When you first meet Caroline Pilon, you’re almost certain you will see each other again soon, partly because you want to (Caroline immediately feels like an old friend), but also because she is so embedded in the local food community you know another chance meeting is almost inevitable.
I first met Caroline last fall at theA�Taste Real Field DinnerA�in Puslinch. I saw her again at theA�2012 OCTA SummitA�in London, and then later ran into her at the Guelph Farmers’ Market. I wasn’t at all surprised when we saw each other this February at theA�Taste Real Local Food NetworkingA�event, or that we were now sitting and chatting over breakfast atA�Ox, a great little restaurant-cafe in downtown Guelph, where Caroline is greeted by nearly everyone who comes through the door with a friendly wave or a warm hug.
“We started with nothing,” she tells me between waves and hellos. “I don’t say that as a bragging point, I say it as a point of inspiration for others.”
Caroline, along with her partner Josh Whitehead, owns and managesA�Green Table Foods, a family-run food business in Guelph that sells healthy prepared foods made with local and organic ingredients–convenience foods for those of us who need food fast, but who still care about what we eat and where it comes from.
“The demand for convenience food is not going to go away,” Caroline notes, “Why not make sure that food is healthy?”
And why stop at healthy? Why not make it support the local food economy and the organic sector, too? Because that’s what Green Table Foods is doing andA�business is blooming!
Green Table Foods grew out of Meals That Heal, a food delivery business Josh started after he and Caroline returned to North Bay (Caroline’s home town) from Taiwan, where they first met teaching English. Josh, untrained in the culinary arts, but no less skilled or dedicated, prepared and delivered food to people who needed to eat healthy meals, but who might find it difficult to make it for themselves, such as those with terminal illnesses or receiving preventative care.A�But when Caroline got pregnant with their first child, they decided to relocate to Guelph.
“I knew absolutely no one, I was pregnant, and we were living with Josh’s parents,” she recounts. “But we were just the right amount of crazy to make it through.”
Or should that be plow through? Set up in a small rental kitchen and selling out of the Guelph Farmers’ Market, they soon found demand was outpacing production. Now with a larger space and three additional paid staff, you can find their delicious soups, salads, dips, fresh and frozen entrees, and gluten-free baked goodsA�at most of the natural and fresh food markets in the Guelph and Waterloo.
And now Toronto has invited them to the table,A�with the first invitation coming from Toronto-based celebrity chef Lynn Crawford ofA�Ruby Watchco.
It was at the Taste Real Guelph-Wellington Field Dinner that Lynn first sampled Green Table Foods’ famous beet hummus. “She tried it and asked me, ‘Why aren’t we carrying this in our store (Ruby Eats)?’ It took me a moment to digest the question–after all, it’s Lynn Crawford!–and then I thought, “Yes, why AREN’T you?”
Before long,A�Ambrosia Natural FoodsA�(Thornhill),A�The Healthy ButcherA�(Toronto, Kitchener), andA�Mama Earth OrganicsA�(Toronto) were asking themselves the same question. Now you can find Green Table Foods at each of these locations.
Breaking into the Toronto market has raised a number of important, if not difficult, questions for Caroline and Josh. Green Table Foods is growing, but how big do they want to grow? And how do they reconcile that growth with the value they place on local food?
Caroline is quite candid with her thoughts regarding business growth and local food. Speaking as part of a panel at the Taste Real Local Food Networking event, she told listeners that they definitely want to take Green Table Foods national, but that she doesn’t think that necessarily needs to conflict with their local food values.
While they haven’t worked out the details, they’re determined not to lose sight of their original vision.A�”We’re thinking maybe satellite businesses that would source ingredients from their own regions.A�Maybe something like theA�Amy’s KitchenA�of Canada.A�We don’t know yet, it’s a lot to think about.”
“As a business you need to be flexible, and trust. Trust not just each other–your colleagues and partners–but trust the world.”