The word has spread: Janice Bartley has the cutting edge.
The Canadian-born, Jamaica-raised self-described ‘Foodpreneur’ identifies with women who “live out their boldest dreams with a pinch of delusion, a dash of audacity and a shot of courage.”
Armed with a buoyant attitude and confidence in her speech, the Toronto-based chef and entrepreneur has taken 200 Black food entrepreneurs from Southwestern Ontario wanting to make their mark under her wing in an initiative spanning the next four years. Begun on Nov. 1 under Foodpreneur Lab, a non-profit organization she founded in 2019, the Advisor-Led Start-up and Scale-up Path is meant to bridge the gap between Black entrepreneurs and available resources.
“Though there were many programs in place, they did not necessarily reflect the rich culture and unique experience of the Black community,” she told New Canadian Media over a Zoom conversation.
“Visibility was low, and I began to think, ‘Why was this so?’”
That’s when Bartley decided to take the lead, sharing her mastery with like-minded aspirants as a way to promote both racial and gender equality.
A Foodpreneur is born
Bartley first entered the food and hospitality scene 30 years ago, though she took her first steps down Grub Street with her mom — one of the first Black women in management with Air Canada in the West Indies — when she was eight.
Throughout, she has not only honed her own skills but learned how to help others do the same. But it has been a learning curve.
For instance, one of the first things she noticed as she came across women running small businesses was that despite their size, smaller brands have stronger voices, serve a purpose, often promote a healthy lifestyle, and “have a loyal following” — in essence, she says, “Small is Big.”
Yet, despite all this, they are rarely able to scale up. So, she realized it wasn’t enterprise that these women were missing but financial support.
“We can manage finances in a home, yet on the corporate side we are short-changed,” she says.
“It does not add up.”
Thus was born Foodpreneur Lab, meant to provide a level-playing field for marginalized communities to present their cultural insights and real life experiences in the industry.
But during her early days, Bartley realized she was in for a rough ride and needed to work out a clear route map to her destination.
‘Culinary and innovative’
After 10 years in the consulting arena, Bartley’s forays into business and food entrepreneurship were curated by her partner, a professional chef from the UK.
She had also co-managed a culinary school for 10 years with him apart from sharing homely chores.
“In our home, most times, he cooked. I was the standby, literally. I was in luck,” she says.
She was soon positioning chefs, particularly Canadian ones, into top restaurants.
There also came a time when Bartley momentarily discarded her apron for business suits. She had been teetering between using her culinary skill sets, furthering her entrepreneurship and working as a mentor. She was tying up funding from financial institutions, acquiring techniques and technology for extending shelf life of products and their efficient delivery.
But throughout all that time, she never forgot her roots or her goal to help Black women access available opportunities – while making the most of every experience.
“Everybody has successes. It’s the failures that we need to hear about,” she emphasizes.
However, she knew her ability to help others also hinged on her progress, and that “showcasing” was key to that.
That’s why she branded herself a Foodprenuer, a password that’s helped her become a recognizable brand while also encapsulating “who you are, your passion, unique vision and product,” explains Bartley, who brims with confidence and a positive attitude.
“It is both culinary and innovative.”
Bartley’s fingers are always in many pies, and she’s constantly resolving a variety of food issues.
Sometimes it is all about taste: “Do we add more spices to the sauce?” Or developing rubs for meat?” she says.
Some of her own favorites among the Afro-Jamaican dishes includes Kasava, which in local slang is Bammy, she says, “and is available in all leading stores in Canada.”
“Grate it in the raw, wait for its juices to flow out, refrigerate, soak it in milk and fry. Its subtle flavor is inviting,” she says, excitedly.
“And do try Sorrel, a fermented drink, with high antioxidant properties, no sugar. A dash of alcohol makes it — hmm — exotic,” she then chortles, adding that her very favourite is “the Black Cake, loaded with currants soaked for a year in white rum.”
Bartley is familiar with the tastes of the Canadian foodies too.
“The Boomers here are traditional: three meal eaters searching for tasty, solid feeds while the Millennials go for six-meal-smaller-feeds. They want health foods, energy bars and snacks throughout the day, and are the kind who read the labels.”
But she also understands that presentation is key to food appeal: there is such a thing as food “looking good,” she explains, and it all has to do with appropriate packaging, dressing, promotion as well as the right sales pitch.
It is this culinary mastery that leads aspirants to her table seeking her advice.
Food that builds
All along her life, Bartley has had her platter full, talking and engaging in consultations or mentoring, sandwiching taste and culture between entrepreneurship and finance.
Now, she’s hoping to build on that by helping others make their culinary dreams a savoury reality.
“Food is communication,” she says. “It builds friends, acquaintances, and a community feeling. Food is a language that builds.”
Gita Abraham is a journalist of 45-year standing and has worked in national dallies and magazines in New Delhi including Hindustan Times and India Today. For 15 years she was the Feature Editor of The City TAB in Bangalore. She was also a Professor of Journalism, at the Asian College of Journalism in Chennai. Treading the thin line between fact and fiction, Gita has launched her debut novel “Daughter of the Blue Hills” early this year. She and her husband are snowbirds shuffling between Chennai and Ottawa. She has two daughters and two frisky grandsons who inhabit her world.