How ILEO’s Storefront Starter helped one food vendor build confidence – and her business

Free program provides business training, chances to network, and sales opportunities

A woman stands behind a table.
Sara sells her patties at one of ILEO’s sales events. Photo courtesy of ILEO 

Haitian patties have long been a part of Sara’s life. Her grandmother used to make them for her, and eventually passed the knowledge down to her. Sara is now cooking them and selling them in her Scarborough community and expanding her business in the process.

“Gabees is named after my grandmother,” Sara said.

“I want to pay homage to her. She was one of the first people that taught me how to cook.”

The savoury, flaky puff pastries are made with fillings that are “for everyone.” Options include chicken, halal beef, fish, and a vegan patty. Sara and her mother co founded the company, which Sara now runs on her own.

She wants “to share a bit more about our Haitian culture and our delicious food with everyone.”

Through word of mouth, Sara heard about the United Way’s Inclusive Local Economic Opportunity initiative (ILEO). She joined ILEO’s Storefront Starter program. Storefront Starter brings together private, public, and community partners to help local business owners launch and scale their business.

Free program supports budding business owners

The free, three-phase program helps budding business owners develop their plans regardless of the stage that the business is at. It includes business training, access to retail opportunities in high-traffic areas, and access to financing.

Since launching in 2022, the program has supported more than 20 entrepreneurs and has helped them generate more than $65,000 altogether. Participants have also been able to secure more than $110,000 in grants and loans to take their businesses to the next level.

The Storefront Starter program is also providing Sara with networking opportunities and chances to sell her patties at events, such as a month-long pop-up in the busy Distillery District last summer. Gabees also participated in two holiday markets involving ILEO partners, during which shoppers could visit many businesses set up in their own stalls.

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The first was hosted by Choice REIT and the Daniels Corporation in the Golden Mile Plaza last November. The second was hosted by RioCan REIT at Yonge Eglinton Centre. The lively event was well received by mall goers, who were warmly greeted and tended to by the participating business owners.

“It gave us the opportunity to have that face-to-face customer experience,” Sara said.

“It was really special. I am glad I was able to have that experience. It gave you validation that your business idea is doable. It’s viable. It gave me confidence to keep working on my vision and make sure that I continue to get things done and to continue to grow.”

Some Storefront Starter participants are also connected with opportunities for direct corporate purchases. Sara is now looking to start selling frozen patties in addition to cooked ones – another way she can connect her customers with her Haitian heritage.

This story was produced as part of a partnership between Centennial College journalism students and the United Way Greater Toronto.

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Posted: Apr 23 2024 9:00 am
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