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LAMBTON SHIELD THE TALL SHIPS ARE COMING! August 9-11 weekend promises to be one of this year’s most notable





A Weekend To Remember

10 An 'Awesome' Concept 12 Getting Started Early Can

Make All The Difference 14 Sweet Nectar Continues To

Have Its Natural Appeal 18 Reaching Out To Meet

The Needs


20 Bringing it Home 22 Why Bringing A Positive

Attitude To Life Produces Lasting Results 24 The Journey To This

Year's Outstanding Business Achievement Awards Begins!


26 Bootstrapping Their Way

To Profitability

WHAT A GREAT PLACE TO EMBRACE LIFE IN ITS FULLEST! While I’m not an “original” resident of Sarnia-Lambton, the fact is my family and I came here more than 30 years ago and it was by choice. And it’s by choice that my wife and I have stayed, even while our kids have found employment outside the immediate area. And while weather is one of those things that most of us are bound to bring up in casual conversation, even the relatively mild seasonal swings isn’t one of the main reasons for embracing this community. Rather, it’s the people, the friends, colleagues and even those who we don’t know but are happy to give a wave and a smile as we go around town on any given day. In this issue of Lambton Shield magazine, we feature just a few of the businesses and organizations that seem to stand out in their ability to make living in Sarnia-Lambton a treat. For sure the list is hardly complete. But thinking about upcoming events such as the Tall Ships Celebration that will take place in August and thriving and unique businesses like Sunripe with its obsession with quality produce and a sense of what current trends are driving growth, makes telling these stories a privilege. As Lambton Shield magazine continues to evolve, we hope you’ll become a regular reader—and share the stories we bring you. After all, it’s you and your neighbours who continue to make this community thrive. And you’re the real reason we continue to call this place our home. J.D. Booth Editor and Publisher 519-466-2811

LAMBTON SHIELD Owned and operated by 1886917 ONTARIO INC. and published both in print and online at WWW.LAMBTONSHIELD.COM. DESIGN AND PRODUCTION: CR Creative Co. Ltd., Wyoming, Ontario. EDITORIAL CONSULTANT: L. Sheridan

ADVERTISING & MARKETING MANAGER: Fatema Bhabrawala (519) 381-1140 ON OUR COVER: The Fair Jeanne is one of several vessels confirmed to be part of this year’s Tall Ships Celebration weekend, August 9-11. Full details on the event can be found in this issue or online at

A proud member of the




As Tall Ships get set to berth on August 9-11, organizers see iconic event as ‘weekend of the year’

The Barque Picton Castle, a three-masted tall ship based in Lunenburg, Nova Scotia, and best known for its adventurous sail training voyages around the world, will be in Sarnia the weekend of August 9-11, 2019.

Appledore IV


n many ways, it’s difficult to imagine the lure of what at one point in the history of the Great Lakes was THE only form of transportation from one community to another over water. Today, with all the modern conveniences associated with travel, the Tall Ships

phenomenon stands as an appealing throwback to centuries past. Later this summer—the weekend of August 9-11, 2019—and thanks to the City of Sarnia as well as Tourism Sarnia-Lambton and two generous local organizations—the Carpenters’ Local 1256 union and Imperial

Oil—residents and visitors alike will get a chance to experience what those glory days might have looked like. Officially, the event will be known as the Tall Ships Celebration, a part of the Great Lakes Series, with the sponsors’ names front and centre. WWW.LAMBTONSHIELD.COM • 7

“We determined that the ‘presenting sponsor’ opportunity was the right fit for us,” said James Ritchie, plant manager for Imperial’s Chemical plant. “The Tall Ships Challenge is a perfect way to showcase Sarnia’s waterfront, and Imperial is looking forward to flying the company flag on one of these majestic ships.” While private functions will take place on August 9, what follows will be two days of public showings, with the Bluenose II leading a fleet of tall ships into Sarnia. Joining the iconic Bluenose II will be the Picton Castle, Empire Sandy, Fair Jeanne, and Appledore IV. Vicky Prail, coordinator of Special Events and Sports Marketing for Tourism Sarnia-Lambton, said the event will “bring community pride for years to come.” In many respects, the August 9-11 weekend is shaping up to be one of, if not THE, most memorable of the year, certainly from a tourism standpoint. With Bluewater Borderfest slated to be sharing the spotlight, organizers are expecting even bigger numbers than last summer’s 7,000 guests.

There will be no shortage of tall ships to experience on the weekend of August 9-11, 2019 in Sarnia. Pictured are: Nao Santa Maria (top), Empire Sandy (bottom left), and Bluenose II (bottom right).

With a renovated Centennial Park as the venue for Bluewater Borderfest, it will be a busy weekend for all concerned. Aside from the excitement that follows these events, it is the ships that will dock at Sarnia Harbour that will be the real “stars” of the weekend.

In many respects, the August 9-11 weekend is shaping up to be one of, if not THE, most memorable of the year, certainly from a tourism standpoint.

Early on in the organization of this event, the City of Sarnia stepped forward to ensure the event, costly in a number of respects, would indeed be secured. As Rob Harwood, the City of Sarnia’s director of Parks and Recreation, made it clear in those early days—back in January 2019—having the support of both the Carpenters’ Union and Imperial Oil was an essential driver for an event expected to draw crowds to the Sarnia Harbour. “These two organizations have been pillars in our community,” said Harwood. “We couldn’t be happier to be able to work with both Carpenters’ Local 1256 and Imperial Oil on this signature event. It is partnerships such as this that will make this event a success.” Bob Schenck, business manager for the Carpenters Local 1256, said the organization was proud to step forward in support of the event as Title Sponsor. “We look forward to welcoming guests from around the world to Sarnia-Lambton for this Tall Ship Celebration historic event for our community and we are honoured to be part of it.” With Imperial Oil, a longstanding mainstay of the community, the opportunity was one not to miss. 8 • LAMBTON SHIELD MAY/JUNE 2019

First among them is the Nao Santa Maria, a replica of the iconic ship sailed by Christopher Columbus in 1492.

In celebration of the 525th anniversary of that historic meeting between the Old and New Worlds, the Nao Victoria Foundation, with the support of the Provincial Council of Huelva, Spain, and the Cajasol Foundation, built the Nao (New) Santa Maria. Over the last two years, the Nao Santa Maria has travelled across the Atlantic, around the Gulf of Mexico, the East Coast and now into the Great Lakes. Having the Nao Santa Maria as part of the Tall Ships fleet docking at Sarnia was one reason for Sarnia Harbour becoming the berth during the August 9-11 weekend. “Sarnia Harbour is the perfect site to safely accommodate these amazing ships and was also the site of the 2003 Tall Ships Festival, which is the last time Sarnia welcomed the Tall Ships,” said Rob Harwood. “The Sarnia Harbour is strategically situated at the centre of the Great Lakes, adjacent to Centennial Park less than 1,000 feet away and has all the amenities we need.” More than 5,000 tickets have already been sold for the August 9-11 weekend festivities. For the latest information on tickets and all the various options available, visit The event has its own Facebook at





John DeGroot, co-founder, and Lynn Baarschers, recently retired Dean of the Sarnia chapter of the Awesome Foundation, are among the hardest working members of the team.


A ‘ wesome’ concept


or quite a number of years now, an email would go out from the “Dean” of the Awesome Foundation, inviting members of the media to attend a “pitch party” where the winner would receive a grant of $1,000 for their idea. And enough times that Lambton Shield became something of a friend to the Awesome Foundation (“an awesome friend?”) someone would attend those events, rather informal gatherings of perhaps 10 or so “trustees” (the number fluctuates) each of whom put in $1,000 over a year to a fund that’s managed by the Sarnia Community Foundation. When the ideas were presented by the individual (or members of a group in some cases), a few questions are asked of the presenters and the trustees would go off to a corner of the room to discuss things and make a decision. 10 • LAMBTON SHIELD MAY/JUNE 2019

Local chapter of worldwide, informally delightful group, is helping to spark meaningful change

It’s really that simple, which is more or less the point of the entire Awesome Foundation concept. Founded in Boston 10 years ago, the Awesome Foundation has become a group made up of 94 chapters in 13 countries, with each operating completely autonomously, many of them not actually organized formally at all. In fact, it’s the idea behind the Awesome Foundation that drives what happens. Once that email invitation went out, up until very recently sent by Lynn Baarschers, whose “paid “ job is at DeGroot’s Nurseries, members of several (typically three) groups of applicants would make their “pitch” to the Awesome Foundation trustees, who make the decision on which project was deserving of the “no strings attached” grant.

The fact that no one keeps track of what happens after a grant is made is part of the “no strings attached” formula that is at the heart of the Awesome Foundation organizational structure. John DeGroot, Lynn’s boss at DeGroot’s Nurseries in Sarnia, explained how Sarnia-Lambton became an Awesome Foundation chapter in a conversation we had with him as part of a podcast on Lambton Shield. “For a while I’d been a member of the Canadian Association of Family Enterprise and at one of the meetings, we had a speaker from the Toronto chapter of the Awesome Foundation, who explained how things worked and I thought it was kind of interesting,” said DeGroot. That was probably around 2012 and DeGroot spoke to a few people in town, asking their opinion on the idea, and eventually forming their own chapter.

over the months and years since the group was formed, but as organizers have repeatedly said, visitors (and prospective trustees) are welcome to reach out anytime for more information on how they can be involved, as observers or active participants. The Awesome Foundation






Founded in Boston 10 years ago, the Awesome Foundation has become a group made up of 94 chapters in 13 countries, with each group operating completely autonomously, many of them not actually organized formally at all.

In the original Boston chapter, things were even more informal than they are today in SarniaLambton: people (trustees) would show up at a meeting and each pull out a $100 bill that they’d put in a paper bag to give to the presenter whose idea was selected to receive one of the grants.

Here in Sarnia-Lambton, the basic idea stands but a tiny bit more formality has been established through the Sarnia Community Foundation connection. So who benefits from those Awesome Foundation grants? The list of recipients has really been a “grab bag” of sorts over the years, says Lynn Baarschers, who has now retired as Dean, handing the reins over to Amanda Skerritt, with Courtney Gardner agreeing to serve as Social Media coordinator. At the most recent pitch party, Emily Fortney, a music educator who works at Lakeroad Public School in Sarnia, was successful in her quest for a $1,000 grant to organize a meal that flows from a project called “Karam Kitchen” (Karam means hospitality or generosity in Arabic). Using the money received, Fortney and her group will put on a meal for the Sarnia Lambton Native Friendship Centre, essentially “paying the experience forward to others in our community and for planning next year’s Karam Kitchen experiences.” Fortney says she finds herself “called to the work of truth, reconciliation, decolonization, and refugee sponsorship, as well as creating classroom spaces built on restorative and anti-bias approaches. To begin to list the various projects funded by the Awesome Foundation project would be unfair to the many who have pitched WWW.LAMBTONSHIELD.COM • 11


or Sahar Nasr, owner of Math Plus Tutors, the journey to a life as an entrepreneur is one that has many aspects to it—all of them fascinating in one way or another. The challenge, in many respects, is knowing where to start as her story unfolds. One logical place may be Egypt, where Nasr first earned a bachelor’s degree and masters degree, both in nuclear engineering and where she envisioned a career teaching at Alexandria University. In 1992, Canada beckoned and Nasr and her husband decided to immigrate, settling in London, Ontario, where they both earned doctorates at the University of Western Ontario (now Western University), hers in physics and his in chemical engineering. With a job available for her husband in the research department at Imperial Oil, Nasr chose to invest the next few years raising their four children, the youngest of whom is now in grade 11 at Northern Collegiate. Prompted largely by her passion for teaching as well as what she saw as an unmet need in the community for the kind of advanced help students would need if their full potential were to be met, Nasr launched Math Plus Tutors, the business that will celebrate its four year anniversary this September.

Dr. Sahar Nasr, founder of Math Plus Tutors, has a passion for helping students succeed.



For students needing the extra help, Math Plus Tutors is a worthwhile investment 12 • LAMBTON SHIELD MAY/JUNE 2019

Today the business has continued on a strong growth trajectory, with a complement of 16 tutors in subjects ranging from math, biology, English, and French, as well as other languages such as Arabic and Korean. When she launched the business, Nasr admits the name “Math Plus Tutors” was always intended to mean subjects in addition to mathematics. But the name took off on its own and often had potential clients thinking that the only subject was mathematics, which, of course, is not at all the case. In fact, Math Plus Tutors continues to expand its portfolio of subjects that are available to be taught by her staff. Even areas as diverse as aerodynamics and broadly focused programs dealing with STEM—Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics—are now offered by Math Plus Tutors. While clients are most often tutored on a one-onone basis, there are a variety of options to help a student who needs the “extra help” needed to

succeed academically, including group sessions and the various “Exam Prep Programs” that Nasr and her staff are continuing to develop. Nasr also has a “soft spot” for helping students with special needs in any number of subjects. She’s also developed a STEPS curriculum (Stimulating Training Empowering Personal Success) specifically intended to equip special needs students with the basic skills that will help them live independently. As far as fees are concerned, Nasr has developed a basic competitive scale that reflects the investment she has made in staffing and facilities.

While clients are most often tutored on a one-on-one basis, there are a variety of options to help a student who needs the “extra help” needed to succeed academically, including group sessions and the various “Exam Prep Programs” that Nasr and her staff are continuing to develop.



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“The reality is that we all want to do what’s best for our children, and starting early in identifying where a young person is struggling and then building a foundation of understanding that will go a long way toward ensuring success for the future.” Nasr is also someone who understands how important it is for a parent with a student who needs the help to start early, although she has seen results even when someone seeks help later than one might hope.

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What’s even more important to point out is the realization that the issues faced by a student may go deeper than even the subject being taught at that moment. “Quite often, the problems a student faces go back even several grades,” said Nasr. “What’s really needed is to build a foundation of understanding so that we can create progress going forward.” That said, the first step may very well be to contact Math Plus Tutors for an initial discussion with Nasr or a member of her staff. The firm can be reached online at or by phone at (519) 542-1999.

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natural appeal But even beyond the honey is a growing emphasis on wine making


ucked away in a little corner of Lambton County is a slice of Ontario history, although the enterprise, Munro Honey & Meadery, is hardly staying still or even resting on the laurels of a company that remains extremely active from its base in Alvinston. Owned by the families of brothers John and Davis Bryans, the business has already celebrated its centennial in the community, marked when Warren Munro began his beekeeping operation from nearby Napier in 1914, eventually moving to Alvinston in 1924. But the Bryans, whose father Howard worked for Mrs. Munro even after Warren Munro passed away in 1956, ultimately purchased the company in 1958.


Co-owners John (left) and Davis Bryans are pictured at their Alvinston business.

Even further back, however, Howard Bryans had himself come from a beekeeping family around the Owen Sound/Chatsworth area. A family with the same name was running a bee keeping business there, which would explain why, even after Howard served in World War II and returned to Canada, buying bees from Warren Munro led naturally to the Bryans family settling in Alvinston. For John Bryans, beekeeping is one of those vocations for which he seemed to naturally settle into doing, gathering over the years the knowledge necessary to succeed, as did his father before him and Warren Munro, whose name is still on the door. His brother Davis, who John’s family partners with in the business, is mainly the one who travels a circuit that those in the industry call “working the bees,” the very specific and absolutely critical care of

some 2,500 hives in 100 or more locations, each of which may have 100,000 bees or more, requiring the scraping of honey and making sure the bees and their queen are healthy and productive.

By early 1998, he had filled out the application for what would, two years after going through the bureaucracy, become the very first commercial meadery in the province.

The geographic region where the hives are located includes a corridor running west to the St. Clair River but also east throughout Lambton, Middlesex and Elgin Counties as well as around Clinton to the north.

The geographic region where the hives are located includes a corridor running west to the St. Clair River but also east throughout Lambton, Middlesex and Elgin Counties as well as around Clinton to the north.

Today, Munro Honey & Meadery continues to produce honey as well as mead—the honey wine made from recipes John Bryans worked on in those early years and on which he still innovates. As far as capacity, the fact that honey does not deteriorate over time (one of the only natural foods in the world known maintain its “freshness”) gives Munro a nearly unlimited supply of stock from which mead can be distilled and marketed.

With one barrel of honey (and the Bryans family has lots of them on hand), translating into about 1,000 bottles of wine, and seasonal production amounting to between 400 and 500 barrels, what’s left is to grow demand for the mead over time, although the firm’s Sunshine brand of honey remains a staple.

John Bryans, who at one point traveled on the circuit that his brother Davis and a small crew do on a near-daily basis (weather is always a factor), now prefers to handle marketing duties as well as the production from the base in Alvinston. It was the entry into the production of mead that may have been the most transformative of the Munro business, one that began with John having read that honey—one of the world’s oldest natural foods that won’t go bad no matter how long it’s stored in barrels—could be used to make an alcoholic drink. “It was really something of a fluke,” recalls John of how mead became part of what Munro Honey does today. Starting in the early 1990s, John would begin with small batches, experimenting with fermentation and various recipes to produce changes in the amount of alcohol that the process would create. One day, while attending a gathering of beekeepers in 1997, John came across a document that the Ontario Alcohol and Gaming Commission had produced on what it would take to create and operate a meadery. Bryans saw that the document had DRAFT written on it but he also, in reviewing it, realized that he met all the criteria outlined in the proposal. WWW.LAMBTONSHIELD.COM • 15

The real problem in an export sense is the complexity of liquor laws in the U.S., which can change not only state-by-state but even county-by-county. All of that said, Bryans is not looking to export his mead, at least not to the U.S. with all the distributorships necessary, each of which would eat into an otherwise economically sustainable margin. A particularly interesting part of the business is the “renting” of bees to areas such as Quebec, where every year bees are sent to pollinate acres and acres of blueberries over a period of two or three weeks. A Munro Honey team of two drivers will put together several pallets on a truck, each pallet containing four hives, and drive straight through the 20 hours to their location, upon which the hives are opened up and the bees do their pollination of the fields. When done, the bees are loaded up and return to Alvinston, where the honey produced from the blueberry fields is segregated and sold to companies seeking the unique taste for their own product. And the blueberry farmers receive a necessary service when it comes to their crops being properly pollinated.

Ongoing concerns remain over the health of bees, which Bryans says can be traced to pesticides being used to treat the seeds farmers sow in their fields. It’s also having a somewhat indiscriminate affect on the bees, since most of the pesticide goes beyond the plants and finds its way into ground water and even in plants such as the willow, where Bryans sees pollen that comes back into the hives can be traced. What that means on a practical basis is the health of a queen, which may, in the past, have lived for two years, now have to be replaced even a couple of times a year, requiring more work—“a lot more work,” says John Bryans. Getting a little education on how bees are raised and ultimately renewed over a season is a lesson that harks back many generations and from which formal education has evolved.

And then there’s the “making” of a queen, a creature like any other worker bee before eventually being overfed by workers who use royal jelly made from a combination of secretions in glands as well as pollen for the transformation to occur.

Today, Munro Honey & Meadery continues to produce honey as well as mead—the honey wine made from recipes John Bryans worked on in those early years and still innovates.

Indeed, through the University of Guelph’s Bee Research Centre, a new generation of bee keepers is able to take courses and keep up with trends and innovations that are likely to maintain a base of knowledge that keeps the industry vibrant and flexible, even as pressures from modern agriculture seem to put environmental stresses on the bee populations. 16 • LAMBTON SHIELD MAY/JUNE 2019

Taking a look at how bees begin their short lives—a typical lifespan is perhaps 45 days in total—and how an orderly set of tasks for workers (first making wax, then foraging—which includes gong to the field to collect pollen from which honey is ultimately produced).

“Worker bees naturally know when they need a queen in the colony,” notes Bryan, whose job is to help facilitate the choosing of the queen from stock that comes from a particular bloodline that comes from Denmark and which then leads to testing using experts and equipment based at the University of Guelph. John Bryans and his extended family, includes at least a few children who may be interested in running the business when he and his brother Davis complete their stewardship. John also hopes that five years from now, having more of the total business be related to the honey wine would be a desirable thing. Even so, honey is what has driven the operation and that is likely to be its mainstay.

“It’s been our bread and butter, a good product for consumers in Ontario that’s produced here and sold here,” notes John Bryans. “That’s not likely to change for many years to come.”


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REACHING OUT TO MEET THE NEEDS Inn of the Good Shepherd continues to display the true heart and soul of Sarnia-Lambton Myles Vanni heads the Inn of the Good Shepherd, one of Sarnia-Lambton’s more visible charities.


t would be hard to imagine any charitable organization in Sarnia-Lambton with more of an impact on the overall quality of residents who rely on its services than the Inn of the Good Shepherd, founded in 1981 by a group of people connected with St. John’s Anglican Church, then a congregation located in the south-end of the city. Nearly four decades later, with the Inn having developed a strong network of supporters, the organization now helps feed an average of 1,800 individuals who face food insecurity.

About 700 of those are children, individuals who are among the most vulnerable in our community.

Clients are able to be fed in a brightly lit and roomy dining hall as they enjoy some “social” nourishment along with a hot meal and interaction with others.

A combination of donations from local gardens and a donation program organized with local farmers and greenhouse growers helps address the issue of people living in poverty not getting the healthy food they need to succeeded in other areas of their life.

Indeed, for many the soup kitchen is likely to be their only hot meal of the day—and for too many, their only meal of any kind.

FOOD BANK Of course, with the Inn providing food packages that contain both staples and fresh foods, a key question is how does the “bank” become replenished?

What that need translates into on a practical basis is some 40,000 pounds of food, distributed every month, no small challenge for any one organization.

The answer to that is simple: it takes an entire community, working throughout the year to manage the flow of donations to make the eradication of hunger (at least one family at a time) possible.

Thankfully, the Inn has many supporters, among them various service groups, corporations, schools, and individuals who come together to prepare and serve meals through the Inn’s soup kitchen.

Two seasonal food drives—at Christmas and Thanksgiving—plus the ever-popular CANstruction event that takes place in springtime at the Lambton Mall, along with the help of students from St. Patrick’s


Catholic High School who take part in the community’s Cyclone Aid, are part of what makes the work of the Inn all possible. There are also programs that seek to give a helping hand where the need is most urgent, including rent and utility assistance, a shelter (the Good Shepherd’s Lodge), and Genesis, a free clothing and household items store where clients are able to equip their place of residence with many essentials. As is the case with other services provided through the Inn, the generosity of the community is essential to the success of Genesis. One of the most exciting services the Inn provides is one that has been operating for several years now.

helps address the issue of people living in poverty not getting the healthy food they need to succeeded in other areas of their life. During the growing and harvest seasons, the typical mobile market will leave a variety of up to 12 different vegetables, including potatoes, corn, broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, beans, tomatoes, squash peppers, cucumbers, carrots and more. Information on the Mobile Market Garden locations and schedule can be found on the Inn’s website (


Through the Mobile Market program, food bank clients are able to receive fresh garden produce on a more frequent basis than their regular food bank visit.

Given that young students are among the most vulnerable in our community, the Inn’s program that sees more than 500 kits prepared to provide kids with things that they need for their first day back to school is a particularly helpful initiative.

A combination of donations from local gardens and a donation program organized with local farmers and greenhouse growers

In the kits, which are specific to grades, children receive supplies such as pens, markers, rulers, calculators, math sets,

binders, scissors and more. The items are placed in a new backpack along with a few snacks and drink boxes.

CHRISTMAS PROGRAMS For the Inn’s clients, the holidays can bring on added stress, which is one reason there are many different programs designed to help. Unfortunately, the Inn is “the family” for too many, which makes initiatives like Adopt-aFamily, a Singles Dinner, the Inn out of the Cold Family Dinner (hosted each year by the Dante Club), and a Children’s Christmas Party, so important for the overall health of the community.

WHAT ABOUT YOU? If you’re looking for a way to help those in our community who are less fortunate, reach out to the Inn of the Good Shepherd. There is no shortage of ideas to begin your own “good deed” as the community we call home beckons.

“I am proud to serve Sarnia-Lambton” BOB BAILEY

MPP - Sarnia-Lambton

Constituency Office: 805 Christina St. North, Suite 102 Point Edward, Ontario N7V 1X6

Tel: (519) 337-0051 • Email: WWW.LAMBTONSHIELD.COM • 19

In many respects, the process is largely the same these many years later. What has changed is that Willemsen and his staff have gone to scale, which is what happens when you have a winning concept, exemplified by a steadily growing demand. But Will’s story begins much earlier, his first job being picking strawberries on a neighbourhood farm in Blenheim, Ontario, where he grew up. Graduating from the University of Western Ontario (his degree is in mathematics), Will returned to Blenheim to work as general manager at a cherry growers processing plant. That two year period was the last time Will would be working for someone else.

Bringing it

Will Willemsen’s family now owns three Sunripe locations, two of them in London.


Sunripe continues to innovate, preferring to ‘play the long game’ when it comes to freshness


ur first conversation with Will Willemsen, co-owner with his wife Ingrid of Sunripe Farms, an iconic retail establishment that was birthed with one key goal in mind—bringing fresh fruit and vegetables to the local market—took place some 17 years ago. It began with a “road trip” of sorts, as Will and his new journalist friend climbed in a tractor trailer and headed to the Ontario Food Terminal, the spot within sight of Lake Ontario where millions of pounds of food arrive daily and where wholesale buyers do their daily shopping as part of a supply chain that keeps grocery stores, large and small, humming along. Willemsen would arrive in the sprawling parking lot in early evening, setting an alarm to wake up around 3 a.m., then, armed with a list of what he needed to supply what was then a single Sunripe store in Sarnia with enough fruits and vegetables to keep a steadily growing client base happy. 20 • LAMBTON SHIELD MAY/JUNE 2019

He’d been looking for a place to establish a business and acknowledges today that London would have been his first choice, his having gone to school there. Windsor was also a possibility but then one day, driving through Sarnia, he found what became the original Sunripe location on the north side of Lakeshore Road, just west of Murphy. Armed with $2,000 in cash, a 1978 Ford Econoline van and a $10,000 loan from a friend, Will was in business, quickly establishing a concept that has seen him steadily grow the business since its inception in 1982. The concept is actually quite simple: go direct to the source of fruits and vegetables, pick the “best of the best,” and get them back to Sarnia as quickly as possible. What that means practically is that the larger grocery operators typically get their truckloads sent to warehouses where the produce is sorted before going out to any number of retail locations. That takes at least a few days longer to finally get the fruits and vegetables to the buying customer, certainly longer than what Willemsen can achieve by buying early in the morning and driving his tractor trailer to Sarnia, arriving in the early afternoon and getting the produce on the shelves of his store as early as the same day. What’s occurred since that first story was written in 2002 is nothing short of phenomenal in a great many respects. Even before then, however, Ingrid came on the scene, not long after she and Will met at a horticulture show in Dayton, Ohio.

They were married in 1990 and six years later, had their first children—twins Kyla (who today uses a degree from the Rochester (New York) Institute of Technology to manage social media for Sunripe) and Ryall, an apprentice buyer working under the tutelage of his Dad.

might not have hit the Ontario Food Terminal. “The quality is amazing,” he says. “And while it used to be that there were challenges from a seasonal standpoint, most of these products are available all year round.”

Mia, the third Willemsen child, who was born in 2001, is heading to Queen’s University to earn a business degree.

While Will is no longer the driver on these road trips to Toronto, Sunripe has two trailers along with a tractor that go on a regular loop—perhaps three or more times a week—to all three stores.

Along the way, the Willemsens finally opened their first store in London, thanks to the slow and steady acquisition of homes Will had been buying as rental properties over the years, starting when he was a student at Western.

The Sarnia operation is also gearing up for another big expansion, having a few years ago built a larger store across the street from the original Lakeshore location.

Having made a deal with a senior resident at one of the properties that he wouldn’t ask him to leave “until he was ready,” that day eventually arrived and the Adelaide store was opened in 2005, strategically located on the side of the street where Londoners would be passing by on their way home.

“We’re busting at the seams now,” says Will, the result of 10-15% growth every year for the last three or four years.

In the meantime, awards flowed from organizations such as the Sarnia Lambton Chamber of Commerce (where Sunripe first won an Outstanding Business Achievement Award in 1985), and the Canadian Federation of Independent Grocers (which has honoured Sunripe several times over the years in various categories).

Now plans are well underway for a significant build out, the addition of another 12,000 square feet that will see a larger bakery and more.

“One of the biggest things that have transformed Sunripe are Sunday shopping, which has fundamentally changed the role of the independent grocer,” said Will.

In 2016, Sunripe’s third store took shape in London, in the Hyde Park district on Fanshawe Road. So what are some of the highlights Will and Ingrid are most proud of in recent years? “One of the biggest things that have transformed Sunripe is Sunday shopping, which has fundamentally changed the role of the independent grocer,” said Will. The second trend has much to do with addressing a need that has steadily grown and for which Sunripe has effectively responded, bringing prepared meals to the market. “It’s the same thing that started with the baked goods industry in the 1980s,” said Will. “It’s easier and faster to buy baked goods than it is to prepare at home and the entire food world is shifting in that direction. Today, if people are baking, it’s because it’s a hobby for them, not because they need to.” Another trend which Sunripe has found success in following is the idea of making products from simple recipes that not only taste good but have just a few ingredients. “People want to be able to read the label without having a dictionary handy,” notes Will. From a buyer’s standpoint, Willemsen notes that there’s more and more choice available from places around the world that years ago

He credits a substantial social media presence for much of that growth, with daughter Kaisa’s expertise in that realm being put to work. One more notable “differentiator” at Sunripe is the mix of employees that work at each store.

“Around the third year we were in business, we started shifting our hiring practice, moving from part-time staff to the point where probably around 99% of the people who work here are full-time,” said Will. “The product here is complicated and the learning curve is steep. When we have full-time people, they get to learn what we have and they also know they’re going to be around,” he added. So why don’t other retailers do the same? “It’s short sighted not to do so,” said Will. “Supermarkets are under pressure to make the numbers but we’d rather play the long game.” Clearly, it’s a strategy that is winning for the Willemsen family.

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LASTING RESULTS By Helen Lomax, Vice President of Enthusiasm, Pathways & Transitions


ver time, we all develop our personal view of the world and an approach to dealing with challenges and solving problems. This gets adjusted as we see that some things work, and some don’t. As we move through the years, we may not even consider how we approach people/things or if we might actually be getting in our own way.

We have all heard about “fake news,” the criticism given out to others or their ideas, and in extreme – the trolls and their neverending put-downs and derision of anything and everyone. How sad that they live in that world. Are you a troll or perhaps someone who constantly sees the world through negative eyes? Would you speak to someone face-to-face with the same words that you might use on social media? To me, trolls are cowards and add nothing to society as they only hide behind social media to destroy the self-esteem of others. I realize that we have many problems in this world and there will always be people that we don’t agree with, or perhaps we just don’t like them. That doesn’t mean that they don’t 22 • LAMBTON SHIELD MAY/JUNE 2019

deserve respect. Because others see the world differently than we do, that is an opportunity to change, grow or consider their viewpoint. You may still not agree in the end but listen with an open mind and see what possibilities might be hiding in there. Are you one of those people who others come to, asking for an opinion, some advice or even how to resolve something? They are actually giving you a huge compliment and showing that they respect your knowledge and willingness to share it. They want to hear what you have to say, and they know that you look for solutions to issues.

I realize that we have many problems in this world and there will always be people that we don’t agree with, or perhaps we just don’t like them. That doesn’t mean that they don’t deserve respect.

So, when you are challenging something or disagree, don’t stop there. Share what you believe could be a solution, an option or an opportunity. Don’t box yourself in with always following a path you have used in the past. Build on the path, but add new things, try something different and ask others how they would deal with it. I never have a problem when someone says they don’t like my idea or tell me that it won’t work. Tell me why you think that, give me your rationale, and share with me how you think it could work. When people work together amazing things can happen. We all have great ideas, an energy level to contribute in some fashion, and solutions that are yet to be developed.






Looking to get started? EMAIL OR CALL Fatema Bhabrawala (519) 381-1140





Pictured at the launch of the nomination period are, from left, Cathy Thompson of Libro Credit Union, the Chamber’s Shirley de Silva, and Jamie Carson of Libro.


Outstanding Business Achievement Awards BEGINS!

By Shirley de Silva, President and CEO

Nominations now open for October 18 event, our 30th anniversary of celebration


e’re about to begin serious preparations for one of the most exciting seasons for the Sarnia Lambton Chamber of Commerce, the period that begins our monthslong lead-up to the annual Outstanding Business Achievement Awards gala, which this year takes place on Friday, October 18 at the Imperial Theatre in downtown Sarnia. 24 • LAMBTON SHIELD MAY/JUNE 2019

One of the key steps in that journey was the May 8 official opening of nominations. Thanks to the generous support of Libro Credit Union, a great partner who is returning as our title sponsor, we’re well poised to make this 30th anniversary event another great one for companies and individuals who will put their best foot forward in showing the entire

community what it means to set new standards of achievement in some 16 categories. In a spirit of continuous improvement, an operating philosophy that many, many organizations have continued to embrace over the years—even decades—we’re increasing our pace when it comes to making it easier for companies and individuals to be nominated. There was a day, not so very long ago, when we were still dealing with mounds of paper, from the nomination forms, plus the submissions of those who have been nominated for an Outstanding Business Achievement Award.

Even as our journey to that October 18 evening begins, I would be amiss for missing an opportunity to invite you to explore the opportunity that exists for becoming part of our organization. While nominations for an OBAA are open for all businesses in our region, the fact remains that membership sets a business apart in many ways—as we gather for ongoing networking events like our monthly Business After 5 or advocate on issues that mean so much for the health of every business through discussions with each level of government—municipal, provincial and federal.

It’s events like the Outstanding Business Achievement Awards gala that help push us forward, even as we look to our peers for encouragement and congratulations on the kind of accomplishments that we can all celebrate together.

And while during last year’s event, we took big steps toward slimming down the paperwork, this year we hope to do even better, not just by embracing an online nomination form but with the actual workflow that makes tracking each nominee through acceptance, submission and judging, a big task that we hope will become easier, although to be clear, we are very grateful for not only the time commitment but the expertise that our team of judges demonstrate throughout the process leading up to the big night.

Becoming part of the Chamber community is a worthwhile investment in creating the kind of business environment that will make us proud of calling SarniaLambton home.

With that in mind, I invite you to take that step—one that you’ll be sure to look back on with a sense of pride, even years from now. We’re always available for a chat. Call us at (519) 336-2400.

Three decades of focusing on the achievement of so many companies has become a big part of the stories that those who attend the OBAA event are able to share throughout the year. And even the anticipation on that night as to who will be called to the stage to receive one of the region’s most coveted awards quickens the pulse of those involved. We very much look forward to sharing the excitement with nominees and the ultimate winners. It’s always with an early sense of that anticipation that we begin this process, even as we acknowledge we have a summer of fun that will, before we know it, lead into fall and this great opportunity to showcase the very best of business on one of the great nights on the Chamber’s calendar. As each year seems to set an even higher bar when it comes to the quality and enthusiasm of those nominated in their category of choice, I’m reminded of just how important it is for all of us to continually focus on becoming better and better at what we do. It’s events like the Outstanding Business Achievement Awards gala that help push us forward, even as we look to our peers for encouragement and congratulations on the kind of accomplishments that we can all celebrate together. Yes, competition is a good thing. And it’s especially so when we think about how the collective and individual pursuit of distinction throughout a process like the OBAA selection keeps each of us focused on becoming the kind of business we all would wish to become. WWW.LAMBTONSHIELD.COM • 25



PROFITABILITY Home brewing gives way to an iconic Sarnia landmark for craft brewing (and more)


n at least some respects, Nathan Colquhoun is similar to many young people who grew up in the area.

Raised in Point Edward, Colquhoun went off to Toronto to attend York University, where he earned a bachelor of religious studies. Four years later, in 2006, he returned to Sarnia with the idea of establishing a downtown church, the Story, a “different” sort of place of worship that seems more like a place that people decide to connect and live into their faith than the sort of traditional church establishment.

“We began with very tiny batches of beer,” he recalls, referring to the 1.5 barrels—150 litres—of product made in maple syrup barrels that were converted into kettles.

And at least in part because finances were tight, and the fact that Colquhoun and a group of friends (and now partners) had the marketable skills to create an income that would allow them to build the Story without taking a salary, Storyboard Solutions, a marketing agency, was born.

With a growing client base and based in a portion of the downtown space that the church was meeting in on Sundays, Storyboard carried on its business and still does today, although from a different space just around the corner on Lochiel Street in the shadow of Bayside Centre. But this story really begins a few years later when Colquhoun and a group of friends he’d connected with since re-establishing roots in the area, began doing some brewing at his home on College Ave. The building is a renovated former church that has the sort of ambience that someone like Colquhoun would naturally find as having a mix of comfort and unique difference that speaks to his personality and that of the people he’s gathered around him, all with the idea of doing life a little deeper than what a traditional society might have expected. And here’s where the business that has become Refined Fool Brewing Co. was born, although maybe at the time it was just a group of 17 friends—teachers, pastors, business owners and so forth. One of the ironic points was that for most of his young adult life, Colquhoun didn’t drink at all, although some early visits across the Blue Water Bridge to Michigan were an introduction to the kind of “flavourful” brews that he would pick up and bring back to Canada. “People would think I was a big weirdo,” he says. But Ontario was just starting to explore what craft beers were like and with only a couple of varieties available in town, here was another point of distinction for which Colquhoun was becoming known. The home brewing gathering really only took place two or three times in Colquhoun’s College Ave. home but it was enough—with enough people involved—that talk began flowing around what would be—could be—a next step toward making what they were doing with one of the most basic (and oldest) productions of tasty, healthy and (at least in theory) profitable enterprises known. And remember, at the time, around May 2014, there weren’t any craft breweries in town. “There was a subset of that group,” Colquhoun recalls, “that got together to talk about taking it to the next level.” So what was that next level? Essentially we’re witnessing the birth of Refined Fool, a name that one of the friends, now partners, had put forward as a kind of homage to the area’s

Pictured from top: David Kruger, bartender at Refined Fool’s Davis Street location; Daniel Yung, co-owner of the March Hare, which offers food items to Refined Fool patrons (also at the Davis Street location); and brewer Josh Pumfrey, who works out of the Refined Fool’s London Road location.


industrial heritage of refineries plus a bit of a “let’s not take ourselves too serious”—something that five years later has definitely become part of what Refined Fool seems to deliver (along with some tasty variations of craft beer). Starting small would seem to be an understatement to hear Colquhoun explain things. “We began with very tiny batches of beer,” he recalls, referring to the 1.5 barrels—150 litres—of product made in maple syrup barrels that were converted into kettles. “The whole thing was bootstrapped,” says Colquhoun, although to be clear there was at least the semblance of a plan. “We had 10 of us who were willing to put $300 a month into the enterprise to make this work, so we knew we had $3,000 a month coming in that got us our space [on Davis Street] plus some random equipment. And everyone involved had to put in 20 hours of work a month.” From the very beginning, it must have been clear that something bigger than even the 10 friends and their $3,000 a month was happening. “We open the doors and sold out the first weekend,” recalls Colquhoun. “We had to make more beer and one of the things we found out was that things just weren’t big enough for the demand we were seeing.” That “not big enough” theme would (and still does) carry Refined Fool throughout much of its now five year history. “It’s happened every time we’ve bought equipment, where almost immediately we say to ourselves that we should have bought the bigger tanks.,” says Colquhoun. “Capacity has always been our issue, which to me is the biggest problem you can have—people buying the product and being excited about what’s going on.”

“We’ve even hired an event coordinator to make this happen in our spaces.” Yes, spaces. In addition to Davis Street, the location just east of Christina St. where Refined Fool was born, expansion into the former furniture discounter space just west of Lambton Mall Road is a much larger—and demographically distinct—gathering spot with the production space needed to drive growth and at least make a dent in fulfilling demand. In fact, it’s about 10 times the size of Davis Street. It’s also allowed Refined Fool to buy in bulk, which means better costs. There’s also a bigger tap room and opportunities to partner with other ventures that the owners of Refined Fool have a hand in, like Burger Rebellion. And with expansion to the Davis Street location, which started with about 1/3 of the building but quickly grew beyond that, there’s now a kitchen, staffed by the owners of March Hare, a couple of chefs from Wallaceburg that Refined Fool Davis Street has partnered with in delivering an upscale bar food menu. Even now, Colquhoun, who owns something around 7% of the business but who is mostly the public face, has plans for expansion, although he’s not talking much about it.

Somewhere in that growth spurt—and yes, we’re still seeing that occurring—was getting the Refined Fool brand on the shelves of the LCBO at the time the only public spot outside of the brewery where people could buy what Colquhoun and friends were making.

“I don’t necessarily want to be in the public face,” he said. “But it’s something that I care about and people say that it’s the one that doesn’t want to lead where people turn to.”

“Yeah, that was pretty important, he acknowledges in his softspoken manner. “At the same time we were putting a lot of emphasis on restaurants, delivering one batch [each being three kegs].”

That said, Colquhoun mostly deals with “culture stuff” and the hiring and training as well as leadership development.

It was enough to keep things moving, although Colquhoun admits that “not many: restaurants had Refined Fool during those first couple of years.

Plus, he puts in a lot of energy around the enterprise, as well as leadership around Storyboard Solutions, which acts as the marketing agency for the businesses, including a new one Café Mexico, which is about to move downtown from a location adjacent to the Bicycle Shop on Front Street.

What was coming together was a sense of the market the Refined Fool brand was playing to: people gravitating to beers that had distinctive flavour and who were willing to pay to get a taste that went beyond the “buck a beer” philosophy made famous in a recent political campaign.

Taking space formerly occupied by Republik, Café Mexico will face Front Street, with Burger Rebellion facing Christina Street in what was the Olympia Restaurant.

“We laughed at that because we can’t afford to hit that point—we don’t break even at even double that,” said Colquhoun.

The origins of Burger Rebellion had much to do with filling a hole in market, as Colquhoun explains.

Another piece of the Refined Fool story that continues to be told is just how community focused the business has become and will remain, whether it’s retirement parties, charity events or concerts.

“We’re always looking for opportunities,” he says, referring to the “we” as being Chris Lewis and Daniel Slade, his partners at Storyboard.


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“It was glaringly obvious,” said Colquhoun, referring to major cities where there’s a burger specialty place. “But not Sarnia. Again, we very much bootstrapped it, buying a small piece of property at Front Street and Davis, a truck that didn’t run, running power to it and a bunch of work to open it.” With a special blend of beef, Burger Rebellion opened to the public. “Sarnia welcomed Burger Rebellion with open arms,” says Colquhoun, clearly pleased. And while this summer, the “truck that wouldn’t run” won’t open, there’ll be a location in Corunna (now open in a location where a couple have retired), las well as the space just north of Davis Street and, of course, the kitchen at the London Road location. What is also clear is that Colquhoun and friends aren’t done yet. Stay tuned. WWW.LAMBTONSHIELD.COM • 29

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Lambton Shield May/June  

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