From home to storefront, Windsorites are taking the leap into food businesses amid the pandemic
Local businesses share how they went from their home kitchen to brick-and-mortar business
The pandemic has turned many into home chefs and bakers, and some are even becoming entrepreneurs. And while it takes more than good recipes and a passion for food to operate a business in the city, there's resources out there for those looking to take the plunge.
Sijuola Folarin of Naija Food Eats said she started cooking at five years old. It's always been her passion, but she went to school and was employed in social work. It wasn't until she had a party catered and the food spoiled before the end of the night that a friend got her to change her mind.
"That's what actually brought that out in me, that it's about time and I started from home, but when I have like big orders like that, I'll rent the commercial kitchen to cook and deliver to my customer," Folarin said.
In 2020, with the help of the Downtown Accelerator and food-business incubator Cook Up, Folarin was selling her food at the Downtown Windsor Farmers' Market and last year opened up a storefront at 914 Erie St. E.
"It is not easy, but you have to have passion. Your family supports your community and also believe in yourself that you can do it," she said.
Taylor Meyers of All On Board was looking for something to do during the pandemic. She and her mom decided to make charcuterie boxes and sell them online. She said things really started to take off when she posted on social media.
"I was getting a lot of followers right away and a lot of orders instantly. So that's kind of where I was like, I think I can make something of this," she said.
That's when they started looking for a commercial kitchen to work out of, but that wasn't easy.
"[It] was a struggle for us in the beginning because there isn't really places that you can just rent a kitchen and it was COVID, so people didn't want random people in their spaces," Meyers said.
They were able to find one through the food-business incubator and grew from there. They have a brick and mortar location now at 7845 Tecumseh Rd. E. Taylor said the Windsor-Essex County Health Unit was also very helpful with letting them know what they needed in order to get certified.
"So now we're just waiting to get some local vendors in and we're going to open it as a walk-in space," said Meyers.
Starting a business
There's a lot to know before starting a business and there are resources in the area to help. Cook Up is a food-business incubator here in Windsor and its focus is helping women in the food industry — many who are cooking from home.
"They've been making a living, doing that for a while as people have around the world. But they're looking to formalize their business into the the formal marketplace and not assume as much a risk," said Delna Buhariwalla, co-founder and executive director.
Cook Up was created to help people launch and grow their businesses, offering help with learning how to run a business and connecting them up with other businesses in Windsor-Essex. But the biggest draw, Buhariwalla said, is access to affordable shared kitchen space.
"There's a huge community of individuals who would actually love to grow their businesses but have faced a couple of barriers, right? Not understanding some of the systems and the procedures, the start up capital that is necessary," said Trishauna Linton, co-founder and lead of operations for Cook Up.
They wanted to start an incubator that would help business with the tools and resources to grow into "something that their kids could one day inherit that could become the next product at Costco, that could be this great development not only for them, but for the community at large," said Linton.
Invest Windsor/Essex has a Small Business & Entrepreneurship Centre to also help people go through the process of what they need to know to start a business.
From home cooking to selling food
WECHU, the public health unit, has information online about safety requirements for home-based food businesses, as well as for those opening a store.
Home-based business are allowed to prepare and sell food from their home-based kitchen only if they operate in accordance with the Health Protection and Promotion Act and the Food Premises Regulation. The kitchen needs to be separate and used only for the home-based business, not for personal use. It also needs to be inspected by the health unit before businesses can use it.
Fines for violating the rules range from $55 to $465.
A spokesperson for the health unit said "due to the pandemic, a reduction in restrictions saw an increase in home-based businesses. Public health inspectors have been providing education to work toward compliance."
There were some home-based businesses that closed and were not permitted to operated because of the nature of the food and the set up.
The Ministry of Health made changes to the Food Premises Regulation as of Jan. 1, 2020, to make it easier for individuals and business to sell low-risk foods. Those include items like breads, granola and coffee beans.
The health unit said it enforces regulations around home cooking and selling under the Provincial Offences Act. The system for inspections are complaint based and are jointly completed with Windsor Fire and potentially zoning.