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From Off-Broadway to Strawberry Grand Marnier Ventures
"The difference between a successful person and others is not a lack of strength, not a lack of knowledge, but rather a lack in will." — Vince Lombardi.
Shawn was co-owner of Off-Broadway, a little Sydney Street restaurant close to the Confederation Centre Theatre. A few years before, Shawn and his partner converted the space into a cozy 24-seat restaurant; it had been called LeCafe, a sandwich cafe and the restaurant is currently called The Brickhouse.
I had to start over, and I needed a job. Learning perseverance is not just the will to finish but the will to start again after failure is not an option if you're serious about achieving your goals.
Off-Broadway was one cook and one server, and it was a busy spot. After my first attempt at owning a business failed, Shawn kindly hired me as a server, and I served many Cheese and Broccoli Pies.
The strawberries I had left over from my first restaurant were in Shawn’s freezer, and he was kind and gracious enough to let me use his kitchen to bottle strawberries. Fortunately, it made room in his freezer; seeing my strawberries took most of it.
My first batch was going to be strawberry and range. I zested the orange to be sure I didn’t take any pith. I wanted only the oil of the orange with the strawberries and sugar.
Shawn entered the kitchen, enjoying a large glass of Grand Marnier; it was evident he had a few already. He offered me one, so I said yes, thinking I would save him from overindulging further.
He brought an 8-ounce water glass of Grand Marnier and left the kitchen. I was boiling strawberries, oranges, and sugar; Grand Marnier was all I needed to make Crepe Suzette. Thinking that it would make an exciting preserve, I dumped the contents of the glass into the pot. The response in the pot was magical. The strawberries were dancing with the Grand Marnier. The aroma in the air was intoxicating. I excitedly tasted a bit, but I wouldn’t know what it would really taste like after being bottled till the next day. It was now late and time to go home. Before leaving, I hid several cases of my Strawberry Grand Marnier under the seats at table 6.
When I returned for my lunch shift the next day, I went to table 6, everyone’s favourite booth. The booth was tucked into the dining room corner and seated four guests. No one other than the server could see who was sitting there.
With lots of anticipation and excitement to taste, I took a jar into the kitchen, grabbed a spoon, twisted the lid, smelled it, and what a beautiful smell it was; then tasted it, and, oh my, what a flavour. After telling Shawn what I did with the glass of Grand Marnier he gave me, he was anxious to taste it. And I always appreciated he was the first to approve wholeheartedly. No surprise there, as Grand Marnier was his drink of choice.
Joey Fatone said, "If you combine good flavours, food turns into an orchestra." I am so excited to share I started putting preserves on the restaurant’s famous Banana Torte, and customers loved it!
The second chapter of my entrepreneurial life began when I started “bootlegging” Strawberry Grand Marnier Preserves to the tables.
Over the next few months, I bought cases of Grand Marnier and cooked the remaining strawberries. Then, with Shawn’s approval, I sold preserves to his diners. I set up a stall for a few weekends at a small market and sold 450 jars of preserves between the two locations.
That was it. I found what I was looking to do.
In the spring of 1985, I started planning the next steps in this journey. But first, I needed a place, and I needed equipment.
Found an older three-story building on Fitzroy Street, with each floor having three bedrooms. Still working as a waiter at Off-Broadway, I rented the ground floor for 350 a month.
Walking to work one day, I noticed an old propane stove on the curb and learned Shawn had put his old 30-inch stove outside the restaurant to wait for a ride to the Sleepy Hollow dump. I rushed into the restaurant and asked if I could have the stove; Shawn said, “Sure, take it.” So I have a place and a stove, now I need a pot. A local company, Paderno, made stainless steel cookware and sold nationally; they were kind and sold me a large 'seconds' stockpot for fifteen dollars. The Preserve Company, 38 years later, still uses that pot.
I bought several gallons of white gloss paint and painted the walls and ceilings of my new-to-me three-bedroom manufacturing facility. Next, I needed to get the propane hooked up and the stove installed, and I would be ready.
Almost ready, I still needed berries, sugar, and bottles.
Calling one of the men from my first failure list, I explained that my goal all along was to make preserves and was now starting to do so. So I called to see if his distributing company would sell me sugar and the bottles. I didn’t ask for credit, but he offered bottles, sugar and credit without hesitation.
Roger Balderston sold beautiful Prince Edward Island strawberries and had a booth at a mall one block from my manufacturing facility. I asked him if he would like to supply me with strawberries. Buying berries from Roger and Marjorie began an excellent 20-year farmer and preserve maker relationship.
I liked the booth idea of setting up to sell to preserves and approached Mr. Arnold, owner of the mall, to see if they would allow me, and he did. So, I made a lovely wooden booth; I painted it dark green, hung a tasteful sign above it, presented the finished jars with gingham cloth tops, and started sampling and selling immediately.
While standing behind my booth one, I noticed a gentleman standing off at a distance and watching the goings-on. Then, finally, he came forward and introduced himself. Colin was from the provincial Department of Industry. He said he had not heard of Prince Edward Island Preserve Company and asked, "Where is your manufacturing facility?"
I asked, “Would you like to see it?” he said, “Yes.” Then, he asked if two of his colleagues from community development could come with him. “Sure, meet me tomorrow at 83 Fitzroy Street, 1 pm.” So the next day, Colin, Bill, and Tom arrived in business suits and crisp knotted ties. Then, we proceeded to have a tour of my manufacturing facility.
Bedroom number one was for storing bottles and packaging. Bedroom number two was for labelling the jars and storage. Finally, behind the closed door, bedroom number three was for sleep.
I showed off my glaring gloss white kitchen, new-to-me stove saved from the dump and shiny pot from Paderno. We then sat in the living room and had a chat.
I'm unsure what they thought once they left the 'manufacturing' facility, but I would love to have been a fly on the car's ceiling listening to the conversation.
Not soon after, I had a new landlord. He offered two months’ rent back if I could move within two weeks. He wanted to tear the old house down and build a new office building.
So now, I needed to find a new place and fast.
Determination is one path to success when all doors seem closed. Is there something you have to see through?
Till Next Week…