Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Gail Hall, Edmonton - Part One: Culinary Entrepreneur

“There are still opportunities for entrepreneurs on the Prairies.”

I am planning a short holiday in Edmonton in October and was doing some internet research to identify local food businesses to visit. I came across Gail Hall’s website and realized she had years of experience and would be a great source of information. As she will be away in October when I’m in Edmonton, we had a telephone conversation.

Today’s blog post looks at Gail’s business experience. Tomorrow’s post will explore Gail’s ideas around food and culture and supporting the local economy.Follow Your Passion
“You have to follow your passion,” says Gail Hall. “I worked for the government in Ontario and Alberta. I did it well, but I didn’t realize that you should love what you do.” Gail’s husband reminded her that she loves cooking, feeding people and having friends over and urged her to change careers.
In 1985, Gail quit her well-paid government job and started Gourmet Goodies catering company. The company grew exponentially. Within three years there were 12 employees, and by 2003 there were 65. Operating out of an 8,000 square-foot building, it was a one-stop operation looking after every aspect of catering – from decorating to dishes.

Moving On – Cooking Classes and Culinary Tours
After 18 years, Gail was becoming really exhausted, so she sold her company and worked for a local décor store for 18 months. But she wanted to get back to food.

Seasoned Solutions, Gail’s current business, combines cooking classes, culinary tours and speaking engagements. Gail and her husband bought a condo in a historic loft building in downtown Edmonton. The area along Jasper, 104 Street and beside City Hall has had a facelift, bringing new life to its historic buildings. It’s also the home of the City Market Downtown, Edmonton’s oldest market that has been in operation for over a century.

Gail realized that the location offered her the perfect setting for her cooking classes. The group could shop at the Market for seasonal ingredients and then cook and eat together in her loft. Gail also offers classes for private or corporate groups.

Opportunities for Entrepreneurs
Gail is eager to share her experience in establishing a business with entrepreneurs who are just getting started. Her advice is to follow your passion, and then figure out your niche, identifying what product you will provide that is different from what is already out there.

Gail emphasizes the importance of customer service. When Gail started Gourmet Goodies, nobody asked customers what they wanted. She reversed that by deliberately asking them want kind of an event they wanted and how much they were willing to pay. “Building a relationship with your clientele is critical,” says Gail, “as people feel so disconnected.”

Gail advises entrepreneurs to constantly review and update their goals. She also emphasizes that running a business is multi-facetted and includes doing, marketing and managing. “You have to hire people or delegate the stuff you can’t do well,” says Gail.

Gail obviously enjoys being an entrepreneur and is optimistic about the future. “There are still opportunities for entrepreneurs on the Prairies,” she says. “There’s less competition than in Toronto.”

See Also: Gail Hall, Edmonton - Part Two: Supporting the Local Food Culture


Anonymous said...

Thank you Penny, for your research and wonderful comments on Gail Hall. I have been a fan of hers for many years. Reading your blog, has given me the incentive to get my own passion for food and nutrition, organinzed, and perhaps I will have the wisdom to ask for Gail's input. Thank you again for making the observations that many of us have only thought.

Penny McKinlay said...

Good luck with your undertakings in food and nutrition. I would be interested to hear where it takes you.