Kat Gellerman has been in the food business for a long time, both in restaurants and supplies.
The business is changing constantly, and staying on top of changes is one of the strategies behind her new shop, Chef Sense Supplies, in downtown Courtenay.
One trend she notes is new products that help cut down on waste, such as a straw from Germany that is edible, produced from apple pulp and wheat.
“It tastes like fruit leather,” she says. “It lasts in your drink for about an hour and 15 minutes, till it gets to the consistency so you can eat it.”
Other examples of these kinds of compostable or biodegradable products include straws made from corn or cutlery made out of sugar.
“There’s always new businesses popping up that are doing something different,” she says. “People are always looking for different alternatives.”
As evidence, she says after one month in business, not a single customer has asked for a foam product, and she has probably only given out two dozen bags because people bring their own.
“I really like that,” she says. “People are really with it here.”
These provide just a few examples of ways people are rethinking how they eat and cook, from the sources of their food to the implements they use to how they dispose of leftover waste.
Her official grand opening is March 14. She began working in restaurant supplies in 1997, and she has spent more than 20 years in the food business, starting out as a server. Along the way, she has worked in a bakery, where she learned to decorate award-winning cakes while in Alberta.
More recently, she moved into restaurant supplies in Campbell River. There, she established many relationships in the food industry. She’s also worked in kitchens, including a recent stint at a pub to get up to date on what was happening behind the scenes.
“Things change in the industry. Everything is used. A lot of stuff in the kitchen is so versatile. People use it for more than just what it’s intended for,” she says.
She sold her share in a business in Campbell River to her business partner, and that paved the way for her to open up in the Comox Valley.
“We’re doing things a little differently,” she says.
In the other store, they had 9,000 square feet of space, but they also had products from the 1980s.
In Courtenay, she’s opted for less space and a higher turnover of supplies, though she advertises the store as having access to 40,000 name brand products, tools, equipment and services, not only for people in the food business but for the general public.
“I wanted to keep everything fresh and trending,” she says.
She’s also putting together online shopping for customers in the near future, saying most chefs like to shop that way because they are busy people. Chef Sense Supplies delivers three days a week to Campbell River and three days a week in the Comox Valley area.
With new products, including ones aimed at reducing environmental footprints, Gellerman says the goal is not simply to make these products available.
“It’s also about education,” she says.
This means regular classes on a range of different topics such as composting. For example, on a Saturday after opening, the store had a display of compostable and biodegradable products.
“We were teaching people who came in what the difference was,” she says.
Every Saturday they try to hold some kind of workshop or do taste-tasting. There’s a list of upcoming events posted right at the front of the shop. The interest in these issues, she’s found, is strong in the Comox Valley.
“The good news is this area is aware that they have to do something different,” she says.
She likes to credit her former mentor in Campbell River, restaurant supplier Oscar Martinez, for instilling in her a sense of community involvement. Gellerman is amazed at the way the Courtenay downtown community supports each other, and she loves being set up there. Even after only a short time, she has been impressed with the community around her shop on upper 5th Street.
“I think it’s really important to be involved in your community, to know what’s going on,” she adds. “It’s only a dog-eat-dog world if you allow it to be…. We’re all here for one another. We can all do something to help each other.”
Chef Sense Supplies is located at 470 5th Street in Courtenay.