Six of Stratford’s Culinary Influencers Talk Food and Female Entrepreneurship

Written by Tanya Chopp

Over the past decade Eatdrink writers have been informing us about the men and women, organizations and businesses that contribute to the culinary character of our region.

Perhaps there’s something in the water — Perth County (and Stratford in particular) seems to have produced more than its fair share of successful women. Not all have achieved the renown of Stratford Chefs School co-founder Eleanor Kane, or others of her ilk. The list of women who have influenced and supported innumerable others in the culinary sphere, and who continue to affect culinary developments in the region, would be a long one.

Eatdrink writer Tanya Chopp spoke with some of the women about their work, passions, and creativity, about gender in the workplace, and about their advice to anyone considering pursuing their own dreams.

These interviews have been condensed and edited. The full conversations are available online here.

Jessie Votary
Co-Owner/Co-Founder, The Red Rabbit & Okazu

About Co-Owning The Red Rabbit: We built the Red Rabbit with our bare hands and passion. I’m proud that it’s a worker-owned business. We’re able to offer our workers competitive wages, benefits and year-round employment. We’re also very community-oriented. I’m on the BIA board, and we participate in a number of food related events for fundraising, like Lawn Summer Nights for Cystic Fibrosis.

About the Food: We create with quality ingredients and care. We believe in integrity – both in the food and beverages we serve and how we operate. Our menu has classic French, Italian and Asian influences, but ultimately, we serve what we want to eat, and aim to create big, full flavours.

About Women in the Culinary Scene: Women have resilience. We can keep going even when it’s difficult or frustrating, and actually draw from it. It’s so important that when women are at the helm, they don’t crush their natural instincts and behave like they think men do.

Advice: Be unrelenting. When someone says “No,” or “I need more information,” be prepared to follow through and do it.

Kristene Steed
Co-Owner, Rhéo Thompson Candies

About Co-Owning Rhéo Thompson: As a co-owner, you wear a lot of hats. Mark looks after the production. He’s one of our three candymakers and runs the administrative side of the business. I look after the front end, including merchandising, packaging, procurement, HR, marketing and anything else public-facing. We have 27 full-time employees and we succeed because of all of their hard work. We give our best every day.

About the Food: We produce 152 different types of candies and chocolates throughout the year. We’re creative, but we’re consistent. We want our products to taste like what people first fell in love with. The Mint Smoothies chocolates are incredibly popular. Around St. Patrick’s Day we also create Irish Potatoes, which have buttercream centres that get pressed and rolled in fresh cinnamon.

About Women in the Culinary Scene: The neat part about Stratford is that there is an integration of both men and women in business. While it’s true that women are intuitive and empathetic, that’s not to say that men aren’t too. I’ve worked with wonderful people, of both genders, and I really value that.

Advice: There are two sides to successfully run an operation: you have to create with passion, but you also have to run a business. Find what you do, and do it well. Also, make sure you have a good team and look after them.

Jacqueline Barr
Co-Owner, Chocolate Barr’s Candies

About Co-Owning Chocolate Barr’s: We’ve had our business for 15 years, and work seven days a week. Four years ago we purchased and renovated our own building and I was able to put my stamp on it, design-wise, from the flow of the storefront, to the extra large window in the back to see the candy making, to the “Sweet” sign that lights up the front.

About the Food: My husband, Derek [candy maker and chocolatier] will talk your ear off about chocolate and candy. I’ve made my own line of “Jack’s Barrs” that have different toppings. The most popular is a 70% dark chocolate bar with salt, pepper, almond butter crunch, and pecans.

About Women in the Culinary Scene: The people who I admire the most are my closest friends, who all have three or four kids, and for the most part run their own businesses that they have also started. They make it look easy. My staff is the best, and we couldn’t do it without them.

Advice: Owning your own business is very rewarding, but not for everyone. It is a seven days a week, 365 days a year worry. But when you get it right, you can be proud.

Carrie Wreford
Co-Owner, Bradshaws and Kitchen Detail

About Co-Owning Bradshaws: Before Bradshaws I was a graphic designer and my husband Jeremy was a set designer. At the company my role is varied, but my primary focus is buying (alongside Jeremy), as well as marketing, social media, community outreach and events.

About the Business: Our business is 123 years old and has been family-run for six generations — that’s unusual in today’s retail environment. We had to determine where we wanted to take the business and breathe life into it so it would remain relevant and viable for years to come.

About Women in the Culinary Scene: When people talk about our store, they mention many of our staff as the reason why they shop here. Our business is run by a team of women who are incredible at what they do. Out of 20 of us, 17 are women. The women in Stratford are incredible. I’ve made so many incredible partnerships and friendships and have learned so much from everyone else. People [and business owners] are interested in collaborating. It’s very important for women to lift each other up and motivate each other and support each other.

Advice: Put in the time and get your hands dirty before you jump in. Find a mentor and/or people you respect and admire and find a way to work with them. Learn from them until you’re ready to create your own vision.

Yva Santini
Chef, Pazzo Taverna

About Being a Chef: I started cooking and working in kitchens when I was very young. I’m going on close to 18 years in the industry now. I graduated from the Stratford Chef School in 2009, and this is my eleventh year at Pazzo’s and my seventh year as the chef. Being part of a business based on people’s enjoyment is very complex and it’s not easy, but I know that the food that we’re making makes people happy and there’s a lot of positive feedback.

About the Food: Our pasta program has been refined and expanded. I grew up in an Italian family and I strive to capture the essence of Italian culture. What we have to offer in terms of Italian in-house made pastas is the best in the city. While we are “all Italian,” we have a little French and Canadian influence too. During the later winter our menu will still be Roman-focused, incorporating Pecorino Romano, meat, eggs, rich flavours and black pepper. Marsh marigolds, fiddleheads and asparagus will start to make an appearance by early spring.

About Women in the Culinary Scene: Gender politics are delicate, but shouldn’t be ignored. I’m fortunate to have had an opportunity to work with very wonderful and supportive people, with influential men and women who are friends, family, and business owners.

Advice: Respect is the number one thing. Respect others and respect yourself too. If you’re in a situation that’s not moving you forward, you’re not obligated to stay.

Candice Wigan
Co-Owner, Revival House

On Co-Owning Revival House: After many years in the industry, this is a place we could make our own and get into what we’ve always wanted to. I come from a French background, and always dreamed of French cuisine. Revival House has this beautiful grandeur to it — it was built in 1867. Last year, we hosted 35 weddings and 20 concerts and we have quite a few shows coming up this spring.

About the Food: We change our menu ever four to five months and ensure it’s always approachable, and accessible to every price point — from duck confit to poutine. Chef Loreena Miller, a Stratford Chef School graduate, is open-minded and accepts suggestion. We grow all of the herbs in-house and we believe in sourcing locally. Perth County is so rich. As a bar chef, I also love creating elegant, fresh and seasonal cocktails, and wine is also a passion. I have my Level 1 Sommelier.

About Women in the Culinary Scene: We need to surround ourselves with more women. I feel empowered by them and I’m always learning from them. I work with two strong, independent women: Alysha Ford, event coordinator, and Chef Loreena Miller. They are an everyday inspiration. We teach and learn from one another, and don’t get off guard.

Advice: Don’t be afraid to be calculating or to say “no” when something doesn’t serve you. It means you’re organized, and well-thought-out. My mother also always said, “Make sure you love your job; it makes your life so much easier.”


Read Tanya Chopp’s full interviews of ” Women with a Seat at the Table” online here.


About the author

Tanya Chopp

Tanya Chopp is a storyteller and marketing professional. Over the past decade, she has enjoyed crafting and amplifying meaningful communications across the arts, culture, entertainment, health, wellness, and technology industries.