

Buffy Illingworth
Owner, Edison Café Bar
Buffy Illingworth’s mother Gail, an early advocate for vegetarianism and plant-based cuisine, graduated from Stratford Chef School’s in 1986. Gail held many respected chef positions in area restaurants before her passing in 2005. It was a love she passed on to her daughter. “Her passion for the culinary arts and expertise in food styling continues to inspire me,” says Illingworth.
The sophisticated and cozy Edison Café Bar opened in October 2016 after months of renovations by Illingworth and her husband Greg Kuepfer. “I pulled from all my passions when creating Edison Café Bar,” says Illingworth who envisioned a whole foods café with a menu focused on clean eating. The result is innovative, compact and stylish, where patrons can feel good about what they are eating and drinking.

Although Illingworth and Kuepfer can both boast a long relationship with food, it was Illingworth’s background in Design and Holistic Nutrition that inspired them to open Edison’s. Illingworth took her time researching cafés, sourcing the best suppliers and creating the sophisticated interior. Born and raised in Stratford, Illingworth is no stranger to business. With a formal education in Horticulture and Garden Design, she operated her own thriving flower shop, designing floral arrangements for hundreds of weddings and events. The couple’s children all have played an integral role in helping to shape the family business. “We keep hours that reflect a well-balanced work week and allow us to be home for dinner with them every night,” says Illingworth.

Eleanor Kane
Co-founder, Stratford Chefs School
Eleanor Kane is Ontario’s equivalent of American culinary icon Alice Waters, a comparison and opinion that is rooted in watching her numerous achievements over a 35-year period. In what began in 1977 as a “self-directed sabbatical from work,” Kane and business partner Marion ­Isherwood opened The Old Prune (then a tea room) in Stratford, which led to successful careers as restaurateurs. Later, with James Morris of Rundles Restaurant, Kane co-founded the Stratford Chefs School, an enterprise that evolved into a widely recognized pioneering restaurant-focused training program.
A University of Alberta graduate (Masters of Science, Psychology), Kane also brought decades of restaurant experience as well as human resources skills to her work at Stratford Chefs School. A recipient of numerous accolades and awards, Kane remains in an advisory capacity on the Board. Recent Stratford Chef School’s International Guest Chef in Residence, Ryan Brown, described his immense respect for Kane, with her elegance, strong presence, and love for all things relating to gastronomy.

Carole Rowe
Owner, Watson’s Chelsea Bazaar
Watson’s Chelsea Bazaar is a long-standing Stratford establishment, well known and loved by many for its quirky mix of housewares and gifts. It provides a unique shopping experience and is friendly and inviting. As a “bazaar” it has a little bit of everything, from useful kitchenware and European imported ceramics to glassware and unusual finds for your home. The proprietor of the shop is Carole Rowe, the fourth generation of this family business.

Started by Carole’s great grandfather in 1895, when he decided to leave undertaking and embrace retail, the business has evolved and taken some twists and turns over the years. Today Rowe, along with dedicated staff and family, works hard to bring it all together. “We are aware, in this day and age, everything can be bought online for the lowest price and maximum convenience… Everything except a unique experience,” says Rowe. “We try to keep the essence of the store what it has always been: old fashioned, in the best kind of way, and always interesting.”

Rowe fondly remembers her dad, David Bradshaw, always saying, “It’s a fun business,” and for the most part, it has been. “I think my great grandfather would be very pleased to know that, almost 125 years later, the business is still going strong and still fun,” says Rowe.

Shelley Windsor
Vice-President, Windsor Hospitality Inc.
Shelley Windsor is the Vice President Windsor Hospitality Inc., co-owner of Mercer Kitchen/Beer Hall /Hotel, The Prune Restaurant & Bar One-Fifty-One as well as York Street Kitchen. Windsor is the former owner of Best Western The Parlour Historic Inn & Suites and owner/director of Best Western London Airport Inn and Suites. Having worked in just about every operational position in a hotel, some of her past positions have included Sales and CateringManager, Director of Human Resource Services, Director of Sales, front desk clerk and bed & breakfast owner/operator.

Windsor is also known for her community involvement on volunteer boards and committees, which have included the Stratford Tourism Alliance, Stratford and District Chamber of Commerce, Stratford Hockey Club, and, as a Marketing Chair, Best Western Ontario Quebec Co-op. Her philosophy of giving back to the community where you live and work has paid off by the support of locals in many of the Windsor Hospitality’s endeavours. Windsor’s day-to-day routine includes being involved in the short and long term planning of all of Windsor Hospitality businesses, research and development for new projects, human resources, customer services and public relations, sales marketing and social media. Windsor also specializes in re-positioning restaurants to achieve a healthier bottom line. Involved in hospitality and food and beverage consulting for other restaurants needing assistance, Windsor likes to mentor other women in business.

About the author

Bryan Lavery

Eatdrink Food Editor and Writer at Large Bryan Lavery brings years of experience in the restaurant and hospitality industry, as a chef, restaurant owner and consultant. Always on the lookout for the stories that Eatdrink should be telling, he helps shape the magazine both under his byline and behind the scenes.