This is the latest entry in a series called Who Owns That? We ask readers on our LinkedIn group to identify their favourite small businesses from across Canada, and we track down the owners so they can tell us their stories.
Introducing Rebekka Hutton, founder of Alchemy Pickle Company, a Toronto-based company that makes vegetable ferments and natural sodas and kombucha, with local organic produce from Southern Ontario.
1. Let's start with the basics. Can you briefly describe your business, including when it was founded, what it does, and where you operate?
Alchemy Pickle Company was founded in 2012. We make vegetable ferments and natural sodas and kombucha, with local organic produce from Southern Ontario. We sell our kimchi, sauerkrauts, pickles, fermented hot sauce and condiments, and beverages in three farmers markets and 9 stores in Toronto so far. Our products are not heated and no vinegar is used. They must be kept in the fridge – it's a living food with no added preservatives. Fermentation is one of the oldest and safest methods of food preservation, and it builds tasty flavours while adding probiotics to your food.
2. What inspired you to be an entrepreneur and to branch out on your own with this idea?
I've worked in hospitality, customer service, tourism, theatre and non-profits, and traveled extensively in my life so far. Having a diverse range of experience has proven to be essential to running a small business as you have to figure out how to do many things at the same time! After working for several years in urban agriculture, I lost my job due to an organizational restructure. It was an opportunity for me to take some time to formalize my culinary training and explore other options for work.
There seemed to be a gap in Toronto for fermented food and drinks; I thought this could combine my love of feeding people, information sharing, and provide another connection between local farmers and eaters with traditionally prepared whole foods.
3. Who are your typical customers, and how do they find you?
Our customers have discovered us at farmers markets and events, though word-of-mouth, in local retail shops, and online. They tend to be pickle-loving people and are interested in local food, seasonal eating, andadding more fermented food and drinks to their diet for their delicious taste, or for health reasons.
4. What are the roles of you and your co-founder in the business? Do you have any employees?
As a sole-proprietor, I do everything from developing the recipes and making the pickles, deliveries to retail stores, vending at three farmers markets, sourcing local organic vegetables, to figuring out how to make our own draft kombucha tap handles (almost there!). That also means I do the marketing and accounting for the business (not my strengths!) and anything else that needs figuring out.
I currently have an incredible helper who joins me two days a week in the production kitchen, and together we process about 100 kilograms of vegetables each week, depending on the season. Tsewang also runs her own food business out of our kitchen the rest of the week, making and selling Tibetan Momos at farmers markets.
Our beverage department is headed by my partner Michael. He brews and bottles all the kombucha and does anything related to beverages, in addition to his full time job at an urban farm.
5. You've been identified by one of our readers as a standout business. What do you consider the key element of your success?
Pickles seem to be something people get super exited about. People at the farmers market often approach by yelling "pickles" in my direction as they zoom in for a sample. Our products are fairly unique and we focus on supporting the local food economy.
I think our success so far is a combination of an increased interest in fermented and whole foods, and really tasty products made with incredible ingredients. Our customers understand the importance of food with a deep connection to the people that nurture the soil, grow the food, and prepare the products with integrity.