One of Canada’s most famous entrepreneurs has partnered with one of Tofino’s most popular chefs to distribute West Coast deliciousness across the country.
Chef Lisa Ahier of Tofino’s SoBo Restaurant is celebrating a successful pitch on the CBC’s Dragons’ Den program where she struck a deal with Arlene Dickinson.
“It would be a dream come true to partner with you. I would like to shake your hand right now, but COVID’s not letting me,” Ahier said via video due to the coronavirus pandemic preventing her from travelling to Toronto to appear on the show in person.
“I wish I could hug you because I’m super excited. I’m looking forward to having a bowl of soup with you in person in Tofino,” Dickinson responded.
Ahier had gone into the Dragons’ Den seeking $300,000 for 49 per cent of a to-go frozen chowder business she hopes to launch with her smoked wild salmon chowder as the flagship product.
She noted she has 17 other items on offer from the freezer inside her restaurant, but the chowder is the staple and accounts for 10 per cent of her business, roughly $170,000 of the $1.7 million SoBo brings in annually.
Dragon Lane Merrifield noted it was a new venture and the chowder has only proven to be popular in the small community of Tofino so far.
Dickinson suggested Tofino has a high-end clientele for its size.
“It’s a small place, but there are some fairly famous people that are around there,” she said.
On cue, Ahier introduced Sarah McLachlan for an endorsement.
“I really hope you will support Lisa. She is pretty much the hardest working woman I’ve ever met and makes the most amazing chowder that I would really love to have in my kitchen in Vancouver,” McLaughlin said in a video.
Terry David Mulligan also appeared on Ahier’s behalf.
“Lisa Ahier is an absolute gem. She’s a star in Tofino and she’s going to be a star across the country if you give her a nod,” he said.
Dragon Vincenzo Guzzo asked why Ahier was only offering a stake in one of her products when she has 17 available.
Ahier responded that she wanted to focus on one thing.
“I really wanted to stay small to start so that I didn’t come in asking for too much trying to tackle the world. I would be happy to entertain all of the things in my frozen soup line,” she said.
Dragon Michelle Romanow offered high praise to Ahier, calling her “totally magnetic” and “a perfect person to have building this brand,” but suggested that chowder was not her wheelhouse and declined to make an offer.
Dragon Manjit Minhas gave Ahier an “A for effort,” but said there would be too much work to get just one product into the marketplace for her to find an investment tenable.
“At this point, you just have a recipe right? You don’t have packaging, you don’t have a brand name, you don’t have a co-packer or a kitchen outside of Tofino, all of that has to still be done,” Minhas said.
Dragon Jim Treliving noted he has a facility in Edmonton that could produce and distribute the chowder and he seemed close to making an offer before bowing out of the negotiation.
“I can’t get there on this one, I’m out,” he said.
Unswayed by her fellow Dragons’ hesitation, Dickinson offered $340,000 for 10 per cent of all Ahier’s products as well as the restaurant.
“I’m super enamoured with you. You’re very modest. You have this lovely balance of personality and confidence and skill and it’s really quite amazing what you’ve done,” Dickinson said.
She clarified that her offer included a stake in SoBo.
“The restaurant is a distraction that I don’t want my partner having, unless I’m also part of the reward of that distraction,” she said.
Dickinson’s was one of two offers Ahier had to choose from as Guzzo had offered $300,000 for 50 per cent of the to-go line, excluding the restaurant.