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Honey Soul Food founders open Cornbread Cafe at Toronto's Billy Bishop Airport

The new café, which opened Wednesday (Oct. 26) at the Billy Bishop Airport in Toronto, serves its famous cornbread and other baked goods and beverages.

Honey Soul Food founders open Cornbread Cafe at Toronto's Billy Bishop Airport
Jason Martelly McLean and Chanee Dowdie run Honey Soul Food, a Southern comfort restaurant based in Mississauga, Ont. The duo recently opened Cornbread Cafe, a new venture at Billy Bishop Airport, created to spotlight their famous cornbread recipe, enchanting Torontonians' tastebuds everywhere. SUBMITTED PHOTO

Sixty-six times. That’s how long it took for Chanee Dowdie to perfect her famous cornbread recipe. Many would’ve given up and found a boxed recipe instead. But she made mix after mix for many weeks and studied strategies, only starting over when she didn't achieve perfection. Mind you, the cornbread was supposed to be a side dish for Honey Soul Food, a Southern-inspired restaurant in Mississauga. However, Dowdie’s determination and thoroughness made it into something bigger.

So, after 64 attempts, she told herself that No. 65 would be the one. She took a skillet and a pan over to the house of business partner and friend Jason Martelly McLean so that his mother, Anicia, could be the final judge. With Jamaican roots, who better to say ‘yay’ or ‘nay’ than ‘Mama Martelly’?

Dowdie served her 65th attempt, only to be denied again! However, with her fiery spirit intact, she went for it again, and the rest is history. Toronto’s best cornbread dish was born out of that pan and has since been a hit for the business, which includes a catering arm and a restaurant opened in 2021. Martelly McLean said that Honey Soul Food has sold tens of thousands of cornbreads at corporate events, award shows, and many other activations in just the last three months alone. The product has become such a hit that they have begun another venture, Cornbread Café.

The new café, which opened Wednesday (Oct. 25) at the Billy Bishop Airport in Toronto, serves its famous cornbread and other baked goods and beverages. Martelly McLean and Dowdie hosted a successful launch at the new location for the concept, which they hope to franchise in the coming years to support Black entrepreneurs looking to get into the food and hospitality industry.

“The airport has been a bit of a process, but it’s been worth it. This business has always been about ending generational poverty and being the change that we want to see, and this is a part of that,” Dowdie said.

When they started the business in 2020, they never could have imagined the success they are experiencing now. It began as a humble operation with a van for catering, then the restaurant came. Martelly McLean and Dowdie were doing it themselves. But slowly, over time, the business started to grow, and they expanded their team to include other Black entrepreneurs, caterers, chefs, and servers.

Support from Foodpreneur Lab led to a two-week pop-up spot at the Stackt Market this year, which was wildly successful. Martelly McLean and Dowdie said that not only were they sold out of products every day from passersby, but they were able to make client leads that led to growth.

Then, some weeks later, the duo was asked to cater the 2023 Legacy Awards. Created by the Black Academy, an initiative Shamier Anderson and Stephan James launched in December 2020 to support Black creatives, the 90-minute show broadcasts in partnership with CBC and CBC Gem. It was a massive moment for Honey Soul Food, Martelly McLean said.

He said the experience showed them they could execute a catering event on the highest level, which led them to think there was nothing they couldn’t do. That said, it also taught them that no work comes without recognition, ultimately bringing about an indescribable level of satisfaction.

“It made us feel like there’s nothing we can’t do, and that doesn’t give us overconfidence, but it definitely takes away the imposter syndrome, which can be a real thing when you’re dealing with monumental challenges. ‘Can I do this? Do I belong?’ Those are big things you think about in those moments, and after the Legacy Awards, we know we can do it because we have good supporters and a good team,” Martelly McLean said.

At a recent WeShall Investments fundraiser, Honey Soul Food’s cornbread was the highlight. The dish shined in a room full of other talented chefs and foods. Dowdie said that founder Wes Hall, Canada’s first Black Dragon on the hit CBC show, gave them a shoutout on Instagram.

It felt good to see that, said Martelly McLean, who added that Dowdie created the business with a different kind of vision in mind. “To have her own place and to bring us all on board and to our level, it’s special, and we want to keep growing in her vision,” he said.

Dowdie echoed his sentiments: “The importance of partnership is huge, and I genuinely feel like that’s a big element. We are best friends, and having the right business partner beside you and being able to grow in that space is key. I was very emotional about everything happening in the lead up to the launch, but it’s amazing that I can rely on my best friend and business partner and that we’re trending upward in the sense of love and trust.”