|| Sales & production assistant for Culture City ||
I have nothing against the city. I just prefer the country.
Future or past?
Am I allowed to bring anything with me? Then I’d go to the past with a list of good stocks to buy. If I went to the future, I’d fast forward at least 250 years. I want to see if we ever make it to Jetson status.
Is there a place or thing in Toronto that you feel connected to?
I’d say anything at least 45 minutes outside of Toronto. I have nothing against the city. I just prefer the country.
How about something you’re looking forward to or want to do?
A bucket list thing? I want to drive the Nürburgring. It’s a private roadway (race track) in Germany. You pay to do laps and can go as fast as you want.
Did you always want to be an entrepreneur?
Yes and no. I have no problem working for people as long as they understand I’m the one making their money. When they lose sight of that, and treat their employees unfairly, I’m out. I previously worked at a manufacturing plant. For four years I was happy going to work. Even though it was monotonous, I enjoyed it because of the people. The employers listened to us. We worked together to make a better product. Then something changed at the top and they didn’t include us in those changes. They blamed us. I saw the downturn. Two years after I left, they closed the plant and lost the contract.
I’ve only been helping with the fermentation business for a year.
Do you make all your products in-house?
We’re moving into our own kitchen and sharing it with Two Bears cold brew coffee.
We do quite a few farmers markets. St. Lawrence is hard and pricey to get into. We go to Trinity Bell, Dufferin Grove and sell our products in few stores like West End Food Co-op. We also sell our tempeh to a handful of restaurants including Lipstick & Dynamite.
“You can’t travel far in Indonesia without encountering tempeh: a protein-rich food made from fermented soybeans. Damon Dewsbury and Paul Carter of Culture City, are big fans of the versatile, vegetarian-friendly and gluten-free product. But they are not content to limit themselves to soybeans. The Toronto-based food processors are turning out tempeh with a twist: making versions from chickpeas, black beans, navy beans, lentils and even buckwheat. That’s good news for people who want to try a new probiotic-rich food. It’s also good news for local farmers, since Culture City is committed to using Ontario-grown ingredients as much as possible for its organic tempeh, miso, pickles and other naturally fermented foods.” — Ontario.ca news (re: Culture City, a regional recipient of the Premier’s Award for Agri-Food Innovation Excellence)
What is a challenge you faced while launching this business?
It’s about finding the right people to help voice your product. You can sit there, blue in the face, screaming at people to try it. Instead, you need people to say, “wow, this is really good.” Without it, no one will know. We’re all just sheep. It’s about getting people to flock or else they will never follow.
It seriously works. As soon as you have one person by your table, other people will at least look over. Some even come over to see what’s going on. It’s like the classic psych study. If someone goes to a street corner, looks up and starts pointing, eventually you’ll draw a crowd.
Can you recall any funny interactions with a customer?
Almost every day. When I tell people about our spicy hot products, they usually tear up and say, “that’s hot.” It makes me laugh.
I lived on a farm at one point. You always had to be aware, watching, learning and understanding. It sounds bad, but when I interact with city people, I find that some live in their own bubble. I ask them, “would you like to try a fermented product?” “What is fermented?” they ask. In your head you’re laughing, but then you have to take a second and figure out how to explain it.
Portrait photos: Reeds in Erin, Ont.