Andrew Coppolino: 6 'food-preneuers' show trend in Waterloo region
More unique and highly-focused food businesses are popping up, eschewing traditional business models
Waterloo region food entrepreneurs are honing their targeting skills and increasingly aiming at more precise niche markets for their unique products as they try to avoid traditional advertising avenues and capitalize on word -of-mouth and social media.
Peering up over those obstacles are non-traditional food businesses – the inspiration of "food-preneurs," let's call them – that are becoming as much a part of Waterloo region's entrepreneurial energy as wearable technology, e-commerce software and chat apps.
In fact, the alliance between food and tech is pronounced. Relying on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram (not to mention good ol' low-tech word-of-mouth and social networking), these food businesses have built or are building strong connections with, and are "service providers" to, companies we think of as being in the tech family.
Dumplings and donuts
Here are a half-dozen such food-preneurs currently selling their wares mostly online – the list is certainly not comprehensive, but it gives some shape to the changing food scene.
In 2012, Irene Divaris came up with Meal in a Jar – solid business platform she pitched on CBC's Dragon Den. Today, she functions with little overhead out of a commercial kitchen producing hundreds of jars of Midnight Chicken or Zucchini Beef Houdini, which stock the fridges of local tech companies.
Top Chef Canada finalist Terry Salmond and his wife Sarah were reluctant to buy into the precarious restaurant game and instead are making Chow Dumplings to order. They tested out the product at places like the Kitchener Market first and now they sell out.
Imagine popping into the sub shop around the corner and ordering a sandwich: It's basically what hungry Koreans do with kimbop. Jinah Allen's order-online Kimbop business – essentially Korean sushi – rolls together rice, crab, beef or vegetables. One key difference is that kimbops use cooked ingredients compared to raw sushi. The other important note is that Allen insists that burdock root, pickled radish and kimchi are primary ingredients.
The mother and son team of Nabil and Marlen Fahel have put together a very smart, almost guerrilla-marketed, food business called Black Market Hummus. They cheekily call themselves the world's first HaaS ("hummus as a service") company and deliver only to commercial businesses (more's the pity for those of us who work from home). The concept of mystery, scarcity and controlled distribution has created quite a following for the cunningly named business. They have expansion plans, too.
Like Debrodnik's Donuts in Kitchener, Malasada World has a retail presence at the corner of Ainslie and Dickson streets in Cambridge for its Portuguese donuts. Owner Steve Chaves said these "mal asada" (poorly roasted) donuts likely originated in the Portuguese Azores islands or on Madeira. In the 1800s, they interestingly made it to Hawaii where, Chaves said, they are still hugely popular.
Are small, social media-driven food businesses run out of rented space by one or two people about to boom? Perhaps, although the revenues generated are likely still quite modest and the logistics of increasing production and maintaining quality a challenge. It will be interesting to watch and see – delicious, too.
Read more food columns from Andrew Coppolino here.