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Black excellence shines at Restaurants Canada Show

The Black Experience Pavilion created by Foodpreneur Lab held court at the Enercare Centre for the Restaurants Canada Show, held Apr. 8-10.

Black excellence shines at Restaurants Canada Show
The Black Experience Pavilion created by Foodpreneur Lab held court at the Enercare Centre for the Restaurants Canada Show, held Apr. 8-10. For the non-profit organization, it was the first year having this experience for thousands of attendees and featured more than 30 Black entrepreneurs who took part. JORDAN MAXWELL PHOTO

The Restaurants Canada Show recently served as the latest showcase for Black excellence to take centre stage.

Held from Apr. 8-10, the event brought together food and restaurant industry professionals to stage products and present innovative food ideas to capture the imagination of foodies worldwide.

This year, Foodpreneur’s Black Excellence Pavillion was special. It displayed the work of several Black entrepreneurs within the Canadian food industry.

Janice Bartley, director of Foodpreneur Lab, a non-profit organization dedicated to educating and developing Black entrepreneurs, discussed what the pivotal moment meant to her and the organization.

“By the number of products (you see here), it’s really indicative of the innovation that’s gone into the (Black) food space in terms of what Black food entrepreneurs are able to do — innovate and create,” Bartley told Black Dollar Mag.

Foodpreneur Lab is a Toronto-based organization that supports food entrepreneurs in launching and growing their businesses. It offers various resources, including workshops, mentorship programs, networking events, and access to industry experts, to help aspiring foodpreneurs navigate the challenges of starting and running a food business.

This year, Foodpreneur Lab welcomed its first pavilion experience, allowing it to host several entrepreneurs from past cohort programs to participate and gain visibility in the industry.

“Before this, we had never organized a pavilion. This is the first-ever Black Experience Pavilion, and our aim is to make it an annual event. Additionally, this year marks the first time we’ve conducted live demonstrations on the other side, showcasing nearly 100 products. This expansion truly demonstrates the breadth of our capabilities. Previously, we only had one or two booths, which were shared and smaller in scale. However, in partnership with the Re-Seasoning Coalition this year, we’ve significantly expanded our efforts,” Bartley says.

At least 30 entrepreneurs and volunteers gathered to support the experience and display their products to thousands of attendees. Moreover, live demonstrations from Black chefs made the experience all that more intimate, allowing other communities to join and revel.

While it was essentially a showcase for past cohort graduates, the experience also revealed those ready for food service. Bartley says that while many create products for grocery, retail, and online marketplaces, the idea — and end goal — is food service for graduates.

“The challenge is really trying to figure out who suits the Restaurants Canada environment; who’s ready for foodservice? Because if you’re small scale, you can’t meet maybe the volume. Also, you know, you must be HAACP-certified. There are certain certifications that must be in place. So, we want to make sure that those who were here, demoing met those requirements, but not all do them. That’s not to say they can’t get to food service today. Maybe they can’t. But we wanted them to have the experience of what that would look like what exactly I’m talking to the more seasoned entrepreneurs that have been here. So that’s community at work,” Bartley says.

One of the entrepreneurs who participated in the live demo was Rachel Adjei, owner of the Abibiman Project. She created a food business introducing people to unique African flavours and ingredients.

Making rice and plantain, she discussed the importance of the representation she was privy to during the three-day event.

“It’s been a treat to have the opportunity to be around other Black people in the space, starting food businesees and dealing with the same issues,” she says. “It’s nice to have the comraderie. We can all individually grow but we can also do it side and side, and build each other up, supporting each other behind the scenes and on stage.”

She added that she appreciated the diversity presented at the Show and welcomed people of other cultures who she witnessed take an interest in the experience the Black pavilion provided to all.

“Toronto is a diverse city, and we don’t get to see it enough, especially in a setting like this, so I’m grateful we have a setting like to this make people see us for real.”

Philman George, an annual participant and chef at the Restaurants Canada Show, also shared his thoughts about the impact that Foodpreneur Lab’s Black Experience Pavillion provides.

“It’s a dream come true. When I walk this Show every year, I see more and more Black people. This year has been the best year yet. They’re all interested in learning about what our community has produced, but the big thing is seeing the connection between our community and the industry. It’s the industry knowing the Black community is innovative,” George told Black Dollar Magazine.

“We belong, and they need us to help the industry grow.”

Audrey and Cedric Ajavon share similar sentiments. Founded in 2022, the business has taken off since joining Foodpreneur Lab’s cohort No. 3.

“Being a part of this is beyond what I could have imagined. It’s a result of a lot of hard work and dedication. It also indicates that the small steps we’ve been taking are paying off. It’s only been two years, and many companies in the food industry have been competing for much longer without achieving what we have. So, being here means a great deal to us. We’ve received tremendous support from Foodpreneur Lab, having completed their program, which taught us a great deal. That’s why we felt confident enough to participate in this Show.

A Cookie Called Quest owner, Kamar Martin, was also on-site. Selling vegan cookies after discovering a plant-based lifestyle, he created a product that deeply resonated with audiences present from coast to coast. What started as a pandemic endeavour has become a full-fledged business, which took centre stage from Apr. 8-10. The brand sells online and at McEwan’s, a boutique grocery store based in Toronto.

“It’s certainly a chance to observe what others are up to. Being around your peers, colleagues, and fellow entrepreneurs allows you to connect with different vendors, which can benefit your own business. Conversations about business challenges occur regardless of race or background. Ultimately, it’s a great opportunity to surround yourself with like-minded individuals,” Martin says.