Small Business Success in Gastronomy in Thunder Bay

Red Lion Steakhouse
Red Lion Steakhouse
Red Lion Smokehouse features pork ribs smoked slow and low in a Josper grill. Photo credit: Alexander Skochinski

THUNDER BAY – Business – The best food comes from the best ingredients, and foodies – people of a rising subculture who seek out premium, organic, and local cuisine – are gobbling it up. Agribusiness and gastronomy are trending massively and Thunder Bay is chock-full of foodie gems you may not even know about. From carrots to coffee beans, the Thunder Bay and District Entrepreneur Centre (EC) has helped small businesses of all kinds get access to the information, tools, and resources they need to put them on the right track to success.

The Thunder Bay Country Market as well as our downtown cores are local ‘sweet spots’ bursting with new culinary and gastronomy treasures. If you haven’t experienced what’s on the local food scene, you don’t know what you’re missing. Here’s a snapshot of some of the most delicious small businesses.

Whitefish Valley Vegetables

Carrots, onions, beets, and heirloom potatoes can be purchased from Whitefish Valley Vegetables at the Thunder Bay Country Market.
Carrots, onions, beets, and heirloom potatoes can be purchased from Whitefish Valley Vegetables at the Thunder Bay Country Market.

Local produce is best! Ecologist Mark Jantunen turned to agribusiness after a cycling accident caused him to put his forestry career on hold. He started Whitefish Valley Vegetables by growing produce in his family’s farm in Hymer’s Village, and never looked back. He enjoys the fun, face-to-face social atmosphere of vending at the Thunder Bay Country Market and aims to provide an environment where people can know and trust where their food comes from.

Mark’s heirloom potatoes (grown 4 varieties) are of particular interest to locavores and foodies who stop by his booth every week. Their enhanced flavour, colour, and texture are not like anything you’d find at a typical grocer. The potatoes, as well as his cabbage, kale, onions, beets, carrots, and other root vegetables are chemical free and grown by organic standards.

The focus is quality (not quantity) and his vegetables are grown for flavour (not production) in a perfectly balanced ecosystem and harvested at peak ripeness. “Healthy soil means healthy vegetables,” Mark advises. “I maintain the best soil possible so that the vegetables aren’t stressed and nothing limits their growth.” Mark’s high standards in soil quality result in very nutrient dense vegetables that mature beautifully and taste amazing.

Mark uses the Digital Resources service at the Entrepreneur Centre and has attended Entrepreneur Centre workshops to access information and resources to help in forming a marketing strategy for his business.


pie.ology – hand pies made with heart – can be found on the second floor of the Thunder Bay Country Market.
pie.ology – hand pies made with heart – can be found on the second floor of the Thunder Bay Country Market.

Located on the second floor of the Country Market, you can find pie.ology – delicious hand pies homemade by Liesl Orford, a born-and-raised Calgary girl you can’t help but fall in love with.

After moving to Thunder Bay, the staff at the Entrepreneur Centre as well as PARO Centre for Women’s Enterprise were some of Liesl’s first supporters. “They were some of the very first people I connected and shared my vision with. Their genuine interest, caring, and moral support for my new business idea was instrumental in helping me get started.”

Liesl, a self-taught baker, combines her grandmother’s culinary influence with her mother’s style to offer both savoury and sweet pie varieties to her growing customer base. Each pie is encased with Liesl’s all-butter pastry and filled with only the freshest ingredients, sourced locally whenever possible, including sausage from North Country meats, potatoes from B&B Farms, even Sleeping Giant Brewery’s Skullrock Stout, found in the Beef & Stout pie. Dessert pies feature BC cherries, hand-picked wild Nipigon blueberries, strawberries from Belluz farms, and rhubarb right from your backyard – absolutely no canned or frozen stuff.

You can experience pie.ology fresh out of the oven at the farmer’s market or pick up a few ‘take & bake’ pies to enjoy at home. If you can’t make it to the market, there are take & bake pies for sale at North Country Meats.

pie.ology’s slogan is ‘hand pies made with heart’ and nothing could be truer. There’s something special about the way they’re made individually, right from Liesl’s kitchen using no commercial equipment. She knows many of her customers by name and keeps in touch with her audience through her email newsletter. “What’s so cool about the market is getting to know my customers. I love hearing about their lives, and getting their feedback on the pies. It’s so much more than a transaction.”

pie.ology’s recently expanded its services to provide dessert catering to weddings – “Instead of cake, they want pies!” Liesl’s mini fruit pies will be featured at a few weddings this fall and she’s already booking into next spring. When asked about acquiring a store front, Liesl says it’s a possibility for the future but further expansion will only happen if she can be sure that the quality won’t be sacrificed.

Rose N Crantz specialty coffee can be purchased at Sweet Escape Cake Café, Waking Giant, and Espresso Joya.
Rose N Crantz specialty coffee can be purchased at Sweet Escape Cake Café, Waking Giant, and Espresso Joya.

Rose N Crantz Roasting Company

Love the coffee you drink and drink the coffee you love – that’s the mantra of Jamie Nichols, founder of Rose N Crantz Roasting Company.

Spearheading Thunder Bay’s third wave coffee movement, Jamie’s mission is simple – to get people to brew a better cup of coffee. Rose N Crantz does exclusively small batch roasting (two pounds at a time), allowing Jamie to easily adjust the ‘roast profile’ of each batch, customizing the roast for flavour perfection. Large commercial roasters that typically hold 15-30 pounds of coffee beans at a time will not usually be used so meticulously.

Rose N Crantz specialty coffee is of a single origin, meaning that each bean can most often be traced back to the very farm or estate it was grown on, or the cooperative at the very least. “I always try to get coffee that is grown on farms with good working conditions and quality soil, and the farmers receive a fair wage. I do not blend coffees, so there’s no question of where it comes from.”

Jamie first began roasting when his favourite brew from an Edmonton roastery became a little too expensive to import. What started as a hobby slowly grew through word of mouth and developed into a full time operation. He received free information, consulting, and advice from the Entrepreneur Centre. “The service I got from the Entrepreneur Centre was excellent and I expect to continue using their services during my upcoming expansion and continuous business planning.”

Rose N Crantz can be purchased at Sweet Escape Cake Café and Bakery, Espresso Joya, and Waking Giant Coffee House, where Jamie makes weekly deliveries to ensure the coffee is no more than a few days old before a customer brings it home. If you order online, your batch is roasted shortly after, just for you. Freshly brewed Rose N Crantz is served at a growing number of locations, including Sweet Escape, the Study Coffee House, and Red Lion Smokehouse. It is brewed on demand at Espresso Joya.

Red Lion Smokehouse

Red Lion Steakhouse
Red Lion Smokehouse is situated in Thunder Bay’s downtown entertainment district at the corner of Cumberland Street and Park Avenue. Photo Credit: Darian Taylor

Signature smoky barbecue, hearty craft beers, relaxed atmosphere, and homemade everything makes Red Lion Smokehouse one of Thunder Bay’s most popular hotspots (no pun intended).

Owners Alex, John, and Dave aim to provide a high quality dining experience in a casual setting. The place beams of British influence, stemming from John and Alex’s eight-year stint in the United Kingdom, where barbecue was as all the rage on the restaurant scene. As John recalls, “There was nothing quite like it in Thunder Bay, and we wanted to be the ones to bring it here.”

Michelin-trained chef John smokes all beef, pork and lamb in-house on their top-of-the-line Josper, a rare grill (only three in Canada) that runs on 100% charcoal and oxygen to create an exceptionally smoky flavour that is a step up from that of conventional gas-powered grills. All Red Lion Smokehouse meats are coated with their signature rub and cured for 48 hours before they are smoked slow and low for a minimum of six hours. Carrots, zucchini, butter, and sea salt are also smoked on the Josper, even chickpeas for smoky hummus.

Everything from the ketchup, mustard, and mayo down to the ice cream, sorbet, and drink garnishes are homemade from scratch, and with locally-sourced ingredients whenever possible. The menu is ever-changing, growing to include new items received from farmers, foragers, and producers, and reflecting the seasonality and availability of ingredients. Red Lion Smokehouse carries a full roster of craft beer, mostly from Ontario, and often deals directly with the brewers to bring in brands that Thunder Bay has never seen before.

Dave, John, and Alex used the Entrepreneur Centre’s services to access a loan from Futurpreneur Canada to aid with startup costs.

Thinking of starting your own food or agribusiness? Or maybe you’d like to improve the business you already own? The Thunder Bay and District Entrepreneur Centre offers FREE and confidential services to help businesses start up, expand, and succeed. Whether you’re looking for funding, training and education, or new and better ways of marketing your products and services, the Entrepreneur Centre is here to get you on the right track to success. Call (807)625-3960 or visit to book an appointment.

CEDC Community Economic Development (CEDC) Entrepreneur Centre
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