11 Female Food Entrepreneurs Making Their Mark on Canada’s Food Island

Canada’s Food Island is replete with innovative, passionate, and skilled foodpreneurs and farmers that are making their mark on PEI’s food scene and beyond. In this blog, we’re putting the spotlight on 10 female food producers that are crafting incredibly delicious food products – from artisanal vegan cheese to gourmet ice cream, organic vegetables, hand pies, and more!

1. Julain Molnar, Fresh Start

Julain Molnar loves animals, the theatre, and really good vegan food. When the professional actor and singer moved to PEI from her home province of Ontario, she found world-class theatre and plenty of space for her animals to roam. What she couldn’t find, however, was good-quality vegan cheese.

Fortunately, she had a passion for making food in her home kitchen and began experimenting with different cashew cheese formulas. After much trial and error, she was ready to launch her dairy-free cheese products and Fresh Start Fauxmage was born. Today, Julain’s line of artisanal nut-based cheeses are available at fine food retailers across Atlantic Canada, Ontario, and Alberta, as well as all Sobeys stores in Atlantic Canada.

“I’m very proud of the fabulous flavours and textures we’ve introduced and our customers love them as much as we do.” – Julain Molnar

2. Soleil Hutchinson, Soleil’s Farm

An appreciation for the power of community and a decision to choose hope over despair for the state of the environment drove Soleil Hutchinson to become an organic farmer. Today, she and her partner, Lauren, farm vegetables on 6 acres of certified organic land in South Melville PEI. They share the bounty of their harvest with the members of their popular Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) program, as well as chefs and retailers dedicated to showcasing local products. She remains committed to celebrating the power of community and embraces a collaborative approach by working with like-minded farmers.

“I believe that together, a community of committed farmers and eaters can create a better food system, where we can all celebrate and enjoy good food.” – Soleil Hutchinson

3. Sarah Bennetto-O’Brien, The Handpie Co.

Handpies and high fives, that’s what Sarah Bennetto O’Brien serves up at her flagship shop in Albany, PEI. Before she was known as the handpie queen, Sarah ran a chef-driven take-away cafe in Borden, PEI, where she celebrated local and offered an array of menu items. One particular menu item surpassed all the others in popularity – the humble handpie.

After taking the Food Xcel program with Food Island Partnership, Sarah realized her best move was to pivot and focus solely on making handpies for hungry Islanders and visitors! Handcrafted in-house, her delicious savoury pies pay homage to the traditional Cornish Pasty and offer an array of flavours – from Chicken Pot Pie to Bacon Cheeseburger, Beet Corn & Goat’s Cheese, and many more. Today, you can purchase her frozen handpies at retail locations across PEI, while the Albany location offers fresh, hot handpies alongside the take n bake option.

“We’re proud to use local meat, wheat, potatoes and butter in our handpies. Choosing local ingredients wherever possible keeps our products delicious as well as doing our part to build a sustainable community here on Prince Edward Island, where we are so proud to live and operate.” – Source: www.handpie.ca

4. Jane Woodley and Sue Humby, Jane & Sue Chocolate

Jane Woodley and Sue Humby are sisters, business partners, and chocolate artisans. Originally, the pair wanted to open a bakery but when one of them developed a gluten sensitivity, they decided to turn their attention to chocolates. Today, they operate Jane & Sue Chocolate from their headquarters in Stanley Bridge and are also a staple of the Summerside Farmers’ Market. Their handcrafted artisan chocolates are made with premium ingredients and sourced locally whenever possible. In addition to their gorgeous bonbons and bars, the duo also offers gluten-free baked goods.

5. Rebecca Kozak, Cherry on Top Creamery

In the summer of 2018, while cooking at a popular fish & chip shack on PEI’s North Shore, Rebecca Kozak found herself thinking about ice cream. Specifically, she found herself thinking she should start making gourmet ice cream and open up a shop. Fast forward 6 months and Cherry on Top Creamery was born in the dead of a PEI winter. Today, the 29-year old chef from Ontario sells her handcrafted ice cream concoctions at her flagship shop in Souris and her seasonal location at the East Point Lighthouse. It turns out she was right – Islanders love their ice cream and the more chunks the better!

“Chef-driven ice cream means thinking outside of the scoop…I want to push the envelope on the “classics” and share my obsession with crazy delicious food combinations with the people of PEI. We love hearing people’s dream flavours, or favourite foods because it opens up a world of possibilities. I’m always asking myself, ‘can I turn that into ice cream?.’” – Rebecca Kozak

6. Amy Smith & Verena Varga, Heartbeet Organics

Amy Smith and Verena Varga are proof positive that there’s plenty of room for innovation in traditional industries, including agriculture. The owners of Heart Beet Organics farm organic vegetables on their 2-acre farm in Darlington, Prince Edward Island and also run The Farmacy & Fermentery in downtown Charlottetown. Early on in their farming adventures, the couple began exploring ways to extend PEI’s short growing season, and now boast two unheated greenhouses and four high tunnels.

They also searched for ways to use up ‘ugly’ vegetables and excess from bumper crops. Passionate home fermenters, Amy and Verena realized the answer to their ‘pickle’ was actually pickling! They began experimenting with kombucha and a variety of fermented vegetables and quickly discovered there was a pent-up demand for locally-made kombucha and high-quality organic ferments.  Today, they continue to farm and ferment to their hearts’ content, serving up delicious, fresh produce, vegan-friendly meals, kombucha, and more at The Farmacy & Fermentary. They also host on-farm events each year, including their much-beloved annual Tomato Fest.

7. Makena Tarichia, Out of Africa

When Makena Tarichia moved to Canada’s smallest province from her home country of Kenya, she wanted to share her culture, earn a living, and make new friends. Her homemade samosas became the vehicle to accomplish all of these pursuits.

Today, Makena serves up an array of African cuisine from her Out of Africa booth at the Charlottetown Farmers’ Market, but no menu item is more in-demand than her delicious samosas. With that in mind, Makena enrolled in the Food Xcel Program offered by Food Island Partnership in late 2021 with the goal of identifying ways to grow her samosa business. She is now actively searching out opportunities to bring her samosas to outlets across PEI and has a long-term vision of having her own storefront. 

The intrepid entrepreneur hasn’t just won over Island customers with her delicious food and buoyant personality, she also won over the judges at the Food Xcel pitch day. In February 2022, she was named the grand prize winner and awarded $25,000 in seed capital from Innovation PEI’s Ignition Fund. Stay tuned as Makena takes her samosa business to the next level!

8.  Jordan McIntyre,  Mary Manette Seafood

When Jordan McIntyre founded Mary Manette Seafood in 2019, she wanted to do two things: pay homage to her great-grandmother, Mary Manette and celebrate the incredible quality of Canadian seafood.  The namesake of the company, Mary Manette ran a fish stand at the Halifax Farmers’ Market over 100 years ago. Her fish was highly sought after and known for its incredible flavour and freshness. Fast forward to the twenty-first century and Jordan is continuing the tradition set by her great-grandmother. Jordan’s boutique seafood smokehouse and artisanal cannery is serving up a new and innovative line of tinned seafood products that are hand-packed and infused with flavourful brines. Yum!

9. Flory Sanderson, Island Hill Farm

It’s impossible to visit Island Hill Farm and leave without a big smile plastered across your face. Dubbed ‘the cutest place on Earth’, Flory Sanderson welcomes visitors, young and old, to visit her working goat farm, where guests can mingle with curious goats, happy chickens, fuzzy bunnies, social alpacas, and other farm animals. The farm is also home to Flory’s Cafe & Market and Flory’s Shoppe, where she serves up local eats and artisan products (including goat’s milk soap), respectively. Besides farm visits, Flory also hosts goat yoga, weddings, and other fun events on the farm, including bottle-feeding baby goats!

“We feel it is very important for people to learn about where their food comes from, ethical and sustainable farming practices, and of course our animals themselves! We are a farm first and always have been, and we absolutely love sharing our story, animals, and home with people from all around the world.” Source: www.islandhillfarm.ca

10. Chef Ilona Daniel, Tribe Fresh Events & Consulting

Chef Ilona Daniel is as passionate about educating eaters as she is about creating exciting dishes using PEI ingredients. Originally from Ontario, Chef Ilona has been blazing trails in the Island’s hospitality industry for several years and is a passionate ambassador of Canada’s Food Island. Today, as a thought leader and the owner of Tribe Fresh Events and Consulting, she leverages her 15 years of industry experience to inform projects around the globe and support the interconnection of producers and consumers. 

A published writer, media personality, and dedicated Culinary Instructor at the Culinary Institute of Canada, Chef Ilona remains committed to sharing her culinary knowledge and celebrating Prince Edward Island’s incredible food scene. 

“Connecting, teaching and inspiring others to cook whole foods at home with passion is what I love. Keeping things fresh and fabulous in all realms is my mission!”

11. Esther Dockendorff, Mussel King

Today, cultivated PEI mussels have a world-renowned reputation and can be seen growing in waters all around the Island, but that wasn’t the case 43 years ago. When Esther Dockendorff’s lobster-fishing father declared that he wanted to start a company ‘growing’ mussels, little did he know he and his family would one day be considered pioneers of the PEI mussel industry.

Fast forward to today, and Esther carries on the legacy started by her father in her role as CEO of Mussel King.  With over four decades of experience in mussel farming, she knows the ropes (or should we say ‘socks’?) of the industry and remains wholly committed to innovation and moving the company forward. Mussel King has remained a family-owned and operated company since it opened in 1978 and continues to contribute to the Island community, offering employment opportunities, giving back to charitable causes, and continuing to export PEI mussels to countries around the world.

Prepared by Shannon Courtney of ShanCo Studio for Canada’s Food Island.

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