My first entrepreneurial endeavour was picking and selling wild blueberries door to door; I was 10. Many years later, while visiting a friend's Mom was making strawberry jam and the smell was heavenly, visiting the next day she gave me a jar, oh what a gift to receive. I knew right then and there I wanted to start a business making jam.
In my early 20’s I wished to learn about cooking, so I packed my bags and headed to the big city. Studied to be a chef at George Brown Culinary in the heart of Kensington Market Toronto. I apprenticed in a classical French kitchen under German and Italian chefs, as well working at a Swiss luncheon restaurant where flavour and integrity of food were tantamount as well. While in Toronto, I worked part time for a jam maker as well.
I used to buy and taste every kind of jam that I could find. I knew that I wanted to make products using less sugar while trying to push the limit on the amount of fruit I could safely put in a jar. Here we are 35 plus years later, and we have the least sugar of any other commercial producer, so little that we are not allowed to call it "jam" or "preserve" or "jelly" or "marmalade" because of government standards. Hence we call our products "spreadable fruit". In 2016 we hope to introduce a natural sugar-free fruit product, which has been almost two years perfecting.
I started the business in 1985 supplying local stores and high-end department stores in Canada and US. I learned a lot about business those early years and was not enjoying the business side of it until one day, a gentleman from Sandwich, Massachusetts sought me out while he was visiting Prince Edward Island. He brought with him an empty jar of my first product, Strawberry Grand Marnier. He mentioned that one of his food pleasures was trying different jams, he then said, “it was the best he ever had” and wanted six cases to take back with him. He drove away with 6 cases; I had the full value of the product in my hands….I had an “a ha” moment and realized I needed more people like him.
In 1987, Shirley and I purchased a 1913 Creamery, a pretty well worn down building on the bank of the River Clyde, in the lovely village of New Glasgow in Prince Edward Island. Our goal was to renovate and create a food destination that welcomed and treated guests to food with integrity and flavour. I met a Sri Lankan gentleman who was displaying his tea and tea ware at a trade show this same year though I grew up in a family of tea drinkers I never partook. After sampling his product, I became very intrigued. Over the next few years, I grew to love all things tea, the history, the flavours and the passion tea blenders have is infectious, and for me it continues today. We have been blending and selling top quality loose leaf since 1988, and it continues to be a source of pride for us, as people all around the world have us ship our tea to them.
We have grown the location with hard work, word of mouth and customer loving staff. Our retail shop and online store purvey only items we personally appreciate. They must be functional, beautiful and offer value. We have been to most of the producers of the products we sell, including Dunoon Pottery in Staffordshire, England and Heather Gems in Pitlochry, Scotland. We look for nice people who produce wonderful products at reasonable prices. Our restaurant is one of the busiest on the Island; here we serve tasty local comfort food at reasonable prices. Our staffing levels have reached 75+, and we can not do what we do without their professionalism and honest caring for others.
As part of our life’s larger purpose, Shirley and I started the Gardens of Hope, a 12-acre garden sanctuary next door to us in 2005 with a mission of opening a Respite Cottage for those dealing with life-threatening illnesses. They are our guests at no cost to them or their families. More info here.
We now ship our products to the world through our mail order department. We have had a website since 1998 and are happy to say we have thousands of regular customers mainly in the US and Canada.