Success in the local food industry means finding knowledgable mentors

The past decade has been an interesting time for Peter Fehr.

In the span of a year, Fehr – who is a chef by trade – started not one, but two business ventures, Gourmet Inspirations and Love Local.

“Both businesses started around the same time – Gourmet Inspirations in 2013, and Love Local in 2014,” he says. “The idea for Gourmet Inspiration came in 2012 when I met with a friend from France and talked about how food could be made more interesting.”

Before long, Fehr was crafting and testing bold, French-inspired sauces in his own kitchen.

He then took them on the road to see how the public would respond to them.

“We went to farmer’s markets to get feedback there and rented a kitchen at Knox Community Church. We made the sauces in small batches and then did tastings at the different farmer’s markets. The reception was very good.”

Encouraged by the positive feedback, Fehr reached out to stores.

“A lot of stores were willing to take the risk to carry our sauces. We now have dessert sauces (prairie berry, peach Riesling, salted caramel whisky), a savoury collection (Canadian maple bourbon, sweet and spicy lemon, creamy peppercorn whisky) and a sizzling barbecue collection (Canadian maple bourbon, smoke & spice, kickin’ chicken).”

Those sauces served as the foundation of Gourmet Inspirations for eight to nine years and were then joined by rubs in the last two-and-a-half years or so.

A new line of tasty syrups was then introduced about a year ago.

Gourmet Inspirations’ product line can now be found along with all kinds of other local products at Fehr’s second business venture, Love Local.

“We have a shop in St. Vital Centre that features over 600 local products, both food and non-food,” he says. “Everything in the shop is made in Manitoba.”

The Love Local store not only provides access to Manitoba-made food products, but is also an extension of Fehr’s Love Local event, which showcases Manitoba-sourced food, wine and beer.

“It will be held on March 11 at the Victoria Inn this year,” notes Fehr. “It will be the event’s eighth year, and we’re thrilled that guests will have the opportunity to treat their taste buds to an abundance of gourmet delights from top local food and beverage producers. This year’s selection is sure to satisfy everyone’s palate.”

As for the future, Fehr says he’s going to continue growing both businesses in a prudent manner.

“With Gourmet Inspirations, I want to expand the lines, especially the syrups. With Love Local, the goal is to continue to make the event bigger and better every year.”

Overall, the past 10 years have been quite the learning experience, he adds.

“If I had to do it now (start two businesses) I’m not sure if I would. But I had a passion for it, so I’m glad I took the chance,” Fehr says, adding that most business is now done in person versus 100 per cent being done online during the pandemic. “When you’re starting out, you don’t know what you don’t know.”

Which is why he advises those looking to start a business in the food and beverage industry to do their due diligence and surround themselves with knowledgeable mentors.

“I started out by getting help from Food & Beverage Manitoba, and from Manitoba Agriculture. I also took a small business course at Red River College; those things helped me get the businesses off the ground. It’s important to have an outside community around you to provide moral support.”

It’s also important to grow things slowly.

“I think it’s best to be conservative in growing product lines – you don’t want to get ahead of yourself. It’s also important to ask lots of questions, meet people and go to events to make connections.”

One final bit of advice?

“Never be satisfied with where you’re at,” says Fehr. “Always work at fine tuning things and making your products and business practices the best they can be. Sales are good, I’ve built up connections and friendships, and traveled a bit. I’m happy that I took the chance.”