If you’ve been following OCTA for awhile, you know we’re huge supporters of the powerhouse duo that is Paul Sawtell and Grace Mandarano. Together, they run 100KM Foods – an award-winning local food distribution company that gives chefs access to the best products in Ontario and provides a viable sales channel for Ontario farmers and producers.
Paul and Grace are dedicated to sustaining Ontario’s agricultural sector and making connections between farmers and chefs. It’s been a beautiful thing to watch this company grow over the years as we see more and more demand for putting local food on the table.
Recently, we asked Paul to share how 100KM Foods is redefining and rebuilding local food procurement in Ontario.
OCTA: First let’s start with, why Ontario?
PS: “Ontario is our home and it is amazing what it has to offer; everything from Northern Kiwi and Sea Buckthorn Berries to the most beautiful heirloom tomatoes, beets and winter greens.
After 8 years in business we are continually surprised at the quality, bounty and diversity that Ontario has to offer. Eating in Ontario is truly exciting, authentic and diverse. Why would we go anywhere else?
By focusing on Ontario, we help to keep our food dollars in Ontario, supporting our local growers and helping to ensure that small and medium sized Ontario farms can be a vibrant and sustainable part of our economy today and for years to come.”
OCTA: What have been some of the biggest learning curves of entering the local food market?
PS: “Before we started there was no distributor in Toronto dedicated to local food exclusively so building the business was to some degree inventing the wheel. Direct-from-farm procurement is vastly different than sourcing at the Ontario Food Terminal so all those logistics needed to be worked out. As we try to make our model more and more convenient and efficient, this continues to be an ongoing challenge; How to make direct-from-farm procurement work as closely as possible to our competitors with very different procurement practices.”
OCTA: What are you most proud of as a local food business owner?
PS: “We found out we were pregnant with our first child when we were in our second year of the business, working 100+ hours per week and drawing incredibly meager salaries. We joked then that we had more resources in terms of time, patience and money back when we were 20 years old. It seemed like the craziest time to start a family. We now realize that we had our children at absolutely the right time. We can teach our children without saying a word as our personal ethics and our work are perfectly aligned, which has not always been the case. It has been a struggle but we are proud of the work that we do and that we are imparting our values to our children through our work.”
OCTA: You’re also a Feast ON Preferred Purveyor. Tell us what drew you to the program?
PS: “We have been mentioned in the media and have had our name printed in restaurant menus by chefs at restaurants we do not work with and that has always irked us. On the flip side there are chefs in the city for whom we are their primary produce supplier, with no fanfare or recognition. We find both of those situations to be a bit unfair, so when Feast ON was launched we thought it would be a great way to celebrate those chefs who are authentically committed to procuring local food and holding others to their commitments.
Feast ON is an authentic program that should impart trust on the part of the consumer and allows eaters to patron restaurants and food businesses, with confidence, knowing that they are choosing local food.”
OCTA: “What’s your favourite meal to make with the products you work with?”
Grace Mandarano: “When both our kids were babies I loved making puree with delicata squash for them. I now add more milk and make faux maca��na��cheese with it. The flavour of delicata squash is heavenly and requires very little to taste absolutely delicious.”
OCTA: “What’s next for 100KM Foods? What are your specific visions for the future of the company?”
PS: “We continually strive to ensure that we are serving our customers to the best of our abilities. That means providing the full breadth of products they are looking for with the best business model to achieve the convenience they want. We also want to expand the type of customer base we serve; currently the bulk of our customers are fine dining establishments and we would love to have a hand in helping to get more local food to more eaters through new channels like institutions and mid and lower priced restaurants.”
If you’ve had a delicious, locally sourced meal in Toronto with the freshest ingredients and ‘gram worthy colours, chances are the chef is buying from 100KM Foods. The high quality of products they offer is not just a default of sourcing from Ontario, Paul and Grace personally select the farms that they work with and have built relationships with each farmer. Trust, integrity, authenticity – it’s what 100KM Foods is helping bring to the table.