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Helping prospects develop a taste for entrepreneurship

This winter’s deep freeze may not have you thinking about the delicious food options available from street vendors or through local producers, but the time is ripe for those thinking of getting into the game.

Waterloo Region Small Business Centre’s upcoming “Starting a Food Business in Waterloo Region” event aims to teach would-be entrepreneurs the basics of safety and health regulations when dealing with food products, said manager Chris Farrell. [Elena Maystruk / The Observer]
Waterloo Region Small Business Centre’s upcoming “Starting a Food Business in Waterloo Region” event aims to teach would-be entrepreneurs the basics of safety and health regulations when dealing with food products, said manager Chris Farrell. [Elena Maystruk / The Observer]
In fact, would-be food entrepreneurs can hardly wait for summer. In preparation for warmer times to come, those new to the industry will have a chance next month to learn everything they need to get their goodies out to the public via a business session created by the Waterloo Region Small Business Centre.

The food game became even more popular with the introduction of food truck licensing in a 2013 City of Waterloo pilot project, said the centre’s manager, Chris Farrell, and with even more small business options available comes the need to educate entrepreneurs. Thus was born “Starting a Food Business in Waterloo Region.”

“[The event] is for people who are interested in starting a food business or maybe they’re in early stages of investigating starting a food business,” she said.

Waterloo Region is a hotbed for smaller, start-up food businesses – even in Woolwich a pair of youths took on the challenge with Cupcakes! Cupcakes! Cupcakes!, a St. Jacobs market operation by Tiia Planert of Waterloo, and Ice Cream! Ice Cream! Ice Cream!, the mobile frozen treat business started by Elmira’s Andrew Brubacher last summer.

The challenges at the beginning of a food venture are plentiful, as Planert well knows.

“At first you think, ‘It’s going to be great, I can just bake out of my kitchen,’ and that’s the first thing they tell you is you can’t bake out of your kitchen, it has to be a commercial kitchen. Finding one was quite the challenge … finding insurance was another thing, finding a location was a third.”

The heavy workload can be another unexpected factor.

“It’s a lot of work, it takes up a lot of your life and being your own boss has its perks but at the same time you are the first person opening up shop in the morning and you’re the last person doing dishes at the end of the day,” she said.

All food businesses, no matter how small, must come back to the basics of operating legally and safely. That’s what the seminar, consisting of representatives from food regulatory bodies, will teach participants.

Many regulators that affect the food business will sit on a panel during the event. It’s a long list: Region of Waterloo Public Health, municipal clerk’s office, fire departments, Ontario Ministry of Agriculture and Food and Rural Affairs (OMAFRA), Alcohol and Gaming Commission of Ontario, and insurers (Elmira’s Josslin Insurance will offer up a take on commercial liability insurance for businesses).

The panel hopes to target small food businesses such as food trucks, family-owned cafés and restaurants, or even small-time producers of sauces and goods sold at local markets.

There are several misconceptions that float around when entrepreneurs get their first whiff of the food business, said Farrell.

“A lot of times people want to start a food business from their home, but that’s not possible; you need to have a commercial kitchen to make food and then sell it to the public. A lot of people aren’t aware of that.”

Many producers at farmers’ markets rent such facilities to create their “homemade” sauces and other goods. And if vendors do choose the market or street food route, there’s much to learn about preparation, she added.

“If you want to prepare food and take it to market and package the foods, then people need to know about labeling that food and making sure that all the ingredients that are in the food are listed. If it isn’t listed on the packaging, they have to have it available for the buyer because there are so many food allergies. We want to keep the public safe when it comes to food.”

The number of food businesses in the region is only outmatched by ideas for even more tasty creations.

“Location has a lot to do with where you run your business. We have a lot of people who have great ideas for food, who have traditional recipes or maybe ethnic recipes that they want to bring to the market and they haven’t gone to culinary school and they want to start a business. We want to make sure that they know how to do that,” said Farrell.

Starting a Food Business in Waterloo Region takes place March 20, 8:30 a.m. – 12 p.m. at the Waterloo Memorial Recreation Centre, Hauser Haus Banquet Room (101 Father David Bauer Dr.). For information, visit www.waterlooregionsmallbusiness.com. The event repeats in Cambridge on April 15.

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